Recently there has been an interesting debate in the Open Source world where people have objected to being called “Suppliers” as in Supply Chain Security when you are but an Open Source developer offering your code to the world for free and at no cost but also without any warranties. That is not a supplier, that’s just a creator.
A supplier would have some form of relationship or contract with the users of your code.
Terminology is difficult and yet powerful but changing what words we use for certain things is an uphill fight. I suspect we will keep using the term supplier even when we are not under contract.
Over the last few years the Open Source ecosystem have gotten attention when serious security flaws have been found and exploited, like log4shell and similar. It has brought the discussions to a higher level and now we talk about SBOMs and what responsibility “suppliers” and users of software based products have.
Already back when I participated in the meeting with the Cyber Safety Review Board the Open Source people present stressed – in unison – that the security problems are rarely problems in the upstream Open Source projects:
Most popular and widely used Open Source projects fix our security problem really fast, in a responsibly manner and provide information and fixes within a time period few proprietary software vendors match.
The issue is rather that the fixed versions are not being used. Things remain unpatched and running old, stale, versions because upgrading is hard and has a cost attached to it. Many stick to not upgrading their product and rather make the bet that whatever problem that practice might bring in the future, it is cheaper than doing upgrades. Capitalism.
Then there are intermediates. There are suppliers of software that are sitting in-between the producer of the code and the end user of it. They are for example Linux Distribution. They package Open Source products and provide them to users in a convenient way for users to install what they select. They take the role of the supplier.
Package manager responsibilities
Open Source software distribution depends on intermediates: package managers and curators. It would be highly impractical to try to use the universe of existing code without them.
This however puts a lot of power and responsibility in the hands of these package managers.
Download sites 2.0
In the early days of the Internet software was often provided via “download sites”. Websites featuring basically a catalog of software to which they allowed anyone to upload software to, and everyone to download whatever software they wanted from.
Those systems ended up highly criticized because they were too easily used to spread viruses or other malware. Over time we have switched to “package managers” which (usually) work in slightly more intelligent manners with package verification and more.
But not all package managers are sane package managers. Some of them are just download sites under a different name. Intermediates who do not accept their responsibilities as software suppliers.
“NuGet is the package manager for .NET” is the exact quote from their website.
NuGet is run by Microsoft (which gives it an official sounding status and flare), but packages are built and provided by volunteers. It is unclear to me what kind of checks, if any, that are done on the packages before they are allowed to get distributed by nuget to end users. I looked through their docs but I found no mention of this.
In early March 2023, I went to the nuget site and I searched for “curl”. I got a match for what is a packaged curl version and detailed instructions of how to install it.
On this curl page, it links to the curl project page and the libcurl landing page. For a casual user it probably looks official enough. It also mentions how users have downloaded curl 137,000 times from there. 3,388 is said to have downloaded curl in the last six weeks – proving that this page still tricks people.
A more experienced curler might spot that it links to the old curl domain name (which we moved away from two plus years ago) and that the links use
http:// (not https), which we all collectively stopped doing many years ago.
This curl version is almost ten years old. curl 7.30.0 was released in April 2013.
By using this official-sounding package manager to install what sounds like an official package, you get a curl package from a decade ago.
At the moment of this writing, curl 7.30.0 has been reported to have 68 individual security problems. Problems that have all since been fixed in later versions.
Report it? Sure, you would think so…
I reported this as an issue to NuGet on February 27 and asked them to remove this severely outdated package. Now that Windows 10 and 11 ship curl bundled already, and the curl project offers fresh official Windows builds.
(I would not be able to personally provide an update or “take over” responsibility for this package.)
The Nuget team responded after just six hours:
Thank you for contacting support for the NuGet.org website. We do not support individual NuGet packages. Please contact the package owner directly using the “Contact owners” link on the package details page.
(The response email was also riddled with references to Microsoft, there is no doubt this is an official service. )
I did not ask for support of this package, but okay, I proceeded and contacted the owner of this package via another form. I asked them to either remove the package from nuget or to upgrade it to a modern version as soon as possible. Apparently the nuget admins do not consider this to be a problem worth addressing.
The owner of the nuget curl package is called coapp, and is responsible for a whole series of packages, most of them seem to be packaged in the same style. Their 57 packages have been download 1.8 million times and I could only spot one of them as updated after 2015. Most of them have not been touched since 2013. The curl package is just the one that triggered me. There are probably about 55 other packages that should be updated or removed as well.
Someone pointed out to me that coapp was also the name of some kind of Windows build tool/system, that according to nuget’s own GitHub issue was declared dead already in 2016. They sound related.
When coapp (the owner of the curl package) had not responded after 16 hours, I tried another approach: I could report this package as vulnerable to security problems. I mean, I know for sure it is vulnerable for 68 errors that are well explained (and I wrote every single one of the explanations). But it did not succeed either.
When I tried to report this as a security problem, I could either report a problem with a Microsoft product and get linked over to their site for this purpose, or get informed that if there is a problem with a non-Microsoft package I should just instead contact the owner…
So I took it to Twitter. I posted a four-tweet mini-rant about the situation and got several responses from the right people within minutes.
I was also contacted over email and a conversation started. To their credit, they say that they started the conversation internally already before my Twitter rant based on my initial report, but did not inform me about it.
Not even 24 hours after my Twitter post, the curl package on nuget was “unlisted”. Meaning it is no longer found by search on the site and it was made to feature this big warning message on the top (if you still knew how to go to the URL):
For me, this is certainly good enough. A user can no longer get tricked into believing this is a fine package to install without understanding that there are sever risks involved.
I also specifically told the nuget team that this is not a unique situation for curl. There are numerous other packages in the exact same situation. Like several (most?) of the other packages the same owner published and hasn’t updated since 2013. This is a systemic failure, not a single instance. Every package can not have someone yell on Twitter about their situations.
GitHub Advisory Database
Why did the nuget team not know about the 68 vulnerabilities that affected the curl version they hosted?
They “blame” the fact that they use the GitHub Security Advisory Database (GHSA DB) to lookup this in, and yeah, not a single curl issue matched!!
This, because the GHSA DB machine-imports all details about CVEs from MITRE but they apparently cannot set the metadata correctly so there are no issues for a package called “curl”. You can free-text search it to find the curl issues, but they don’t have the metadata fields set correctly, like package name, affected versions or patched versions.
It really does not scale or work at any level that all the world’s projects would have to go to the GHSA DB to update this information. And how would we even know when and that it is desired?
The GHSA DB allows “community contributions” which in theory could allow us to provide updates. Except that GitHub very explicitly only allow such updates to packages within specific ares. A quote from their site:
Unfortunately, we cannot accept community contributions to advisories outside of our supported ecosystems
The “ecosystems” they talk about is then basically a dozen different package managers. curl is not part of any of those.
Tell the world even better?
In the curl project we highlight every confirmed security issue prominently in release notes and in release video presentations. We send out individual emails about each flaw to let the world know. Every issue is also posted to the oss-security mailing list.
Issues are also sent to MITRE for the official CVE Id database via our CNA: Hackerone. It should be noted however that the MITRE database never has an as complete and detailed description and overview of the problem as curl’s own descriptions have. The MITRE database is for looking up CVEs, not for getting the entire picture.
We have what I consider one of the most complete and detailed overview of past security vulnerabilities of any software project on our website to help users see exactly which flaws exist in which curl version.
Now we are discussing what more we can do in our end.
Thanks to [anonymous] who highlighted the NuGet situation for us.