If you pay any attention to the security universe, you’re aware that Tavis Ormandy is basically on fire right now with his security research. He found the Cloudflare data leak issue a few weeks back, and is currently going to town on LastPass. The LastPass crew seems to be dealing with this pretty well, I’m not seeing a lot of complaining, mostly just info and fixes which is the right way to do these things.
There are however a bunch of people complaining about how Tavis and Google Project Zero in general tend to disclose the issues. These people are wrong, I’ve been there, it’s not fun, but as crazy as it may seem to the ouside, the Project Zero crew knows what they’re doing.
Firstly let’s get two things out of the way.
1) If nobody is complaining about what you’re doing, you’re not doing anything interesting (Tavis is clearly doing very interesting things).
2) Disclosure is hard, there isn’t a perfect solution, what Project Zero does may seem heartless to some, but it’s currently the best way. The alternative is an abusive relationship.
A long time ago I was a vendor receiving security reports from Tavis, and I won’t lie, it wasn’t fun. I remember complaining and trying to slow things down to a pace I thought was more reasonable. Few of us have any extra time and a new vulnerability disclosure means there’s extra work to do. Sometimes a disclosure isn’t very detailed or lacks important information. The disclosure date proposed may not line up with product schedules. You could have another more important issue you’re working on already. There are lots of reasons to dread dealing with these issues as a vendor.
All that said, it’s still OK to complain, and every now and then the criticism is good. We should always be thinking about how we do things, what makes sense today won’t make sense tomorrow. The way Google Project Zero does disclosure today was pretty crazy even five years ago. Now it’s how things have to work. The world moves very fast now, and as we’ve seen from various document dumps over the last few years, there are no secrets. If you think you can keep a security issue quiet for a year you are sadly mistaken. It’s possible that was once true (I suspect it never was, but that’s another conversation). Either way it’s not true anymore. If you know about a security flaw it’s quite likely someone else does too, and once you start talking to another group about it, the odds of leaking grow at an alarming rate.
The way things used to work is changing rapidly. Anytime there is change, there are always the trailblazers and laggards. We know we can’t develop secure software, but we can respond quickly. Spend time where you can make a difference, not chasing the mythical perfect solution.
If your main contribution to society is complaining, you should probably rethink your purpose.