Disclosing vulnerabilities is a part of handling your risk exposure. Many times, web vulnerabilities are found by security firms scanning large portions of the web, or it may come from independent security researchers that have taken an interest in your site.
Ignoring the communication issues around vulnerability disclosure can cost you a lot. Working on maturity at the top is a high ROI activity!
How companies deal with such reported vulnerabilities usually will take one of the following 3 paths:
- Fix the issue, tell your customers what happened, and let them know what their risk exposure is.
- Fix the issue but try to keep it a secret.
- Threaten the reporter of the vulnerability, claim that there was never any risk regardless of the facts, refuse to disclose details.
Number 2 is perhaps still the norm, unfortunately. Number 1 is ideal. Number 3 is bad.
If you want to see an example of the ideal disclosure, this Wired.com article about revealing password hashes in source shows how it should be done.
A different case was the Norwegian grocery chain REMA 1000, where a security researcher reported a lack of authentication between frontend and backend, exposing the entire database of customer data. They chose to go with route 3. The result: media backlash, angry consumers, and the worst quarter results since, well, probably forever.
So, what separates the businesses that do it the right way, and those that choose to go down the way of the rambling angry ignorant? It is about maturity and skills a the top. This is why boards and top management need to care about information security – it is a key business issue.