It has been a couple of months now since a Russian security researcher, Evgeny Legerov, confirmed that the widely deployed media software RealPlayer was vulnerable to a zero-day exploit. The Russian company, Gleg, is in the business of selling information on such exploits and security flaws. Unfortunately, according RealNetworks's Vice President Jeff Chasen, Gleg has been unwilling or unable to provide the necessary data to allow the alleged gaping security hole to be patched despite repeated requests from both RealNetworks and CERT. Gleg has, on the other hand, posted a video showing the heap overflow/code execution exploit in action.
According to Chris Wysopal, CTO for application secure code testing company, Veracode, it was only ever a matter of when rather than if the zero day exploit commercial market would find a vulnerability in widely deployed software such as this. "We don't know when this unpatched RealPlayer vulnerability was introduced into the code" Wysopal says "It has probably been latent for many months. Real's customers were vulnerable as soon as they downloaded this version of RealPlayer. There is currently knowledge circulating in criminal circles and attackers are using it to compromise Real's customers."
The fact that Gleg apparently knew how to reproduce this problem at least a month beforehand, but did not inform the vendor, is quite frankly appalling. Indeed, there appears to be a legitimate concern over what benefit the customers of Gleg, who were informed about the problem, would get by having such client side exploit information before the vendor can patch it.
Legerov has responded to criticism by arguing that the exclusivity is required so that his customers can better understand the level of risk that they face. Again, this beggars belief. What do they need to understand other than the client software is broken and needs to be fixed ASAP, unless there were some ulterior motive. As Wysopal says "I know that users with RealPlayer 11 installed will undoubtedly stumble across a malicious music file and their system will have a bot installed running with their logged in privilege level. I'm not sure what additional value I would get as a Gleg customer." Unless, of course, you were RealNetworks in which case you might be able to run the exploit in lab conditions and patch that vulnerability. But then isn't that tantamount to blackmail?
Wysopal argues with plenty of merit that a cooperative solution is a much safer way for customers to understand the risks of the code they run, promoting good security hygiene on the vendor side. "We have found that once vendors know that their big customers are using an independent review service they are more likely to proactively start doing security testing within their SDLC" he continues "A vendor can't bluff their way out of a comprehensive code assessment like they can from just a single (or a few) vulnerabilities publicly reported. If their code is full of vulnerabilities their customers will know."