NSF Vulnerability Disclosure Policy
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency whose mission is "to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense..." NSF funds approximately 25 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America's colleges and universities.
Protecting information is integral to the NSF mission. NSF has a proactive structure to communicate about and implement NSF's Information Technology (IT) security and privacy program objectives and agency-wide initiatives. NSF aligns security and privacy program activities with industry standards and best practices. NSF is also committed to ensuring the security of the American public by protecting their information.
NSF welcomes the research and assessment of potential vulnerabilities from independent researchers. In compliance with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Binding Operational Directive 20-01, Develop and Publish a Vulnerability Policy (September 2, 2020), the NSF Vulnerability Disclosure Policy is intended to give security researchers clear guidelines for conducting vulnerability discovery activities about NSF, and to convey NSF preferences in how to submit discovered vulnerabilities to NSF.
NSF's Vulnerability Disclosure Policy describes:
- what systems and types of research are covered under the policy
- how to send vulnerability reports to NSF
- how long security researchers are asked to wait before publicly disclosing vulnerabilities
NSF encourages the public to use the processes described in this policy to report potential vulnerabilities in its systems.
Information submitted under this policy will be used for defensive purposes only - to mitigate or remediate vulnerabilities. If a researcher's findings include newly discovered vulnerabilities that affect all users of a product or service and not solely NSF, NSF may share the researcher's report with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), where it will be handled under CISA's coordinated vulnerability disclosure process. The researcher's name or contact information will not be shared without express permission.
Vulnerability Research Authorization
If a researcher makes a good faith effort to comply with NSF's Vulnerability Disclosure Policy during his/her security research, NSF will consider the research to be authorized and NSF will work with the researcher to understand and resolve the issue quickly. NSF will not recommend or pursue legal action related to the research. Should legal action be initiated by a third party against the researcher for activities that were conducted in accordance with NSF's Vulnerability Disclosure Policy, NSF will make this authorization known.
Under this policy, a researcher is expected to comply with the following principles:
- Ensure test methods do not include unauthorized activities described below.
- Notifies NSF as soon as possible after a real or potential security issue is discovered.
- Makes every effort to avoid privacy violations, degradation of user experience, disruption to production systems, and destruction or manipulation of data.
- Only uses exploits to the extent necessary to confirm a vulnerability's presence. Does not use an exploit to compromise or exfiltrate data, establish command line access and/or persistence, or use the exploit to pivot to other systems.
- Allows NSF 90 business days to resolve the issue before disclosing the vulnerability publicly.
- Does not submit a high volume of low-quality reports.
Once a researcher has established that a vulnerability exists or encounters any sensitive data (including personally identifiable information, financial information, or proprietary information or trade secrets of any party), the researcher must stop their test, notify NSF immediately, and not disclose the data to anyone else.
The following test methods are not authorized:
- Network denial of service (DoS or DDoS) tests or other tests that impair access to or damage a system or data
- Physical testing (e.g. office access, open doors, tailgating), social engineering (e.g. phishing, vishing), or any other non-technical vulnerability testing
NSF's Vulnerability Disclosure Policy applies to all NSF internet- accessible systems and services:
Vulnerabilities found in systems from NSF vendors fall outside the policy's scope and should be reported directly to the vendor according to the vendor's disclosure policy.
Reporting a Vulnerability
Researchers who discover a potential vulnerability that may compromise NSF data or services are asked to follow the notification process below:
Step 1: Notification to NSF
Send notification of a potential vulnerability through NSF's security point of contact email address firstname.lastname@example.org. Please provide the following information:
- Description of the vulnerability - provide a description of the potential vulnerability and the potential impact of exploitation.
- Location and potential impact - provide the URL or other identifier of the location of the vulnerability and the assessment conducted of the potential impact of the vulnerability.
- Technical information to reproduce the finding - provide technical information so that NSF IT specialists may investigate the finding, including the ability to reproduce the finding. Provide a detailed description of the steps needed to reproduce the vulnerability. Proof of concept scripts or screenshots are helpful.
- Potential proof of concept code - provide a potential proof of concept code if possible.
- The researcher's acknowledgement of the following statement: "By submitting a vulnerability, you acknowledge that you have no expectation of payment and that you expressly waive any future pay claims against the U.S. Government related to your submission."
Researcher submissions are acknowledged within three business days of submission.
Researchers are asked to refrain from public announcement or discussion of their potential vulnerability findings for 90 business days from submission date to allow investigation and mitigation by NSF IT specialists.
Step 2: NSF Acknowledgement
NSF will coordinate with the researcher as openly and as quickly as possible:
- Within three business days, NSF will acknowledge report receipt.
- To the best of NSF's ability, NSF will confirm the existence of the vulnerability to the researcher and be as transparent as possible about remediation, including on issues or challenges that may delay resolution.
- NSF will maintain an open dialogue to discuss issues.
Step 3: NSF Investigation
NSF IT specialists are responsible to begin investigation of publicly reported potential vulnerabilities within three business days of submission.
- NSF IT specialists follow the NSF Vulnerability Management Procedure to mitigate potential vulnerabilities.
- NSF IT specialists inform the researcher on mitigation or resolution if possible.
Questions regarding this policy may be sent to email@example.com. NSF also invites researchers to contact NSF with suggestions for improving this policy.