NIST creates online treasure trove of security woes

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has launched a comprehensive cybersecurity database that is updated daily with the latest information on vulnerabilities in popular products.

The National Vulnerability Database (NVD) integrates all publicly available U.S. government vulnerability resources and provides references to industry resources. The Web site (nvd.nist.gov) contains about 12,000 vulnerability entries. About 10 new ones are added each day, said Peter Mell, a senior computer scientist at NIST and creator of NVD.

The database will be useful for giving the public detailed information about vulnerabilities in specific products and trends in industry segments. Developers who need to import vulnerability information into their security products could also find the database useful, Mell said.

The Homeland Security Department's National Cyber Security Division funds NVD, which is designed to complement the department's suite of vulnerability management offerings, Mell said. DHS' Technical Cyber Security Alerts and Vulnerability Notes contain detailed information, but they warn the public about only the most critical vulnerabilities, he said.

NVD, on the other hand, "is an encyclopedia of everything," Mell said.

The database answers some difficult questions, said Alan Paller, director of research at the SANS Institute, an organization specializing in education and training for information security professionals.

For instance, users might ask, "I have bought software from Company A, are there any vulnerabilities in it?" or "Have I found all the vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer?" They would not find answers to those questions in one place on the Internet, Paller said.

The database is built completely on the Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) naming standard developed by representatives from academia, government and industry.

Maintained by Mitre, CVE is a dictionary, not a database. It is designed to make it easier to share data among vulnerability databases and security tools. About 300 security products use CVE to identify vulnerabilities and facilitate interoperability among those products. NVD will aid that interoperability by enhancing the CVE name standard with detailed vulnerability information, Mell said.

NVD's vulnerability information is available for free to the public as an Extensible Markup Language feed. This will help developers who want to include the information in their information technology security products. NVD can also generate statistics that reveal vulnerability-discovery trends in industry segments and products, Mell said.

A statistics-generation engine lets users chart and graph custom statistics. For instance, they can see that vulnerabilities such as buffer overflows, which have been around for a long time, are still being discovered in large numbers even though tools are available to eliminate them, Mell said.

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