NHS-backed org reacted to GitHub leak disclosure with legal threats and police call, complains IT pro

Gareth Corfield has a commentary on a recent case where a researcher found himself threatened legally.  It begins:

IT pro Rob Dyke says an NHS-backed company not only threatened him with legal action after he flagged up an exposed GitHub repository containing credentials and insecure code, it even called the police on him.

Dyke, who has previously appeared in this organ, in March said he received letters from lawyers representing the Apperta Foundation after he told the business he had found a public repo containing the source code for an insecure online portal and its database containing usernames, hashed passwords, email addresses, and API keys.

Read more on The Register.  This case had attracted a lot of attention on Twitter and support for Dyke.  Corfield’s comments, however, are somewhat more conservative. Here are part of his comments, with this site’s reaction:

Vuln disclosure can be a fraught process. Someone in Dyke’s position in future may be better off asking a trusted organisation or confidante to disclose a security hole on his behalf rather than doing it personally, especially in a situation where an existing relationship has turned sour for whatever reason. Bug bounty schemes and similar vuln disclosure programs are the best methods where available as there should be a well-defined process for passing on evidence and details in a way that doesn’t end up with a report to the police.

That researchers need shields to disclose responsibly is a problem, and one that bug bounty schemes do not solve because bug bounty schemes require nondisclosure and leave the researcher stuck about not making something public when it would be of public concern.

Telling an organization that has screwed up its security, especially its lawyers, that you will retain a copy of the leaked data will rarely trigger a positive reaction. Keeping data post-remediation shouldn’t be the norm, we think.

What if the researcher knows that the entity is not going to disclose a breach or situation publicly and that people should be notified? Does The Register still think the data should be destroyed?

What about giving the data to HaveIBeenPwned or other breach leak sites? Should that be taboo or illegal?

There’s a lot to think about, but having to defend yourself when you’re just trying to disclose responsibly will only discourage responsible disclosure.

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