Vulns are sparse, code is dense

Datetime:2016-08-22 21:48:23          Topic: OpenSSL           Share

The question posed by Bruce Schneier is whether vulnerabilities are "sparse" or "dense". If they are sparse, then finding and fixing them will improve things. If they are "dense", then all this work put into finding/disclosing/fixing them is really doing nothing to improve things.

I propose a third option: vulns are sparse, but code is dense.

In other words, we can secure specific things, like OpenSSL and Chrome, by researching the heck out of them, finding vulns, and patching them. The vulns in those projects are sparse.

But, the amount of code out there is enormous, considering all software in the world. And it changes fast -- adding new vulns faster than our feeble efforts at disclosing/fixing them.

So measured across all software, no, the secure community hasn't found any significant amount of bugs. But when looking at critical software, like OpenSSL and Chrome, I think we've made great strides forward.

More importantly, let's ignore the actual benefits/costs of fixing bugs for the moment. What all this effort has done is teach us about the nature of vulns. Critical software is written to day in a vastly more secure manner than it was in the 1980s, 1990s, or even the 2000s. Windows, for example, is vastly more secure. Sure, others are still lagging (car makers, medical device makers), but they are quickly learning the lessons and catching up. Finding a vuln in an iPhone is hard -- so hard that hackers will earn $1 million doing it from the NSA rather than stealing your credit card info. 15 years ago, the opposite was true. The NSA didn't pay for Windows vulns because they fell out of trees, and hackers made more money from hacking your computer.

My point is this: the "are vulns sparse/dense?" puts a straight-jacket around the debate. I see it form an orthogonal point of view.





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