First thing to do was to find the original source of the advisory, as co-ordination centres and research firms are known to often play the Telephone game, with advisory texts mangled beyond recognition. Following the links led to the actual advisory on the HP site. This describes the vulnerability as follows:
But then they give the CVE name for the flaw, CVE-2007-6388, which is a known public flaw fixed last month in various Apache versions from the ASF and in updates from various vendors that ship Apache (including Red Hat).
This flaw is a cross-site scripting flaw in the mod_status module. Note that the server-status page is not enabled by default and it is best practice to not make this publicly available. I wrote mod_status over 12 years ago and so I know that this flaw is exactly how the ASF describes it; it definitely can't let a remote attacker execute arbitrary code on your Apache HTTP server, under any circumstances.
I fired off a quick email to a couple of contacts in the HP security team and they confirmed that the flaw they fixed is just the cross-site scripting flaw, not a remote code flaw. The CVSS ratings they give in their advisory are consistent with it being a cross-site scripting flaw too.
So happy with a false alarm we cancelled our Critical Action Plan and I went off and had a nice weekend practicing taking panoramas without a tripod ready for an upcoming holiday. My first attempt came out better than I expected:
Using our public tool, for every Red Hat product and service, for 2007 we issued 306 advisories to fix 404 vulnerabilities. Of those 404 vulnerabilities 41 were critical (on the scale used by Microsoft and Red Hat).
Most people are not going to be using every Red Hat product, so taking just Enterprise Linux product you find 348 vulnerabilities, of which 27 were critical. A given user is going to only be vulnerable to the issues that affect the products and packages they have installed. Using the scripts on our pages you can figure it out for your own circumstances. But as an example, the default installation of Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 AS had 172 vulnerabilities of which 4 were critical.
The Secunia report does actually make it clear you can't use their vulnerability count as a method of comparing platforms, in part due to the differences in methodology of the vendors, but I'm sure this won't stop some press from jumping to conclusions if they don't read the actual report.
I've asked Secunia how they got to their number of vulnerabilities, but in the meantime, a raw count of vulnerabilities is only a small part of the overall risk exposure in using a product. I've got some more reports that go into this in more detail for two years of Enterprise Linux 4 and Enterprise Linux 5.0 to 5.1.
Update: Coverage of this: ZDNet
Update: Secunia told me that they treat each advisory separately; so for example yesterday we issued updates for some moderate severity issues in the Apache Web server, but we did separate advisories for each affected product: Red Hat Enterprise Linux 2.1, 3, 4, 5, Red Hat Application Stack v1, v2. So in this case the same Apache vulnerability would be counted 6 times.
Between releases there are lots of changes made to improve security and I've not listed everything; just a high-level overview of the things I think are most interesting that help mitigate security risk. We could go into much more detail, breaking out the number of daemons covered by the SELinux default policy, the number of binaries compiled PIE, and so on.
|Fedora Core||Fedora||Red Hat Enterprise Linux|
|Firewall by default||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y|
|Signed updates required by default||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y|
|NX emulation using segment limits by default||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y2||Y||Y|
|Support for Position Independent Executables (PIE)||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y2||Y||Y|
|Address Randomization (ASLR) for Stack/mmap by default3||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y2||Y||Y|
|ASLR for vDSO (if vDSO enabled)3||no vDSO||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||no vDSO||Y||Y|
|Restricted access to kernel memory by default||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y|
|NX for supported processors/kernels by default||Y1||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y2||Y||Y|
|Support for SELinux||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y|
|SELinux enabled with targeted policy by default||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y|
|glibc heap/memory checks by default||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y|
|Support for FORTIFY_SOURCE, used on selected packages||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y|
|All packages compiled using FORTIFY_SOURCE||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y|
|Support for ELF Data Hardening||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y|
|All packages compiled with stack smashing protection||Y||Y||Y||Y||Y|
|SELinux Executable Memory Protection||Y||Y||Y||Y|
|glibc pointer encryption by default||Y||Y||Y||Y|
|FORTIFY_SOURCE extensions including C++ coverage||Y|
The graph below shows the total number of security updates issued for Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 Server up to and including the 5.1 release, broken down by severity. I've split it into two columns, one for the packages you'd get if you did a default install, and the other if you installed every single package (which is unlikely as it would involve a bit of manual effort to select every one). So, for a given installation, the number of packages and vulnerabilities will be somewhere between the two extremes.
So for all packages, from release up to and including 5.1, we shipped 94 updates to address 218 vulnerabilities. 7 advisories were rated critical, 36 were important, and the remaining 51 were moderate and low.
For a default install, from release up to and including 5.1, we shipped 60 updates to address 135 vulnerabilities. 7 advisories were rated critical, 26 were important, and the remaining 27 were moderate and low.
Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 shipped with a number of security technologies designed to make it harder to exploit vulnerabilities and in some cases block exploits for certain flaw types completely. For the period of this study there were two flaws blocked that would otherwise have required critical updates:
This data is interesting to get a feel for the risk of running Enterprise Linux 5 Server, but isn't really useful for comparisons with other versions or distributions -- for example, a default install of Red Hat Enterprise 4AS did not include Firefox. You can get the results I presented above for yourself by using our public security measurement data and tools, and run your own metrics for any given Red Hat product, package set, timescales, and severities.
Since then I've been sending in corrections on a monthly basis, taking into account the worst possible score across all affected platforms (and not how Red Hat products were affected specifically).
For the five months May to September 2007 I looked at 178 vulnerabilities (across all Red Hat products and services). Only 80 were accurate. Corrections were submitted to NVD and they fixed the incorrect CVSS scores on the remaining 98 vulnerabilities.
So, before the corrections, there were 65 issues rated "High" out of 178. After the corrections there are actually only 17 rated "High".
Fortunately the number of corrections needed each month seems to be decreasing, but we'll continue to send in corrections every month. Even with the corrections, the severity rating for a given vulnerability may well vary for the version each vendor ships; so you need to be careful if you are basing your risk assesments soley on the accuracy of third-party severity ratings.
Even though I'm not a fan, NVD publish a CVSS score for every issue, security companies are using those scores in their vulnerability feeds to customers, and people are using them for metrics. So it's important that these scores are accurate.
I decided to take a look at how accurate the CVSS scores were, so for every vulnerability we fixed in any Red Hat product for June 2007 examined the CVSS score given by NVD. For each one figuring out if the CVSS base metrics were correct, and where they were not submitting the correction back to NVD. This analysis of the vulnerabilities was based on their possible worst-case threat to all platforms (I didn't adjust the CVSS scores for how the issues affected Red Hat products specifically).
There were 39 total vulnerabilities for which unfortunately only 8 scores were accurate. I submitted corrections to NVD and they fixed the CVSS scores on the remaining 31 vulnerabilities.
20 vulnerabilities ended up moving down in ranking, 6 vulnerabilities moved up, and 5 stayed the same (although the CVSS score changed).
Before the corrections there were 14 issues rated "High" out of 39, after the corrections there are just 3 rated "High".
Those corrections are now live in the NVD, and I really appreciate how quick the folks behind NVD were at checking and making the changes. I've submitted to them corrections for a couple more months too, and I'll write about those when there complete. Unfortunately it does take a lot of time to investigate each issue and do the corrections, so it will limit how far back into 2007 we can correct.
Common Platform Enumeration (CPE) is a naming scheme designed to combat these inconsistencies, and is part of the 'making security measurable' initiative from Mitre. From today we're supporting CPE in our Security Response Team metrics: we publish a mapping of Red Hat advisories to both CVE and CPE platforms (updated daily) and you can use CPE to filter the metrics. Some examples of CPE names:
cpe://redhat:enterprise_linux:5:server/firefox -- the Firefox browser package on Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 server.
cpe://redhat:enterprise_linux:3 -- Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3
cpe://redhat/xpdf -- the xpdf package in any Red Hat product.
cpe://redhat:rhel_application_stack:1 -- Red Hat Application Stack version 1
The National Vulnerability Database provides a public severity rating for all CVE named vulnerabilities, "Low" "Medium" and "High", which they generate automatically based on the CVSS score their analysts calculate for each issue. I've been interested for some time to see how well those map to the severity ratings that Red Hat give to issues. We use the same ratings and methodology as Microsoft and others use, assigning "Critical" for things that have the ability to be remotely exploited automatically through "Important", "Moderate", to "Low".
Given a thundery Sunday afternoon I took the last 12 months of all possible vulnerabilities affecting Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 (from 126 advisories across all components) from my metrics page and compared to NVD using their provided XML data files. The result broke down like this:
So that looked okay on the surface; but the diagram above implies that all the issues Red Hat rated as Critical got mapped in NVD to High. But that's not actually the case, and when you look at the breakdown you get this result: (in number of vulnerabilities)
| ||NVD: High||
That shows nearly half of the issues that NVD rated as High actually only affected Red Hat with Moderate or Low severity. Given our policy is to fix the things that are Critical and Important the fastest (and we have a pretty impressive record for fixing critical issues), it's no wonder that recent vulnerability studies that use the NVD mapping when analysing Red Hat vulnerabilities have some significant data errors.
I wasn't actually surprised that there are so many differences: my hypothesis is that many of the errors are due to the nature of how vulnerabilities affect open source software. Take for example the Apache HTTP server. Lots of companies ship Apache in their products, but all ship different versions with different defaults on different operating systems for different architecture compiled with different compilers using different compiler options. Many Apache vulnerabilities over the years have affected different platforms in significantly different ways. We've seen an Apache vulnerability that leads to arbitrary code execution on older FreeBSD, that causes a denial of service on Windows, but that was unexploitable on Linux for example. But it has a single CVE identifier.
So if you're using a version of the Apache web server you got with your Red Hat Enterprise Linux distribution then you need to rely on Red Hat to tell you how the issue affects the version they gave you -- in the same way you rely on them to give you an update to correct the issue.
I did also spot a few instances where the CVSS score for a given vulnerability was not correctly coded. CVSS version 2 was released last week and once NVD is based on the new version I'll redo this analysis and spend more time submitting corrections to any obvious mistakes.
But in summary: for multi-vendor software the severity rating for a given vulnerability may very well be different for each vendors version. This is a level of detail that vulnerability databases such as NVD don't currently capture; so you need to be careful if you are relying on the accuracy of third party severity ratings.