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How Cloud Computing (Sometimes) Changes Disclosure

By Rich

When writing about the flaw in Apple’s account recovery process last week, something set my spidey sense tingling. Something about it seemed different than other similar situations, even though exploitation was blocked quickly and the flaw fixed within about 8 hours.

At first I wanted to blame The Verge for reporting on an unpatched flaw without getting a response from Apple. But I can’t, because the flaw was already public on the Internet, they didn’t link to it directly, and users were at active risk.

Then I realized that it is the nature of cloud attacks and disclosures in general. With old-style software vulnerabilities when a flaw is disclosed, whatever the means, attackers need to find and target victims. Sometimes this is very easy and sometimes it’s hard, but attacks are distributed by nature.

With a cloud provider flaw, especially against a SaaS provider, the nature of the target and flaw give attackers a centralized target. Full disclosure can be riskier for users of the service, depending on the degree of research or effort required to attack the service. All users are immediately at risk, all exploits are 0-days, and users may have no defensive recourse.

This places new responsibilities on both cloud providers and security researchers. I suspect we will see this play out in some interesting ways over the next few years.

And I am neither equating all cloud-based vulnerabilities, nor making a blanket statement on the morality of disclosure. I am just saying this smells different, and that’s worth thinking about.

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