Code governing software code

I am attaching here two papers by two leading software security researchers to minimize software vulnerabilities or their exploitation by attackers Two of the three ideas proposed by these papers advocate the use of law/regulations to minimize software vulnerabilities. Dorothy Denning puts forward two ideas: (1) Use of a vulnerability bounty program that rewards vulnerability discoverers, and (2) Holding software developers legally responsible (liable) for their faulty programs. Carl Landwehr proposes code governing software code.

For this conference, your task is to take one of these three ideas and discuss its pros and cons.

See attached two papers



V viewpoints

force covers a wide range of roles and responsibilities, and hence encom- passes a wide range of skills and com- petencies.5 Nevertheless, the report centers on responsibilities in dealing with attacks, anticipating what an at- tacker might do, configuring systems so as to reduce risks, recovering from the aftereffects of a breach, and so on.

If we view software systems as build- ings, it appears cybersecurity profes- sionals have a lot in common with firefighters. They need to configure sys- tems to reduce the risk of fire, but they also need to put fires out when they oc- cur and restore the building. Indeed, the original Computer Emergency Re- sponse Team (CERT) was created just over a quarter-century ago to fight the first large-scale security incident, the Internet Worm. Now there are CERTs worldwide. Over time, CERT activities have expanded to include efforts to help vendors build better security into their systems, but its middle name re- mains “emergency response.”

This whole economic boom in cy- bersecurity seems largely to be a con- sequence of poor engineering. We

T HE MA R K E T FOR cybersecurity professionals is booming. Reports attest to the difficul- ty of hiring qualified individ- uals; experts command sala-

ries in excess of $200K.4 A May 2013 survey of 500 individuals reported the mean salary for a mid-level “cyber-pro” as approximately $111,500. Those with only an associate’s degree, less than one year of experience, and no certifi- cations could still earn $91,000 a year.7

Is cybersecurity a profession, or just an occupation? A profession should have “stable knowledge and skill re- quirements,” according to a recent National Academies study,5 which concluded that cybersecurity does not have these yet and hence remains an occupation. Industry training and certification programs are doing well, regardless. There are enough differ- ent certification programs now that a recent article featured a “top five” list.

Schools and universities are ramp- ing up programs in cybersecurity, in- cluding a new doctoral program at Dakota State University. In 2010, the Obama administration began the Na-

tional Initiative for Cybersecurity Edu- cation, expanding a Bush-era initiative. The CyberCorps (Scholarships for Ser- vice) program has also seen continuing strong budgets. The National Security Agency and the Department of Home- land Security recently designated Cen- ters of Academic Excellence in Infor- mation Assurance/Cyber Defense in 44 educational institutions.

What do cybersecurity profession- als do? As the National Academies study observes, the cybersecurity work-

Privacy and Security We Need a Building Code for Building Code A proposal for a framework for code requirements addressing primary sources of vulnerabilities for building systems.

DOI:10.1145/2700341 Carl Landwehr

This whole economic boom in cybersecurity seems largely to be a consequence of poor engineering.


















ing them up afterward. We are hiring firefighters without paying adequate attention to a building industry is con- tinually creating new firetraps.

How might we change this situa- tion? Historically, building codes have been created to reduce the incidence of citywide conflagrations.a,9 The analog of a building code for software security could seriously reduce the number and scale of fires cybersecurity personnel must fight.

Of course building codes are a form of regulation, and the software indus- try has, with few exceptions, been quite successful at fighting off any attempts at licensing or government regulation. The exceptions are generally in areas such as flight control software and nu- clear power plant controls where pub- lic safety concerns are overwhelming. Government regulations aimed at im- proving commercial software security, from the TCSEC to today’s Common Criteria, have affected small corners of the marketplace but have had little

a Further history on the development of build- ing codes is available in Landwehr.3

have allowed ourselves to become de- pendent on an infrastructure with the characteristics of a medieval firetrap— a maze of twisty little streets and pas- sages b ed by buildings highly vul- nerable to arson. The components we call firewalls have much more in com- mon with fire doors: their true purpose is to enable communication, and, like physical fire doors, they are all too often left propped open. Naturally, we need a lot of firefighters. And, like firefighters everywhere, they become heroes when they are able to rescue a company’s data from the flames, or, as White Hat hackers, uncover latent vulnerabilities and install urgently needed patches.10

How did we get to this point? No doubt the threat has increased. Sy- mantec’s latest Internet Threat report compares data from 2013 and 2012.8 Types and numbers of attacks fluctu- ate, but there is little doubt the past decade has seen major increases in attacks by both criminals and nation- states. Although defenses may have improved, attacks have grown more sophisticated as well, and the balance remains in favor of the attacker.

To a disturbing extent, however, the kinds of underlying flaws exploited by attackers have not changed very much. Vendors continue to release systems with plenty of exploitable flaws. Attack- ers continue to seek and find them. One of the most widespread vulner- abilities found recently, the so-called Heartbleed flaw in OpenSSL, was ap- parently overlooked by attackers (and everyone else) for more than two years.6 What was the flaw? Failure to apply ad- equate bounds-checking to a memory buffer. One has to conclude that the supply of vulnerabilities is more than sufficient to meet the current demand.

Will the cybersecurity professionals we are training now have a significant effect on reducing the supply of vul- nerabilities? It seems doubtful. Most people taking these jobs are outside the software development and main- tenance loops where these vulner- abilities arise. Moreover, they are fully occupied trying to synthesize resilient systems from weak components, patching those systems on a daily ba- sis, figuring out whether they have al- ready been compromised, and clean-





a basis for waivers. But we should gain confidence that our systems are not vulnerable to the same kinds of attacks that have been plaguing them for an embarrassing period of years.

I do not intend to suggest we do not need the cybersecurity professionals that are in such demand today. Alas, we do, and we need to educate and train them. But the scale and scope of that need should be an embarrassment to our profession.

The kind of building code pro- posed here will not guarantee our sys- tems are invulnerable to determined and well-resourced attackers, and it will take time to have an effect. But such a code could provide a sound, agreed-upon framework for building systems that would at least take the best known and primary sources of vulnerability in today’s systems off the table. Let’s get started!

References 1. Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity

(IARPA): Securely Taking on New Executable Software Of Uncertain Provenance (STONESOUP); stonesoup.

2. Jackson, D., Thomas, M. and Millett, L., Eds. Committee on Certifiably Dependable Systems, Software for Dependable Systems: Sufficient Evidence? National Academies Press, 2007; http://

3. Landwehr, C.E. A building code for building code: Putting what we know works to work. In Proceedings of the 29th Annual Computer Security Applications Conference (ACSAC), (New Orleans, LA, Dec. 2013).

4. Libicki, M.C., Senty, D., and Pollak, J. H4CKER5 WANTED: An Examination of the Cybersecurity Labor Market. RAND Corp., National Security Research Division, 2014. ISBN 978-0-8330-8500-9; http:// reports/RR400/RR430/RAND_RR430.pdf.

5. National Research Council, Computer Science and Telecommunications Board. Professionalizing the Nation’s Cybersecurity Workforce? D.L. Burley and S.E. Goodman, Co-Chairs; php?record_id=18446.

6. Perlroth, N. Study finds no Evidence of Heartbleed attacks before flaw was exposed. New York Times Bits blog (Apr. 16, 2014); http://bits.blogs.nytimes. com/2014/04/16/study-finds-no-evidence-of- heartbleed-attacks-before-the-bug-was-exposed/.

7. Semper Secure. Cyber Security Census. (Aug. 5, 2013); cyber_security_census_report.pdf.

8. Symantec. Internet Security Threat Report 2014: Vol. 19. Symantec Corp. (Apr. 2014); com/content/en/us/enterprise/other_resources/b- istr_main_report_v19_21291018.en-us.pdf.

9. The Great Fire of London, 1666. Luminarium Encyclopedia Project; encyclopedia/greatfire.htm.

10. White hats to the rescue. The Economist (Feb. 22, 2014); business/21596984-law-abiding-hackers-are-helping- businesses-fight-bad-guys-white-hats-rescue.

Carl Landwehr ([email protected]) is Lead Research Scientist the Cyber Security Policy and Research Institute (CSPRI) at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and Visiting McDevitt Professor of Computer Science at LeMoyne College in Syracuse, N.Y.

Copyright held by author.

effect on industrial software develop- ment as a whole. Why would a building code do better?

First, building codes generally arise from the building trades and architec- ture communities. Governments adopt and tailor them—they do not create them. A similar model, gaining con- sensus among experts in software as- surance and in the industrial produc- tion of software, perhaps endorsed by the insurance industry, might be able to have significant effects without the need for contentious new laws or regu- lations in advance. Hoping for legisla- tive solutions is wishful thinking; we need to get started.

Second, building codes require relatively straightforward inspections. Similar kinds of inspections are be- coming practical for assuring the ab- sence of classes of software security vulnerabilities. It has been observed2 that the vulnerabilities most often ex- ploited in attacks are not problems in requirements or design: they are implementation issues, such as in the Heartbleed example. Past regimes for evaluating software security have more often focused on assuring that secu- rity functions are designed and imple- mented correctly, but a large fraction of today’s exploits depend on vulner- abilities that are at the code level and in portions of code that are outside the scope of the security functions.

There has been substantial progress in the past 20 years in the techniques of static and dynamic analysis of soft- ware, both at the programming lan- guage level and at the level of binary

analysis. There are now companies specializing in this technology, and research programs such as IARPA’s STONESOUP1 are pushing the fron- tiers. It would be feasible for a building code to require evidence that software for systems of particular concern (for example, for self-driving cars or SCADA systems) is free of the kinds of vulner- abilities that can be detected automati- cally in this fashion.

It will be important to exclude from the code requirements that can only be satisfied by expert and intensive hu- man review, because qualified review- ers will become a bottleneck. This is not to say the code could or should ig- nore software design and development practices. Indeed, through judicious choice of programming languages and frameworks, many kinds of vulnera- bilities can be eliminated entirely. Evi- dence that a specified set of languages and tools had indeed been used to pro- duce the finished product would need to be evaluated by the equivalent of a building inspector, but this need not be a labor-intensive process.

If you speak to builders or archi- tects, you will find they are not in love with building codes. The codes are voluminous, because they cover a multitude of building types, technolo- gies, and systems. Sometimes builders have to wait for an inspection before they can proceed to the next phase of construction. Sometimes the require- ments do not fit the situation and waiv- ers are needed. Sometimes the code may dictate old technology or demand that dated but functional technology be replaced.

Nevertheless, architects and build- ers will tell you the code simplifies the entire design and construction pro- cess by providing an agreed upon set of ground rules for the structure that takes into account structural integrity, accessibility, emergency exits, energy efficiency, and many other aspects of buildings that have, over time, been recognized as important to the occu- pants and to the community in which the structure is located.

Similar problems may occur if we succeed in creating a building code for software security. We will need to have mechanisms to update the code as technologies and conditions change. We may need inspectors. We may need

I am honored and delighted to have the opportunity to take the reins of Communications’ Privacy and Security column from Susan Landau. During her tenure, Susan developed a diverse and interesting collection of columns, and I hope to continue down a similar path. I have picked up the pen myself this month, but I expect that to be the exception, not the rule. There is so much happening in both privacy and security these days that I am sure we will not lack for interesting and important topics. I will appreciate feedback from you, the reader, whether in the form of comments on what is published or as volunteered contributions.

—Carl Landwehr



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