Security States

Bad Code: Should Software Makers Pay? (Part 1)

By Jane Chong
Thursday, October 3, 2013, 10:17 AM

As far as legal remedies go for software vulnerabilities, code might as well be crack cocaine. So I suggest in my piece today over at Lawfare's new feed at the New RepublicSecurity States. This is the first installment in a month-long series on whether and how to go about holding vendors liable for insecure software. It opens:

The joke goes that only two industries refer to their customers as “users.”  But here's the real punch line: Drug users and software users are about equally likely to recover damages for whatever harms those wares cause them.

Let’s face it. Dazzled by what software makes possible—the highs—we have embedded into our lives a technological medium capable of bringing society to its knees, but from which we demand virtually no quality assurance. The $150 billion U.S. software industry has built itself on a mantra that has become the natural order: user beware.

Unfortunately, software vulnerabilities don’t just cost end-users billions annually in antivirus products. The problem is bigger than that. In 2011, the U.S.government warned critical-infrastructure operators about an exploit that was targeting a stack overflow vulnerability in software deployed in utilities and manufacturing plants around the world. In 2012, a researcher found almost two dozen vulnerabilities in industrial control systems (ICS) software used in power plants, airports and manufacturing facilities. In its 2013 threat update, Symantec, the world’s largest security software corporation, surprised no one when it announced that criminals were finding and exploiting new vulnerabilities faster than software vendors were proving able to release patches. Cybersecurity is a very big set of problems, and bad software is a big part of the mess.

How did we get here?