Quantifying the Pressure of Legal Risks on Third-Party Vulnerability Research
Alexander Gamero-Garrido, Stefan Savage, Kirill Levchenko, and Alex C. Snoeren. 2017. Quantifying the Pressure of Legal Risks on Third-party Vulnerability Research. In Proceedings of the 2017 ACM SIGSAC Conference on Computer and Communications Security (CCS '17). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 1501-1513.
13 Pages Posted: 1 Sep 2017 Last revised: 29 Nov 2017
Date Written: August 30, 2017
Product vendors and vulnerability researchers work with the same underlying artifacts, but can be motivated by goals that are distinct and, at times, disjoint. This potential for conflict, coupled with the legal instruments available to product vendors (e.g., EULAs, DMCA, CFAA, etc.) drive a broad concern that there are "chilling effects" that dissuade vulnerability researchers from vigorously evaluating product security. Indeed, there are well-known examples of legal action taken against individual researchers. However, these are inherently anecdotal in nature and skeptics of the chilling-effects hypothesis argue that there is no systematic evidence to justify such concerns. This paper is motivated by precisely this tussle. We present some of the first work to address this issue on a quantitative and empirical footing, illuminating the sentiments of both product vendors and vulnerability researchers. First, we canvas a range of product companies for explicit permission to conduct security assessments and thus characterize the degree to which the broad software vendor community is supportive of vulnerability research activities and how this varies based on the nature of the researcher. Second, we conduct an online sentiment survey of vulnerability researchers to understand the extent to which they have abstract concerns or concrete experience with legal threats and the extent to which this mindset shapes their choices.
Keywords: Vulnerability; Public Policy; Copyright
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