Microsoft no longer publishes advance notifications for its Patch Tuesdays

Posted by   Virus Bulletin on   Jan 12, 2015

Company unhappy with Google going full disclosure on privilege escalation vulnerability.

Tomorrow is the second Tuesday of the month and, as most people reading this blog will know, this means Microsoft will release security updates for its software products. But this "Patch Tuesday" will be slightly different from previous ones, as the company has stopped giving advance notification about which software packages will receive patches.

The change in procedure has led to many unhappy responses from security professionals, many of whom suspect commercial motives for the company's decision to, as it euphemistically calls it, 'evolve' the Advance Notification Service. After all, the company's Premium customers, as well its MAPP partners, will continue to receive the notifications in advance.

I agree that it is in everyone's interest for Microsoft to be as open as possible, and I think it's a shame we will no longer learn in advance about which systems will need to be rebooted.

On the other hand, 2014 was a bit of a rough year when it came to Microsoft's patch cycle, with a number of patches that had to be withdrawn both before and after they were released. I could understand it if the company's engineers would prefer to be able to perform some final QA testing without the whole of the security community watching over their shoulders.

We do know about one vulnerability that will be patched this month: a privilege escalation vulnerability in Windows 8.1 that was discovered by Google in October and subsequently reported to Microsoft.

In line with its own "90-day rule", in which vulnerabilities Google researchers find are automatically disclosed publicly 90 days after notifying the affected vendors, Google published details of the vulnerability yesterday - as they also did for a similar bug in December, when they also included proof-of-concept exploit code.

Microsoft is rather displeased. In a blog post, Chris Betz, Senior Director at Microsoft Security Response Center, urged Google to work with Microsoft in the interest of protecting customers. Releasing vulnerabilities before a fix has been released, he says, is doing "a disservice to millions of people and the systems they depend upon".

While most people agree that an eventual full disclosure of a vulnerability is an important stick to make sure a vendor releases a patch, it is hard not to feel sympathy for Microsoft. After all, couldn't Google have waited just two more days? And was it really necessary to release exploit code?

On the other hand, by adhering strictly to its 90-day rule, Google is sending the clear message that it won't make exceptions, thus preventing politics (or simply knowing the right people) from playing a role. In fact, Google has built its systems so that the disclosure automatically becomes public after 90 days, without any human intervention.

On balance, while I do feel a bit uncomfortable with Google unilaterally deciding what is best for security, in this case I agree with them. The 90-day rule provides a lot of clarity, which is well needed in the world of vulnerability disclosure. We should just get used to it.

Posted on 12 January 2015 by Martijn Grooten

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