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An Overview of the Coordination Process

This process at times involves several organizations.

Ideal Disclosure Process

When working directly with the vendor, generally the coordinated disclosure process proceeds as follows:

  1. A reporter learns of a vulnerability (either directly as a user or researcher, or indirectly from someone else)
  2. Reporter finds vulnerable product's vendor, reports vulnerability to vendor directly
  3. Vendor analyzes the report, verifies information is correct, and quickly acknowledges reporter
  4. Vendor provides information to reporter regarding patching the issue and the timeframe until the patch is released publicly, reporter agrees to publish on the same day
  5. Reporter may test the patch before public release and provide findings to vendor
  6. Toward the end of the timeframe, before the patch is released, both vendor and reporter draft security advisories and share with each other for comment
    1. reporter and vendor may request a CVE ID from MITRE, if the vendor is not already a CVE Naming Authority
  7. The patch for the vulnerability may released privately to affected downstream vendors (customers/users of the vulnerable product) first
  8. On an agreed-upon date, public security advisories are published detailing the issue, and how to obtain the patch or mitigate the issue
    1. typically, the vendor will release an advisory simultaneously with the reporter publishing an advisory on a security mailing list such as Bugtraq or Full Disclosure, or possibly even a personal blog.
    2. At some later time (typically fairly quickly, especially if the vendor is a CVE Naming Authority), MITRE will update the CVE ID record on its CVE List website.
    3. After the MITRE CVE ID record is published, the National Vulnerability Database (NVD) will publish its entry on the CVE ID, which provides extra information like vulnerability scoring.

End result: vulnerability is mitigated or addressed in some manner, tracked with a CVE ID, and the public is informed through advisories about how to obtain the mitigation.

Complications

The above description is very idealized, while every coordinated disclosure case is somewhat unique and may have special handling requirements or constraints. The important idea is the word "coordinated": the formula presented above can be tweaked as much as necessary as long as both parties are kept in the loop (coordinate!).

In some simple cases, should a vendor become unresponsive, some reporters will proceed to publishing a security advisory. This is common, especially in cases where the vulnerability was initially established but then no date is set for a patch release. This is fine to do, but CERT/CC recommends to first reach out to the vendor with a draft of your advisory before publishing.

However, other cases can be more complex, such as reports that affect multiple vendors, only some of which are responsive to the reporter. In general, the CERT/CC is here to help with scenarios that go "off the rails". This can include many different reasons, such as:

  • Reporter is new to coordination and disclosure and would like some guidance on reporting and disclosing vulnerabilities
  • Vendor is new to coordination and disclosure; the vendor may be unreachable by the reporter, or the vendor may request guidance on handling the report and establishing operations for future reports
  • Multiple vendors are suspected of being affected, and the reporter either has received no reply or is even unsure exactly who is affected
  • Vendor and Reporter disagree on the existence or severity of a vulnerability; CERT/CC may be able to provide independent testing and analysis

In these cases you can contact the CERT/CC for assistance by using our Vulnerability Reporting Form.

Coordinating via CERT/CC

The best way to submit a report to the CERT/CC is via our Vulnerability Reporting Form.

When working with the CERT/CC, the process is typically very similar but with a few extra steps:

  1. Security researcher reports a vulnerability to the CERT/CC and requests coordination assistance
  2. CERT/CC analyzes the report, attempting to verify correctness of information, and deciding if will accept or decline to provide assistance
    1. CERT/CC may decline to assist in otherwise valid reports for many reasons: low severity, resource/time constraints, etc.
  3. If the report is accepted by the CERT/CC, then the CERT/CC will attempt to contact the vendor and report the vulnerability
  4. CERT/CC begins planning on public disclosure as a Vulnerability Note after 45 days from initial date of attempted contact, or another date negotiated with the reporter
  5. If the vendor replies, CERT/CC will work with the vendor to develop and test patches if necessary, as well as help notify any downstream vendors affected
    1. If the vendor does not reply, CERT/CC will attempt to alert downstream vendors prior to the disclosure date and then publish the Vulnerability Note after sending a reminder notice to the vendor
  6. If possible, CERT/CC and the vendor will provide the patch for the vulnerability to downstream vendors privately before public disclosure
  7. Prior to the publication date, a CVE ID is assigned by CERT/CC if necessary (unless the vendor is a CVE Naming Authority, in which case the vendor must assign a CVE ID).
  8. The draft Vulnerability Note and CVE ID are shared with the vendor and reporter for comments, typically 1-2 weeks before the publication date. In some scenarios, CERT/CC may decide not to publish, however.
  9. On the agreed-upon publication date, public security advisories are published, detailing the issue and how to obtain the patch or mitigate the issues. CERT/CC may publish a Vulnerability Note, and typically the vendor and/or the reporter will also publish their own advisories.

Please note that when a vulnerability is reported to the CERT/CC, we will begin to manage the process and timeline. We will take reporter's comments into our decision process, but by submitting a report, the reporter agrees that CERT/CC has final decision authority over any coordination and publishing on the CERT.ORG website, and agree to follow our Disclosure Policy by default. However, as the vulnerability reporter, you are the owner of the vulnerability information and are free to disclose it on your own at any time, if you wish.

Per our disclosure policy, we also reserve the right to change this process as necessary. As stated earlier, every case is somewhat unique and may require significant changes to the process depending on the information available.