A new resource for coordinated vulnerability disclosure in open source projects

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

One of the joys of open source is the freedom it gives you to create: contributors get to build the projects they want how they want; it’s up to them. Of course, blank slates don’t come with directions, which makes more niche areas of software development and management a challenge for contributors. Vulnerability disclosure is one of those areas.

Google doesn’t restrict its open source work to one team, instead we teach any and all Googlers about open source: how to release, how to contribute, how to use, and, in general, how to be a good open source citizen. This approach scales well, and gives people the knowledge to be lifelong open source community members. This includes sharing knowledge about open source security, a topic that isn’t new, but is finally getting the industry attention it deserves.

The intimidating blank slate and a lack of time for contributors to develop policies means many open source projects have no documented vulnerability reporting information, much less a plan for how to handle and disclose a reported vulnerability. We recently updated our guidance for coordinated vulnerability disclosure in open source projects that come out of Google and have published it in hopes that other projects will find this helpful for their project security practices.

The new guide has three sections:
It’s a myth that if a project hasn’t received a vulnerability report yet, it doesn’t need a disclosure policy. It’s also a myth that you need to be “a security person” to implement a vulnerability disclosure policy. A successful coordinated vulnerability disclosure frequently comes down to good process management and clear, thoughtful communication. You don’t have to be an expert in operating systems capabilities to understand how a reporter manipulated it to cause an account privilege escalation through your project. A predetermined policy, some templates, and a well-executed runbook will take you through discovering, patching, and disclosing most kinds of vulnerabilities.

Coordinated Vulnerability Disclosure in Open Source Projects

Vulnerability disclosure is part of Fix in the Know, Prevent, Fix framework we proposed recently for open source vulnerability management. In today’s industry, with all of our supply chain dependencies, improving open source project security in even one project can have a multiplying effect. Vulnerability disclosure is a key aspect of that overall security posture. Our hope is that projects will take this guide, remix and adapt to their projects, and share their changes with others so we can collectively increase our open source security.

By Anne Bertucio, Google Open Source