Did Google engineer act irresponsibly over Microsoft zero-day disclosure?

Google versus Microsoft
If I were responsible for security at Microsoft I would be less than pleased with Google right now.

Here’s the story. A Google security engineer, Tavis Ormandy, sent details of a zero-day vulnerability he had discovered in Windows XP to Microsoft on Saturday June 5th.

The vulnerability could allow malicious hackers to exploit a security hole in the Windows Help and Support Center, that could allow them to run malicious code on a victim’s computer. Ormandy explained that the attack can be brought about through popular browsers such as Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari, and is even easier to exploit when Windows Media Player is present.

Microsoft acknowledged receipt of Tavis Ormandy’s vulnerability report on the same day that he sent it to them.

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So far, so normal. What happened next though is where things get controversial.

In the early hours of Thursday (June 10th), just five days after informing Microsoft of the security hole, the Google researcher decided to make his findings public – posting details of the vulnerability and proof-of-concept code to the Full Disclosure mailing list.

Ormandy claims that he made details of the vulnerability public, because of the severity of the issue, claiming that he had to post working exploit code to gain attention:

"I would like to point out that if I had reported the.. issue without a working exploit, I would have been ignored."

But five days notice for Microsoft to fix the problem hardly seems like a reasonable amount of time to me. And although Ormandy states in his Full Disclosure post that he does “not speak or represent anyone but myself”, it’s no surprise that some are wondering whether this was a responsible way for a Google employee to behave.

Microsoft appears to be keen to take the high road in this spat, and has published an advisory for its users while they investigate how to fix the problem.

Microsoft advisory

I’m sure, however, that they would rather have fixed this vulnerability behind closed doors, without exploit code circulating in the wild, and would have preferred if this Google engineer had acted responsibly.

You can read more on this story in an article by Gregg Keizer at Computerworld.

Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

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