What Responsibility do Anti-Spyware Researchers Have?


Ethical debates are always interesting, and people have gotten in trouble lately for reverse engineering and various other branches of research.

This is a fairly old topic, but as I’m clearing out some old drafts, I still find it an interesting one.

There’s been an ongoing debate in security circles concerning how security researchers should disclose vulnerabilities for a long time, Darknet is of course in the Full Disclosure school of thinking. The common viewpoint is that the researchers should disclose the vulnerabilities to the company, giving them some time to fix the problem.

Typically, however, if nothing is done to fix the vulnerability, then researchers eventually will disclose it publicly. That’s where a lot of the conflict occurs, and there are even some questionable laws that might get you in trouble for publicly discussing a vulnerability. However, does this apply to spyware research as well?

The main question is, should the vulnerabilities ever be posted publically? I of course say yes, as if I’m using that software, I have the right to know there’s something wrong with it and take remedial measures, even if there’s no patch (that’s the beauty of open source, you can patch it yourself!).

There was a lot of conversation during the 180solution period about responsible disclosure and disclosing the affiliates used to install spyware, someone 180 always manage to spin it into a self-serving press release about how they triumphed over evil.

Ah ethics, always an interesting topic.

The whole thing became a virtual war between a high profile security researcher and the spammy 180solution folks.

The sniping between a controversial adware company and a prominent anti-spyware researcher continued Thursday as 180solutions defended its practices and called critic Ben Edelman “irresponsible.”

Earlier this week, Bellevue, Wash.-based 180 solutions, which distributes software that delivers ads to users’ computers, blasted Edelman, a Harvard researcher, for improperly disclosing a hack into the company’s installation software. Last week, Edelman had posted an analysis of an illegal download of 180’s Zango software by an affiliate Web site of 180’s advertising network.

You can read more here.

Posted in: Legal Issues, Malware

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