Any business launched online in the cyber network is inevitably at risk of cyber attacks. And unfortunately, there are always security vulnerabilities — bugs and issues that can endanger the business infrastructure as well as confidential information and cause irreparable damage. Consequently, many organizations are now using a vulnerability disclosure program (VDP) in order to develop a safer business online by patching and mitigating vulnerabilities before they are exploited.
In this blog, we’ll answer the following questions: what is a vulnerability disclosure program? What is the difference between VDP and a bug bounty program?! And how to start your own VDP! So without further ado, let’s start.
What Is VDP in Security?
VDP stands for Vulnerability Disclosure Program or Policy, which presents a framework for ethical hackers and security researchers to submit vulnerabilities and bugs they have found in a legal and safe environment. Simply put, with a VDP, companies display their support and allow ethical hackers to come forward and disclose their security holes and relevant patches before malicious actors attempt to exploit them.
But, what is the purpose of the vulnerability disclosure program?! The primary purpose of running a VDP is to detect vulnerabilities that have remained hidden despite other securitymeasures and solutions, and to reduce the risk of being subject to cyber attacks. But giving ethical hackers the free hand to inspect an aspect of your security posture serves as another objective of VDPs since it may prevent other malicious individuals from exploiting these vulnerabilities or revealing them for public knowledge without the company’s permission.
To show their appreciation to these ethical hackers, different organizations may have different policies in place. While some might offer monetary compensation to the extent of their cybersecurity budget limits, others might send gifts. Yet, the common thread is that there’s no determined ‘bounty’ promised to the individuals.
So, if that’s how a VDP is defined, then what is bug bounty and how are they any different?!
Vulnerability Disclosure Program Vs Bug Bounty: What’s The Difference?
While both security solutions enable an organization to discover security vulnerabilities and take necessary action, they take two essentially different approaches.
In a bug bounty program, the organization defines the scope and a bounty or reward for vulnerabilities that will be detected and instantly starts inviting hackers. However, for a VDP, the organization is simply developing a structure to facilitate the process of reporting for ethical hackers who have voluntarily tested the digital assets of a company and found security holes. Hence, companies can’t filter skills or invite security experts based on their field of expertise.
As for compensation, a bug bounty is a highly incentivized solution that offers monetary rewards and prizes for each identified vulnerability. However, in a VDP, there’s no bounty involved; instead, the company could show its appreciation through sending gifts. And even if the company chooses to pay a certain amount, it’s not a pre-determined prize, won’t be paid per vulnerability, and may have nothing to do with the severity or urgency of the security bugs.
What Are the Different Types of Vulnerability Disclosure?
Moving on from the vulnerability disclosure program meaning, we need to clarify the different types of disclosure in security and what each one entails.
1- Self Disclosure
This is one of the simplest models of vulnerability disclosures. A self disclosure refers to a situation when the organization reveals a data breach or security vulnerabilities that they have discovered and resolved.
Although in enterprise security management, some take this approach to exhibit transparency and earn credibility, some organizations are legally and ethically bound to report their cybersecurity bugs and data breaches. For instance, according to article 34 of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), companies are required to disclose a data breach to the authority and data subjects. And in some cases, this would also mean disclosing vulnerabilities to act in accordance with the compliance.
2- Third-Party Disclosure
Despite a self disclosure program, this applies to reports that are submitted by third parties and any individual or team outside the organization itself.
3- Private Disclosure
Under a private disclosure guideline, the security flaws are only reported to the organization and won’t go public. This means that the company will decide on whether they want to disclose the information publicly or not, and they won’t be pressured to implement the patches either.
This can serve as a double-edged sword. With this model, the organization is indeed protected from the consequences of a public disclosure. However, since there’s no pressure to act on the solutions, they can easily neglect the security flaw, which would leave their security posture and their clients’ confidential information subject to various forms of breaches and attacks.
4- Full Disclosure
In a full disclosure model, the security vulnerabilities and bugs are disclosed to the public as soon as they are detected. Often when a company ignores private disclosures and fails to take necessary measures, cybersecurity researchers will take the information to the public. That is, other individuals will be informed of the security vulnerability before it is resolved, which means that the company would have a narrow window of opportunity to fix it before it is exploited by cyber criminals.
While this model pushes the organization to resolve zer-day vulnerabilities faster and more effectively, it could put them in serious danger as well as distress the clients. A full disclosure could be prevented if companies pay due attention to vulnerabilities that are privately reported.
5- Responsible Disclosure Program
With this model, the security researchers and ethical hackers report the detected bugs and patches to the organization and provide them with a realistic deadline by which the bug should be fixed and ready to be publicly disclosed. In this vulnerability disclosure program guidelines, the timeline is 60-120 days. However, should an organization feel that resolving the problem may take longer, they can always negotiate a new deadline with the researchers.
The transparency involved in the responsible disclosure policy makes it an ideal and safe option for most companies.
6- Coordinated Vulnerability Disclosure
Under a coordinated vulnerability disclosure policy, the ethical hackers agree to reveal the security flaw to a coordinating authority, such as CISA, which would then inform the organization. The third party will track the process, ensure that the vulnerability is not made public and that it is fixed. They can even negotiate a deadline to make sure that the problems will be addressed.
Why Is a Vulnerability Disclosure Program Important?
So far, we know that VDP serves as a framework that determines how ethical hackers can detect vulnerabilities in an organization and how they can publicize the information. The vulnerability disclosure program guideline, as a previously-set and transparent instruction, would minimize any kind of possible conflict between a bug finder and the developer in the publication process. But why is it important to have a VDP in place?! How does it help?!
1- VDP Helps Companies Mature Their Security Posture
Aside from running crowd-sourced pentest and other cybersecurity measures that a business may take, a vulnerability disclosure program also enables companies to detect their security vulnerabilities. In short, the VDP would serve as a safe solution that can provide you with invaluable information about how your security posture is falling short and how you can improve it.
2- It Builds Credibility & Trust with the Target Market
Having a VDP in place ensures your clients, investors, and target market that you’re committed to resolving your security vulnerabilities and put effort into improving your security posture. Not only is this transparency and commitment appreciated by your clients but it will also make you a credible and trustworthy organization.
3- It Serves as Encouragement for Ethical Hackers
There are always individuals who are striving to find security flaws and bugs in your security posture, yet they are more likely to report them to you if there is a clear and well-defined process in place. That is, if you set the ground for individuals and ethical hackers to report these problems in a safe environment and without the fear of legal repercussions, you’ll have the winning hand!
4- It’s the Prerequisite for Compliance
Some standards, including the ISO/IEC 27001, PCI DSS, NIST Cybersecurity Framework, and OWASP ASVS compliance, require organizations to have a mechanism in place for receiving and responding to security vulnerability reports. Although having a vulnerability disclosure policy is mandatory in this case, it’s also extremely beneficial for your business as it helps you gain more credibility and trust.
How Does VDP Work?
The definition of a VDP is clear now, but what is the vulnerability disclosure process? If you’re willing to learn more, here’s a full step-by-step instruction:
- Establishing the Vulnerability Disclosure Policy: The very first step that organizations must take is to draw up a formal policy. This would specify how and where individuals can submit their reports, how their findings will be validated, and when you will reach out to them. Make sure that you define the scope (properties, digital assets, products, etc. that individuals can assess) and formally state that you will not legally sue those who submit reports.
- Raising awareness: After establishing the VDP, it’s time to make it public. Most organizations promote it on their website, forums, or social media channels. This would let security researchers know that you’re open to receiving reports. It would also communicate your commitment to your potential clients.
- Receiving vulnerability reports and patches: At this stage, ethical hackers will detect security vulnerabilities and might even provide solutions. Then, they will submit their reports through the channel you have introduced.
- Validating the reports: Once your team receives the report, they should start validating and prioritizing the security flaws and their patches. Depending on the type of disclosure, you may have a certain deadline for fixing the vulnerabilities before they’re made public.
- Paying tribute and monetary compensation to hackers: Once you approve that the reports are valid, you should contact the ethical hackers to show your appreciation. You may do so by paying monetary compensation or sending gifts. And when the mitigation process is over, you should also inform them so they can disclose the information if they want to.
Different stages of this process may go through slight changes based on the type of disclosure, but that’s generally how a VDP works!
Rather Similar to bug bounty and next-gen pentest, the VDP guidelines will map out the scope. But in a vulnerability disclosure policy, you will also need to specify where the experts can submit the findings and when they can publicize it. This will make sure that both the organization and the ethical hackers are safe in that the hackers won’t be legally sued and organizations won’t see their vulnerabilities publicly available for cybercriminals to exploit.
According to the vulnerability disclosure philosophy instruction, the two parties should respect the terms and guidelines and put effort into creating a better experience for both the security researcher and the business owner.
Hacker’s Responsibilities in a VDP Policy
The hacker should guarantee to respect the privacy of the digital assets stored in the organization. This includes not gaining any unauthorized access, doing malicious activities, or inspecting areas that are not in the defined scope. Also, they should be committed to not damaging the structure of the online business in their efforts to find vulnerabilities. This will prevent any unwanted damage to the provider’s information in the process.
In case there’s a specific deadline, the hacker is also bound to keep the information private in that timeline and make the vulnerabilities public only after the deadline.
Provider’s Obligations in a VDP Policy
the provider’s cyber security team should try their best to resolve the issue in a transparent manner and provide the hacker with public recognition or allow them to disclose the information. In addition to that, they are banned from taking any legal action against hackers.
What Are the Benefits of Running Your VDP as a Bug Bounty Program?
Launching a bug bounty program as a part of your vulnerability disclosure policy can bring several benefits to the table. While in a VDP, hackers are not constantly motivated to report your security vulnerabilities, bug bounties offer valuable rewards which will incentivize the security experts to dig deeper.
So, as the VDP will serve as your passing ticket in many compliance requirements, you can also use the opportunity to enjoy a more modern and effective solution!
Check out 12 Benefits of Bug Bounty Programs HERE.
How Does Nodic Defender Help?
The very first step to setting up your VDP contains drawing up the formal policy and guidelines, which is highly time-consuming and demanding. It wouldn’t be prudent to spend your most valuable resources of time and energy on this exhausting task when there are more efficient solutions.
Nordic Defender, as the first and only modern cybersecurity solution provider in the Nordics, offers a managed vulnerability disclosure program. This solution enables organizations to set up a vulnerability disclosure policy quickly and effectively. And once the VDP is ready, Nordic Defender will call upon its vast pool of security experts and ethical hackers to start inspecting the defined scope and send reports.
Should you choose to proceed with Nordic Defender’s VDP, you will enjoy the luxury of two programs: Standard (Unmanaged) and Managed! In a standard program, you will be able to:
- Open the doors to a crowd of talented security experts and ethical hackers, each coming with their own field of expertise,
- Access all the security vulnerability reports in one place,
- Bring your team of security experts onboard to review and verify the findings,
- Ask any questions you may have regarding the identified security vulnerabilities from the ethical hackers,
- Easily integrate the final results into your development lifecycle through Jira and Github,
- And, download an updated PDF report of all the findings or the resolved vulnerabilities in a single click.
In a managed program, you’ll get every single advantage offered in a standard program. Plus, Nordic Defender’s team of technical experts will take care of every part of the process for you. This includes:
- Verifying the identified security flaws and their severity,
- Removing the duplicate findings,
- Checking whether the remediation process is included in the report or not,
And much more. The purpose is to make the Vulnerability Disclosure Program process as straightforward as it can be!
To learn more about how Nordic Defender can help you with this process, don’t hesitate to contact our team!
FAQs on Vulnerability Disclosure Program
Aside from the VDP meaning, process, and guidelines, there are many common questions. Here, we’ll address some of the most frequently asked queries.
1- What Is Vulnerability Disclosure Policy CISA?
As we mentioned previously, a coordinated vulnerability disclosure program involves a third party or coordinating author, like CISA(Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency). CISA’s CVD program will coordinate the mitigation and public disclosure of the security vulnerabilities identified by ethical hackers.
2- How Long Is the VDP Timeline in a Vulnerability Disclosure Policy?
Usually as a default procedure, with no objection from either side, the report is made public in 30 days. Although, in case of a mutual agreement, the organization and finder can settle for a definite deadline for the vulnerability to be disclosed.
Furthermore, if the public data is at stake, the company can take action and publicize the issue as soon as it is reported and provide remediation details. This also gives its users a heads-up to take protective actions.
In case of a complicated issue, the provider can request an extended timeline to remediate the problem fully. But if no result is achieved after 180 days, the content will be publicized regardless of the inability of the provider to solve the issue and the hacker receives the proper recognition.
Vulnerability disclosure programs enable organizations to receive reports from ethical hackers. These reports, provided according to the pre-set guidelines of a VDP, will inform the organization about security vulnerabilities and the actions they should take to resolve them.
If you find the process too time-consuming, you can always leave it to Nordic Defender! We’re here to ensure you launch an effective VDP and reap the benefits.