Security industry reacts to Oracle’s CSO missive

Reactions to the controversial post diverse and emotional

In case there existed any previous questions regarding how Oracle’s chief security officer, Mary Ann Davidson, felt about its customers uncovering software vulnerabilities in its applications, they were laid to rest yesterday in a strongly worded blog post, No, You Really Can't. The post, swiftly pulled by Oracle, apparently held nothing back when it came to her views that under no circumstances should customers, or their hired security researchers, evaluate Oracle source code for potential security flaws.

While Oracle did remove the post from its corporate site, the Internet has a memory that refuses to be erased and copies of the missive remain in Google’s Web cache and on The Internet Archive also has a copy.

There does appear to be an increase in the number of security researchers and enterprises vetting their software for security flaws. Due to concerns about software security, quality enterprises are conducting what they deem due diligence on the applications they use, and a growing army of software security researchers are increasingly evaluating enterprise software for security flaws.

Additionally, at least some of the increase is due to the proliferation of formalized bug bounty programs, where software makers provide financial incentives to security researchers who find flaws that were presumably missed by the software developer’s internal quality assurance and security teams. These programs are underway at software makers ranging from Tesla to Twitter.

“I have seen a large-ish uptick in customers reverse engineering our code to attempt to find security vulnerabilities in it. <Insert big sigh here.> This is why I’ve been writing a lot of letters to customers that start with “hi, howzit, aloha” but end with “please comply with your license agreement and stop reverse engineering our code, already,” Davidson wrote. “I can understand that in a world where it seems almost every day someone else had a data breach and lost umpteen gazillion records to unnamed intruders who may have been working at the behest of a hostile nation-state, people want to go the extra mile to secure their systems,” she wrote.

Davidson also prodded customers to keep their own enterprise security house in order, before poking enterprise software vendor software for potential weaknesses:

That said, you would think that before gearing up to run that extra mile, customers would already have ensured they’ve identified their critical systems, encrypted sensitive data, applied all relevant patches, be on a supported product release, use tools to ensure configurations are locked down – in short, the usual security hygiene – before they attempt to find zero day vulnerabilities in the products they are using. And in fact, there are a lot of data breaches that would be prevented by doing all that stuff, as unsexy as it is, instead of hyperventilating that the Big Bad Advanced Persistent Threat using a zero-day is out to get me! Whether you are running your own IT show or a cloud provider is running it for you, there are a host of good security practices that are well worth doing.

For software security assurances, Davidson advised enterprises to talk to their software suppliers about their assurance programs and to also check for certifications such as Common Criteria certifications or FIPS-140. “Most vendors – at least, most of the large-ish ones I know – have fairly robust assurance programs now (we know this because we all compare notes at conferences). That’s all well and good, is appropriate customer due diligence and stops well short of “hey, I think I will do the vendor’s job for him/her/it and look for problems in source code myself,” she wrote.

To say that the post resulted in a strong industry backlash would be an understatement. Oracle distanced itself from Davidson’s opinions in its statement distributed to the press. “The security of our products and services has always been critically important to Oracle. Oracle has a robust program of product security assurance and works with third party researchers and customers to jointly ensure that applications built with Oracle technology are secure. We removed the post as it does not reflect our beliefs or our relationship with our customers,” Oracle executive vice president and chief corporate architect Edward Screven said in the statement.

”It's incredibly arrogant for Oracle to suppose that they have all the answers and that their IP protections are sufficient and proper to guard against bad guys hacking your organization,” said ‪Jonathan Feldman‪, CIO at the city of Asheville, N.C. “We know it's stupid. It's not like we have one year of data. Or five. We have at least 20 years of experience saying that the bad guys do deep, debugger-level code dives, and to ignore that with a Pollyanna 'everybody had better be nice, now, because the Big O has Everything Under Control' is crazy and irresponsible and ignorant,” Feldman said.

Others responded to the vitriol and magnitude of the blowback on Twitter and social networks. Gadi Evron, founder and CEO of cybersecurity startup Cymmetria, said he found many of the reactions on the Internet distasteful.

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