CVE and Cloud Services, Part 1: The Exclusion of Cloud Service Vulnerabilities


The vulnerability management process has traditionally been supported by a finely balanced ecosystem, which includes such stakeholders as security researchers, enterprises, and vendors. At the crux of this ecosystem is the Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) identification system. In order to be assigned an ID, vulnerabilities have to fulfill certain criteria. In recent times, these criteria have become problematic as they exclude vulnerabilities in certain categories of IT services that are becoming more and more common.

This is the first in a series of blogposts that will explore the challenges and opportunities in enterprise vulnerability management in relation to the increasing adoption of cloud services.

Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures

CVE® is a list of entries, each containing an identification number, a description, and at least one public reference for publicly known cybersecurity vulnerabilities[1].

CVEs are identifiers for security vulnerabilities that are—or are expected to become—public. Traditionally, they are assigned by one of two entities: The CNA (CVE Numbering Authority) that exists specifically for that piece of software (e.g. Microsoft, which covers Microsoft software) or a CNA that has been given coverage of said software (e.g. The Debian Project, Distributed Weakness Filing Project, and Red Hat all cover Open Source software to varying degrees). These CVEs are then published in the MITRE CVE database. Finally, they are consumed and republished by other organizations, often with additional information such as workarounds or fixes which makes tracking and remediating those vulnerabilities possible.

Customers of companies or organizations that are CNAs for their own products can be reasonably assured that CVE IDs are assigned to historical, current and future vulnerabilities found in those products.

CVE and Vulnerability Management

The CVE system is the linchpin of the vulnerability management process, as its widespread use and adoption allows different services and business processes to interoperate. The system provides a way for specific vulnerabilities to be tracked via the assignment of IDs. Enterprises, security researchers, penetration testers, software providers and even vulnerability scanning tools all use CVE IDs to track vulnerabilities in products. These IDs also allow important information regarding a vulnerability to be associated with it such as workarounds, vulnerable software versions, and Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) scores. Without the CVE system, it becomes difficult to track vulnerabilities in a way that allows the different stakeholders and their tools to interoperate.

Example of CVE and other associated information
Fig 1: Example of CVE and other associated information taken from CVEdetails.com (https://www.cvedetails.com/cve/CVE-2007-0994/)

CVE Inclusion Rules and Limitations

The decision to assign an ID to a vulnerability is governed by the Inclusion Rules. In order to assign a CVE ID to a vulnerability, the assigner has to take the vulnerability through the Inclusion Rules. Generally, only a vulnerability that fulfills all five criteria will be assigned an ID. For example, one of the Inclusion rules, INC3, states that a vulnerability should only be assigned a CVE ID if it is customer-controlled or customer-installable. A vulnerability in a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software that is installed on a server owned and managed by an enterprise fulfills that requirement.

CVE Inclusion Rule INC3
Fig 2: Inclusion Rule INC3 taken from cve.mitre.org (https://cve.mitre.org/cve/editorial_policies/counting_rules.html)

INC3, as it is currently worded, is problematic for a world that is increasingly dominated by cloud services. In the past, this inclusion rule has worked well for the IT industry as most enterprise IT services have generally been provisioned with infrastructure owned by the enterprise. However, with the proliferation of cloud services, this particular rule has created a growing gap for enterprise vulnerability management. This is because cloud services, as we currently understand them, are not customer controlled. As a result, vulnerabilities in cloud services are generally not assigned CVE IDs. Information such as workarounds, affected software or hardware versions, proof of concepts, references and patches are not available as this information is normally associated to a CVE ID. Without the support of the CVE system, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to track and manage vulnerabilities.

Conclusion

The Cloud Security Alliance and the CVE board are currently exploring solutions to this problem.

One of the first tasks is to obtain industry feedback regarding a possible modification of INC3 to take into account vulnerabilities that are not customer-controlled. Such a change would officially put cloud service vulnerabilities in the scope of the CVE system. This would not only allow vulnerabilities to be properly tracked, it would also enable important information to be associated with a service vulnerability.

Please let us know what you think about a change to INC3 and the resulting impact on the vulnerability management ecosystem in the comment section below or you can also email us.

Stay tuned for our next blog post where we will explore the impacts that the current Inclusion Rules have on enterprise vulnerability management.

[1] https://cve.mitre.org/

Kurt Seifried, Director of IT, Cloud Security Alliance and Victor Chin, Research Analyst, Cloud Security Alliance

[Cloud Security Alliance Blog]

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