Site auctions software vulnerabilities to top bidder

WabiSabiLabi site could drive up the cost of fixing holes

There are many ways vulnerability information can get out to the industry but a controversial new site, auctioning such information to the highest bidder, may be the wave of the future.

The auction service, called WabiSabiLabi, lets potential sellers and buyers connect e-Bay-style, with timed bidding periods and minimum starting prices. Founders of the wslabi.com site say their auction house serves the researchers who discover vulnerabilities and often don't reap monetary rewards for their time and talent.

The business model is based on a practice that e-Bay shut down 16 months ago saying it promoted illegal activity. At the recent Black Hat show, published reports stated that 88 percent of respondents to an online poll said using such sites is dangerous. While it is accepted that researchers deserve to be paid for their work, selling to the highest bidder is frowned upon.

WabiSabiLabi disagrees, saying its e-marketplace, where any qualified buyer can bid, will actually discourage those who discover vulnerabilities from selling them on black markets to criminals who try to turn them into money.

The company says it checks out buyers and sellers before they can trade. "We are very aware about the risks of selling vulnerabilities, and this is why we subject buyers to deeper scrutiny, to minimize the risk of selling the wrong information to the wrong people," WabiSabiLabi says in its ethics statement. "We require non-anonymity from buyers and sellers alike. The stakes are just too high at this point in history."

Even so, the marketplace, which started business six weeks ago, is being eyed cautiously by entities dedicated to eliminating vulnerabilities quickly to avoid criminal exploitation.

"I don't think it's necessarily good for the community," says Jason Greenwood, the general manager of VeriSign's iDefense team, which pays bounties -- sometimes tens of thousands of dollars -- to researchers who discover vulnerabilities. "It will increase the perceived value of vulnerabilities, and the good guys already have trouble competing with the money you can get on the black market."

"There's a real danger that a number of these vulnerabilities will be purchased by buyers who do not turn them over to the vendors," says Terri Forslof, manager of security response for Tipping Point. "Once a vulnerability is turned over to a vendor its value starts to depreciate immediately. If someone paid lots of money for a vulnerability -- say US$75,000 to US$100,000 -- I guarantee they're not giving it to the vendor. Otherwise they've wasted their money."

VeriSign and its competitor Tipping Point, for example, both pay cash for significant vulnerability discoveries in an effort to plug software holes before they can be exploited. The companies then work with the vendors whose software is compromised to find fixes and publish the vulnerabilities.

VeriSign runs quarterly challenges paying as much as US$15,000 for researchers to find particular types of vulnerabilities in particular platforms, Greenwood says. Tipping Point ranks contributing vulnerability researchers as bronze, silver, gold and platinum depending on the quantity and quality of their discoveries, according to its description of Tipping Point's Zero Day Initiative. It rewards them with cash bonuses up to US$25,000 and pays their way to the Defcon and Black Hat security conferences.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.
Tim Greene

Tim Greene

Network World
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Bang and Olufsen Beosound Stage - Dolby Atmos Soundbar

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Sony WF-1000XM3 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

ASUS ROG, ACRONYM partner for Special Edition Zephyrus G14

Learn more >

Nakamichi Delta 100 3-Way Hi Fi Speaker System

Learn more >

Family Friendly

Philips Sonicare Diamond Clean 9000 Toothbrush

Learn more >

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit for Nintendo Switch

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

SunnyBunny Snowflakes 20 LED Solar Powered Fairy String

Learn more >

Teac 7 inch Swivel Screen Portable DVD Player

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?