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Tales Of Zero-Day Disclosure: Tenable Researchers Reveal Recommendations for a Successful Experience

Real life stories of vulnerability discovery and disclosure from Tenable’s Zero Day Research team offer guidance you can use to refine your organization's policies.

Imagine a situation where you spot something wrong or dangerous. You report it to the person responsible, and you’d expect a positive response, a ‘thank you’ and a presumption that it is going to be fixed. In cybersecurity, it’s not that straightforward unfortunately.

The concept of discovering and disclosing vulnerabilities is a major part of the regular cycle of how cybersecurity operates. The process of discovery and disclosure of vulnerabilities has been a standard process of bringing researchers and vendors together to acknowledge what has been found, and to ensure the flaws are fixed and users will be better protected.

Sounds simple? For the most part it is that easy, but there are still too many instances where the circle is not complete, and the vendor and researcher cannot find the connection point. 

While facilities and services such as bug bounty brokers have come along to aid researchers in their work in recent years, the responsibility still remains on zero day investigators to inform companies where their vulnerabilities are.

A new whitepaper from Tenable’s Zero Day Research team details challenging experiences from various cases of vulnerability disclosures. Taken from the team’s experiences during the past few years, the stories include examples of vendor resistance such as:

  • claims from other vendors that the vulnerability is unsubstantiated or not in scope;
  • a notified vendor being openly hostile towards the researchers; and
  • a notified vendor becoming increasingly hostile throughout the disclosure process. 

Nobody wants to be the recipient of a zero-day vulnerability notice, as this can put developers and security teams on the defensive, and that does not aid anyone in resolving the issue.

Oftentimes, researchers struggle to determine the correct person to report the vulnerability to. Disagreements can often ensue over disclosure policies, processes and timing. The white paper discusses how these and other challenges can delay the process, potentially leaving organizations exposed to unpatched vulnerabilities, and suggests ways in which organizations can improve their working relationships with zero day researchers. 

For Tenable’s Zero Day Research team, each and every security-related bug disclosure is its own unique adventure. In this white paper, we look at examples of where vulnerability disclosure was not welcomed by the recipient, where there were clashes and why they happened, and what organizations can do to work better with researchers.

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