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RE: CD MODIFICATION: DEFINITION version 2 - Interim Decision 8/30


-----Original Message-----
From: Steven M. Christey [mailto:coley@LINUS.MITRE.ORG]
Sent: Tuesday, August 24, 1999 7:06 PM
To: cve-editorial-board-list@lists.mitre.org
Subject: CD MODIFICATION: DEFINITION version 2 - Interim Decision 8/30

Please vote on the following modification to the DEFINITION content
decision, which uses the new "exposure" terminology.

Our proposal for the use of the "exposure" term has received very
little commentary, but since it (a) requires a change to the CVE name
itself, and (b) attempts to resolve some of the most significant
debates that have occurred on the Editorial Board list so far, it is
critical that adoption of this terminology be decided ASAP.


(Member may vote ACCEPT, MODIFY, REJECT, or NOOP.)

Short Description

In an attempt to remain independent of the multiple perspectives of
what a "vulnerability" is, the CVE identifies both "universal
vulnerabilities" (i.e. those problems that are normally regarded as
vulnerabilities within the contect of all reasonable security
policies) and "exposures" (i.e. problems that are only violations of
some reasonable security policies).


A "universal" vulnerability is one that is considered a vulnerability
under any commonly used security policy which includes at least some
requirements for minimizing the threat from an attacker.  (This
excludes entirely "open" security policies in which all users are
trusted, or where there is no consideration of risk to the system.)

The following guidelines, while imprecise, provide the basis of a
"universal vulnerability" definition.  A universal vulnerability is a
state in a computing system (or set of systems) which either:
  - allows an attacker to execute commands as another user
  - allows an attacker to access data that is contrary to the
    specified access restrictions for that data
  - allows an attacker to pose as another entity
  - allows an attacker to conduct a denial of service

The following guidelines provide the basis for a definition of an
"exposure."  An exposure is a state in a computing system (or set of
systems) which is not a universal vulnerability, but either:
  - allows an attacker to conduct information gathering activities
  - allows an attacker to hide activities
  - includes a capability that behaves as expected, but can be easily
  - is a primary point of entry that an attacker may attempt to use
    to gain access to the system or data
  - is considered a problem according to some reasonable security


Discussions on the Editorial Board mailing list and during the CVE
Review meetings indicate that there is no definition for a
"vulnerability" that is acceptable to the entire community.  At least
two different definitions of vulnerability have arisen and been
discussed.  There appears to be a universally accepted, historically
grounded, "core" definition which deals primarily with specific flaws
that directly allow some compromise of the system (a "universal"
definition).  A broader definition includes problems that don't
directly allow compromise, but could be an important component of a
successful attack, and are a violation of some security policies (a
"contingent" definition).

In accordance with the original stated requirements for the CVE, the
CVE should remain independent of multiple perspectives.  Since the
definition of "vulnerability" varies so widely depending on context
and policy, the CVE should avoid imposing an overly restrictive
perspective on the vulnerability definition itself.  Therefore, the
term "universal vulnerability" is to be applied to those CVE entries
which are considered vulnerabilities under any security policy (and
thus by any perspective), and "exposure" is to be applied to the
remaining CVE entries which include violations of *some* reasonable
security policy.


Examples of universal vulnerabilities include:
  - phf (remote command execution as user "nobody")
  - rpc.ttdbserverd (remote command execution as root)
  - world-writeable password file (modification of system-critical
  - default password (remote command execution or other access)
  - denial of service problems that allow an attacker to cause a Blue
    Screen of Death
  - smurf (denial of service by flooding a network)

Examples of exposures include:
  - running services such as finger (useful for information gathering,
    though it works as advertised)
  - inappropriate settings for Windows NT auditing policies (where
    "inappropriate" is enterprise-specific)
  - running services that are common attack points (e.g. HTTP, FTP, or
  - use of applications or services that can be successfully attacked
    by brute force methods (e.g. use of trivially broken encryption,
    or a small key space)

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