Vulnerability research firm Secunia announced that, effective from the beginning of the year, software vendors will have a six-month deadline to fix vulnerabilities reported through its Vulnerability Coordination Reward Programme (SVCRP).
Secunia's previous deadline had been established in 2003 and was one year. The decision to reduce it came after studying the history of the company's vulnerability coordination efforts.
The new deadline is similar to what other security firms currently enforce. For example, HP subsidiary TippingPoint, which runs the well known Zero Day Initiative (ZDI) programme, has had a six-month deadline for fixing vulnerabilities reported to vendors since the beginning of last year.
"It seems to be a deadline that most vendors should be able to live up to," said Carsten Eiram, Secunia's chief security specialist. "It is important to pick a deadline that provides vendors with ample time to develop proper fixes for most cases without providing too much time to 'slack off'."
Some software companies agree that a six-month deadline is reasonable. "Generally, six months is a reasonable amount of time for a vulnerability to be fixed," said Brad Arkin, Adobe's senior director of security for products and services.
However, there can be situations when more time is needed to address a security problem, for example, when the fix requires architectural changes in the product. Secunia is willing to wait for an additional six months without disclosing the vulnerability publicly when it believes that such an extension is justified.
At the moment, every vulnerability researcher or security company has its own policy regarding vulnerability disclosure deadlines. In this context, finding common ground and establishing an industry standard could makes sense. However, that's unlikely to happen.
"Having a deadline to work towards makes sense in most instances; however, there are always exceptions in software development, making it difficult - if not impossible - to implement an industry standard that would work across all scenarios," Arkin said.
"Each security issue is unique and therefore end-to-end update preparation time varies," said Dave Forstrom, director of incident response for Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing Group.
Carsten Eiram doesn't believe that such a standard is needed and said that each company should adopt whatever policy they feel is appropriate for them.
What happens when a software developer can't keep up with a deadline specified by the vulnerability reporter also varies across the industry. Some researchers choose to practice full disclosure, revealing all technical details about a vulnerability including proof-of-concept exploit code, while others only publish standard advisories with a general description of the problem.
"Full details are not publicly disclosed by Secunia, but in cases where the vulnerability was coordinated on behalf of a researcher via SVCRP that researcher is free to disclose however much information he or she pleases," Eiram said.