[Owasp-board] Update on Google Hacking Inquiry and Request for Reinstatement

Josh Sokol josh.sokol at owasp.org
Tue Feb 4 01:04:49 UTC 2014


First of all, thanks for the reply.  I appreciate anyone and everyone
willing to give this a second thought as I know Christian and OWASP have
had quite the tumultuous past.  You are absolutely correct in that my
conclusion is made with "hindsight bias".  Unfortunately, the previous
Board left Tobias, Fabio, and myself no real choice here.  Having refrained
from a vote on Christian's request prior to our joining the Board (after
both Tobias and I suggested it), we were left with the options to 1) make a
decision based on what we were told or 2) make a decision based on our own
investigation into the past.  Not being fond of #1, and hoping that I could
help steer us to a peaceful resolution, I embarked on the second option.
So, while I agree that I "suffer from hindsight bias", nothing that I've
said implicates anyone from OWASP in anything negative here.  I don't think
that allegations along these lines would be fruitful for anyone.

I'm aware of the "mudpit" surrounding Christian, but frankly, it doesn't
impact my conclusion in the slightest.  My conclusion is based on the fact
that leaving the inquiry online runs contrary to our ethics policy.  It
serves no positive purpose at this point and continues to propagate
negativity against Christian.  I'm not sure how diving into the mudpit will
change this or how Christian's actions afterward somehow justifies
intentionally making someone's life miserable.  Perhaps I'm missing

As for the request for reinstatement, his past actions should most
certainly be taken into consideration there.  I have not drawn a
conclusion, however, on this, so I'm not sure what you're looking for.  My
general thought is that if Christian is willing to forgive and move beyond,
then we should give him the opportunity to do so and should attempt to do
the same.  I believe that Christian's behavior, while intolerable, seems to
stem from that original inquiry as it did not exist before then and I'm
willing to give him the benefit of the doubt if he tells me that he can
move forward in a positive manner.  In short, I believe in second chances.
And the worst case scenario is he proves me wrong and gets banned
indefinitely for it.  We have everything to gain and little to lose.  Other
than a personal bias against him, what is your specific objection?


On Mon, Feb 3, 2014 at 6:30 PM, Dennis Groves <dennis.groves at owasp.org>wrote:

> I also interviewed every participant you mentioned as well, however I did
> it at the time of the incident.
> I appreciate the level of detail you have gone to understand what
> happened, and the level of effort you have gone to ensure OWASP is truly
> open.
> However, your conclusion is made in hindsight, and suffers from hindsight
> bias <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindsight_bias>. And hence the saying
> "Hindsight is 20/20." I do agree that OWASP was much less 'structured' back
> then, and that we operated far more by group consensus (which you could
> correctly argue is a selection bias<https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selection_bias>).
> However, nobody back then was operating in any less good faith than you
> are today.  The only conclusion that I can safely agree with is that today
> projects are run much more effectively than at any time in the past, but to
> be honest so is the whole of OWASP.
> But, before I can agree with your conclusion I need to understand how
> deeply you 'delved into the mudpit.' While everybody involved can easily
> look back at their behaviour and perhaps conclude they could have handled
> the situations differently, did you also dig into the history of very
> dubious and abusive actions by the participants as well? Because, while
> everybody involved feels justified in the actions they took some of those
> actions certainly failed to live up to any standard that would have been
> acceptable either in the past or present. I want to know what you think
> about those events as well.
> Personally, I think that it is to late to put the genie back in the bottle.
> Dennis
> On Mon, Feb 3, 2014 at 4:28 PM, Josh Sokol <josh.sokol at owasp.org> wrote:
>> OWASP Board,
>> I feel, at this point, like I am ready to make a recommendation on the
>> Google Hacking Inquiry, but am currently waiting to hear back from
>> Christian regarding his ability to move forward if his membership were to
>> be reinstated.
>> *Google Hacking Inquiry*
>> Regarding the Google Hacking inquiry, I have had a couple of phone calls
>> now with Christian as well as one with Chris Gates (both recorded and
>> you've been provided with links separately).  I've also been in contact
>> with Jeff Williams, Dinis Cruz, Brad Causey, and Jason Li to talk about
>> circumstances around the Google Hacking Inquiry.  There have been a few
>> others whose names have come up that it may be pertinent to speak to (Chris
>> Spencer and Andrew Vanderstock), but I'm confident that it won't change my
>> advice here.  While I cannot go so far as to say that a great injustice has
>> been done, I do think that I've found plenty of evidence to make me doubt
>> the circumstances of the inquiry and it's benefit (or lack thereof) to
>> Unfortunately, back then, there does not appear to have been much control
>> over the projects.  There did not exist the new levels, but if I had to
>> qualify it, I'd say that the Google Hacking Project fits squarely into the
>> "Incubator" level of our new project classification.  The interesting thing
>> about this level is that source code is NOT required.  To the contrary,
>> this level is basically, "I have an idea, let's see if I can turn it into
>> something real."  One of the deliverables for moving on to the next level
>> is a working POC, but from the looks of it, one could remain in the
>> "Incubator" bucket for up to a year without ever providing the source
>> code.  And, assuming you did that, the consequence is to be de-listed from
>> the "Incubator" bucket until you have a POC.  This makes 100% sense to me
>> as it helps to foster ideas and provide support while still maintaining
>> quality control over our projects.  Christian's claim is that he had his
>> source code in an open repository, but never published a link because his
>> project was never reviewed.  He provided at least one potential reviewer
>> who was rejected at the time because they were not an OWASP member.  His
>> attempts to find a reviewer who was an OWASP member were unsuccessful.  His
>> presentations at the time did include a slide soliciting reviewers.  So, my
>> conclusion here is that Christian did what would be expected of an
>> "Incubator" level project.  Publishing source code probably shouldn't have
>> been an expectation (at least not right off the bat) and the resulting
>> "punishment" from the Inquiry was certainly harsher than today's standard.
>> On top of the above, it is clear that Christian feels that the Inquiry
>> has affected his ability to work as well as his general state of well
>> being.  If this is true, then it is in direct contradiction to the OWASP
>> Code of Ethics where we state that OWASP members should not intentionally
>> injure or impugn the professional reputation of our colleagues.  I don't
>> think that it is rational for us to question whether this is or is not
>> true, and therefore feel like our best course of action is to assume that
>> it is and work to correct the situation.  My proposal is to remove the
>> Google Hacking Inquiry document and any reference documentation as well
>> that is on the OWASP public website.  In it's stead, I would like to place
>> the following text:
>> Recently, information has been brought to our attention which allows the
>>> current OWASP Board to revisit OWASP's position on the Google Hacking
>>> Inquiry that was undertaken in July of 2010.  The OWASP Code of Ethics<https://www.owasp.org/index.php/About_The_Open_Web_Application_Security_Project#Code_of_Ethics>states that we should not intentionally injure or impugn the professional
>>> reputation of colleagues and, upon consideration, we feel that perpetuating
>>> the inquiry results would do just that.  As such, we feel that it is in the
>>> best interests of the OWASP Foundation and all concerned parties to wipe
>>> the slate clean by removing the details of the inquiry from our public
>>> records at this time.  We feel sincerely sorry for any damages that this
>>> inquiry may have caused to any of the parties involved.
>> Let me be absolutely clear that this is not what Christian requested, but
>> rather, what I feel is the right thing to do given the circumstances.
>> Christian's first question to me was "What good did the inquiry do for
>> OWASP?" and my answer, unfortunately, is that I'm really not finding any.
>> It chastised an active project leader for doing what it appears that
>> several others were also doing at the time, potentially furthered personal
>> biases, created negative feelings between Christian and OWASP, and just
>> generally seems unfair to me.  I'm actually a bit ashamed that this inquiry
>> has been allowed to linger for so long as it just perpetuates the things
>> that we've done wrong, rather than all of the things that we've done
>> right.  Regardless of how Christian or others feel about it, I believe that
>> it's time to wipe the slate clean here and put an end to the negativity
>> surrounding the inquiry.
>> I'd like to propose a vote that we strike any reference to the Google
>> Hacking Inquiry on owasp.org and our public documentation and replace it
>> with the text above.
>> *Request for Reinstatement*
>> Unfortunately, our last call was cut short again with Christian dropping
>> off the line.  I sent an e-mail to him attempting to reconcile our next
>> steps, but I'm not sure that we are on the same page currently.  His desire
>> is for OWASP to pursue another inquiry, similar to his own, charging Chris
>> Gatford with being the individual behind the initial requests for inquiry
>> and treating him as though he were an OWASP member as he was a chapter
>> leader during that time.  I told him that I feel like the inquiry should
>> not have been undertaken in the first place and that performing another
>> inquiry and getting involved in a dispute between the two of them would
>> serve no value to OWASP.  I have politely declined my support for such an
>> initiative, but told him I would offer it to the other Board members if any
>> of you are so inclined to pursue it further.
>> Since I am unable to support his current request, and since he has stated
>> that he is unable to move beyond this until this other inquiry has been
>> performed, I am at a loss as far as next steps go.  My proposal would have
>> been to do a 90 day probational membership reinstatement for Christian.
>> Provided that there were no issues during this time period, I think that we
>> could consider whatever level of activity he maintains a relative success
>> and we should grant full membership.  However, if there were to be issues,
>> the request for reinstatement should be denied with a permanent ban so that
>> no future Board members need to brief themselves on the past in order to
>> make a decision about the future.  My rationale for this rationale for this
>> is based squarely upon the assumption that all negative behaviors were due
>> to the Google Hacking Inquiry and it's personal affect on Christian.  A 90
>> day probation should serve as a decent test to determine if he is willing
>> to move beyond that and put the negativity behind us.  I am not requesting
>> a vote at this time here as I feel no decision can be made without
>> Christian's support for the path we take.  I will continue to work with him
>> to hopefully come to a peaceful resolution.
>> ~josh
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> --
> Dennis Groves <http://about.me/dennis.groves>, MSc
> Email me, <dennis.groves at owasp.org> or schedule a meeting<http://goo.gl/8sPIy>
> .
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