An article about the upcoming new regime for the classification and labelling of chemicals reminded me to write about software assurance (i.e. software security) labelling (and since web sites are software). From 1 December 2010, the UN Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) comes into force, implemented in Europe by the Regulation (EC) No 1272/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 December 2008 on classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures (CLP), amending and repealing Directives 67/548/EEC and 1999/45/EC, and amending Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006.
CLP implications and guidelines are explained by the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) but are defined fully in the UN's documentation. The headline chemical labelling indicates the potential damage/harm that can occur, rather than the content/properties of the agent. I like this "impact" approach. Nutritional labelling on the other hand generally tends to focus on ingredients and their properties, but some food labelling is also beginning to attempt to classify low/medium/high fat/saturates/sugars/salt levels, which is more akin to the impact approach.
Jeff Williams (CEO of Aspect Security and Chair of OWASP Foundation) proposed a Software Facts label five years ago at OWASP Appsec Europe. This would be similar to appliance energy usage labels, food nutrition facts label, material safety data sheets or laser safety classes. That idea was taken up by NIST and the Software Assurance Consortium (SwAC) to develop another proposal.
Comment here and here around the same time in 2005 describes some of the challenges. Indeed many more aspects of the software development lifecycle impact upon the creation of secure software. But simplicity is needed in the presentation of such information—perhaps some high-level impact related indicators augmented by the more detailed information for different audiences (e.g. users, operators, administrators, system achitects). SwAC's version seems to be somewhat aimed at software development teams, instead of people in end user organisations, especially those involved with procurement decisions. Whilst some people will want to know the data behind a classification, most businesses and consumers will need something more akin to the CLP headline labels relating to business (or personal) impact as a starting point for their decisions.
- How dangerous is this software?
- How reliable is it?
- How does it affect privacy?
- How does the IT environment affect these?
- How are these affected by changing the default settings?
This a big challenge. Just specifying the privacy practices for a web site can be complex. ENISA's Common Assurance Maturity Model (CAMM) project is trying to define how cloud service providers can be compared to allow users to make informed decisions about the risks. Perhaps that project will develop into some form of labelling scheme, or at least provide ways for typical consumers of the services to determine their own risks as simply as possible.
I don't know the status of the SwAC project but will now make the effort to find out.
Posted on: 30 April 2010 at 08:49 hrs