China Sets Up New Worrying Vulnerability Disclosure Rules

The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) has published new guidelines regarding vulnerability disclosure rules, which should, in theory, offer some protection for companies affected by potential security problems, but raises serious security issues in practice.

Most of the new CAC guidelines follow common-sense rules, making it difficult for anyone to disagree with them. For example, they forbid organizations or individuals from collecting, selling or publishing vulnerabilities. They also give manufacturers time to fix problems.

“Network providers, network operators, and vulnerabilities collection platforms shall establish and improve vulnerabilities information receiving channels and keep them open, and keep vulnerabilities information receiving logs for no less than six months,” say the new guidelines.

Also, companies and people are forbidden from publishing tools or exploits that put devices and applications at risk, and network operators and vendors are encouraged to set up reward systems for reported vulnerabilities.

The problems appear with other requirements. From now on, all network operators and manufacturers have to register their vulnerability reporting platforms with the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT).

Making matters worse, vendors have to share the discovered vulnerabilities within two days of reporting them, which in theory would give the ministry powerful tools. For example, numerous security researchers are based in China, reporting vulnerabilities through bug bounties set up in other parts of the world. Would those researchers have to report the same vulnerabilities to MIIT as well? It might prompt some platforms to reject vulnerability reporting coming from China.

The new rules take effect on Sept. 1. Only after that will the full extent of the regulation be apparent.