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May 2008

Face-Off: Is vulnerability research ethical?

Security Experts Bruce Schneier & Marcus Ranum Offer Their Opposing Points of View Coming in July/August: Chinese Cyber-Attacks: Myth or Menace? Send comments on this column to feedback@infosecuritymag.com. POINT by Bruce Schneier The standard way to take control of someone else's computer is by exploiting a vulnerability in a software program on it. This was true in the 1960s when buffer overflows were first exploited to attack computers. It was true in 1988 when the Morris worm exploited a Unix vulnerability to attack computers on the Internet, and it's still how most modern malware works. Vulnerabilities are software mistakes--mistakes in specification and design, but mostly mistakes in programming. Any large software package will have thousands of mistakes. These vulnerabilities lie dormant in our software systems, waiting to be discovered. Once discovered, they can be used to attack systems. This is the point of security patching: eliminating known vulnerabilities. But many systems don't get patched, so the Internet is ...

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