Next week, many of us here will be heading down to Las Vegas for Black Hat. The MSRC, and other teams in Microsoft, have been attending Black Hat for years. In fact, we've been sponsoring the show for the last eight years-the last five as a platinum sponsor. Some might ask why? It's funny, I can actually remember back in my days as an officer protecting networks in the U.S. Air Force, questioning why Microsoft had such a presence at the show. As much as I'd like to say it's because of the weather (after all, most of us are over here in the rainy Northwest), or because it's the largest security conference out there (it's not), or even better, because we so look forward to getting our next Pwnie Award-the truth is it's none of the above. Well, maybe just a bit on the Pwnie. But the reality is that to us, Black Hat has always been a reflection of, and driven by, the community-likeminded people from all walks of life and professions with a shared interest in advancing the state of security. They come together to share ideas, advance thinking, network and collaborate, and ultimately learn from one another. We feel connected to that and always look forward to being a part of it.
So with the show fast approaching, I've taken some time to reflect on where the Microsoft Security Response Center is currently and where we see ourselves going with respect to security. Specifically, I've been thinking a lot about three areas: 1) our work to address vulnerabilities in our software, 2) our work with the security community and 3) our philosophy on vulnerability disclosure. Given the fact that each of these topics have recently garnered interest and fueled discussion in the community and media, I thought I'd share my thoughts.
Vulnerabilities and Time to Fix
Some will say that we take too long to fix our vulnerabilities. But it isn't all about time-to-fix: Our chief priority with respect to security updates is to minimize disruption to our customers and to help protect them from online criminal attackers. These customers own and operate a diverse ecosystem of nearly a billion systems worldwide. It's humbling to think about the responsibility this entails and yet we embrace the challenge. Even in the face of that, our overall track record shows the window of vulnerability is being reduced and we have additional plans to improve.
The Microsoft Security Response Center (MSRC) receives more than 100,000 e-mail messages per year at firstname.lastname@example.org - that's nearly 275 per day or 11 per hour. This is filtered down to approximately 1,000 legitimate investigations per year. Once a vulnerability has been confirmed, a comprehensive examination is undertaken to ensure that the reported vulnerability is addressed, other vulnerabilities that might exist in related code are identified and addressed, and no new vulnerabilities or bugs are introduced during this process.
But why don't we commit to fixed timelines? Because it is important to consider the overall customer risk when focusing on updating software for security issues. Most security updates released by the MSRC will be rapidly deployed to hundreds of millions of systems worldwide helping to protect customers from attacks in a very short timeframe. And the software being updated is being used by hundreds of thousands of applications on all sorts of hardware in all sorts of scenarios. So it is imperative that the update has been rigorously engineered and tested in order to avoid creating any type of disruption to these systems. During this time, the MSRC monitors for signs that the vulnerability, or variants, are being used in active attacks. The MSRC does this by using comprehensive telemetry systems as well as data and information provided by customers and partners around the world, and the rest of the industry. This approach helps Microsoft balance between the potential urgency of releasing an update for a particular vulnerability and ensuring high confidence that the update will address the vulnerability, all of its variants and maintain the functionality and stability that customers expect from the affected products.
Many times the issue that the finder reported is an indication of other similar vulnerabilities in that area of code. And the original issue may not be the most complicated, or even the most likely to get used in attacks. Microsoft tries to address vulnerabilities and all of their variants in as few updates as possible because they cost enterprise customers time, effort and money to re-assess and deploy multiple updates for issues that could potentially be addressed in a single update. The time it takes to complete a comprehensive examination helps to ensure the number of security updates Microsoft releases and needs to re-release is kept to a minimum, thus reducing the costs and potential disruption to enterprise customers' operations. Due to the increase in quality that Microsoft has achieved over the last five years, some enterprise customers deploy security updates with little or no testing, and hundreds of millions of consumers continue to use the Automatic Update client on their systems to ensure that they stay protected automatically.
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