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DNS Bug Disclosure: ICANN Releases New Guidelines

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has released new guidance concerning the reporting and disclosure of bugs that affect the Domain Name System, including information of how ICANN itself will behave in response to vulnerabilities.

Until recently, ICANN, which is responsible for maintaining the root domain servers at the heart of the DNS system, had no specific guidelines for the reporting of vulnerabilities, leaving responsible disclosure protocols up to the researchers who discovered the bugs. With the release of the Coordinated Vulnerability Disclosure Reporting [PDF] document they hope to instigate a more unified and consistent process for disclosure.

The guidelines are intended to:

"define the role ICANN will perform in circumstances where vulnerabilities are reported and ICANN determines that the security, stability or resiliency of the DNS is exploited or threatened. The guidelines also explain how a party, described as a reporter, should disclose information on a vulnerability discovered in a system or network operated by ICANN."

The document outlines procedures that ICANN will follow in various roles, including as an affected party, where the vulnerability directly impacts ICANN's operations; as a reporter, when ICANN researchers discover vulnerabilities; and as a coordinating party.

Security vulnerability reporting is a controversial topic, with some researchers advocating immediate full disclosure, and others opting for responsible disclosure where vendors and stakeholders are notified privately before a full release is made only following the patching of relevant software. There is also a thriving black market for security vulnerabilities, where the information is disclosed only to the highest bidder for use in hacking attacks.

As an essential and ubiquitous part of Internet's infrastructure, the security of the Domain Name System is of particular interest to hackers and those engaged in industrial or state-sponsored espionage. ICANN is advocating a system of responsible disclosure with ICANN itself acting as a coordinator in some cases. Bugs that impact DNS can be reported directly to ICANN, who will then inform affected vendors or service providers.

Public disclosure is strongly discouraged until vendors have been informed of the vulnerability and have fixes in place. However, the methodology recommended by ICANN makes it clear that in the case of vendors who fail to respond to attempts at coordination, researchers may choose to disclose vulnerabilities.

None of these recommendations is binding, and researchers are still free to choose how to react to discovered vulnerabilities. However, the creation of these guidelines is a positive move towards a unified and coordinated system for handling security vulnerabilities in the DNS.

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