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OWASP Top Ten Application Security Risks

By Marco Pessotto
February 27, 2019

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I don’t consider myself a security expert. Still, to my surprise, I was asked to give a talk about security to all the End Point developers. Obviously I realized too late what I was getting myself into! Such an audience is not only pretty large, it is also challenging, many are more competent than me, and the risk to bore them is very high. Yet, the slides were prepared, the talk was given and the feedback was good.

It goes without saying that a broad, generic training about security, which still can give something to the listener, can’t be really improvised.

The platform for the talk was the OWASP Top Ten 2017 Project, which discusses the most critical security risks to web applications.

OWASP stands for Open Web Application Security Project and describes itself as “an open community dedicated to enabling organizations to develop, purchase, and maintain applications and APIs that can be trusted.” Its website provides plenty of resources to the developers.

The Top Ten consists of 10 broad classes of vulnerabilities. The data behind that comes from specialized firms and surveys, gathering information from 100,000 real-world applications and APIs. Some of these classes are very broad and have a taxonomic value. Saying, for example, “Broken access control” or “Security misconfiguration”, doesn’t say much what you are doing wrong. It still reminds us that a lot of things can actually go wrong and that when working on a service you should ask yourself how are you doing with regard to security.

The current (2017) Top Ten classes are:

  1. Injection
  2. Broken Authentication
  3. Sensitive Data Exposure
  4. XML External Entities (XXE)
  5. Broken Access Control
  6. Security Misconfiguration
  7. Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)
  8. Insecure Deserialization
  9. Using Components with Known Vulnerabilities
  10. Insufficient Logging & Monitoring

I’m not going over the Top Ten in detail like I did at the training, but I’m going to leave here a couple of brief notes.

Injections: in my naivety I was convinced that this class of vulnerability, which is very specific and whose fix is well-​known, was something belonging to the past, to legacy and neglected applications. Still, it’s not so. It’s 2019 and injections are still winning.

If by chance you are still interpolating variables inside the SQL and not using placeholders, it’s time to take a look at Bobby Tables (or equivalent) and start doing it right, as every major language has a library supporting them. Maybe you avoid this vulnerability in your own code, but have inherited code from others who did not defend against it. Look and see!

Broken Authentication: On the other hand, finding the authentication problems in second place was not a surprise at all, given the frequency of leaked databases. The recommended practice appears to be checking the password against a list of known passwords and ensuring it has a decent length. (Please note: no requiring regular password rotation, nor uppercase/​lowercase/​digit enforcing.)

XSS: For web developers an interesting class is the ubiquitous Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) vulnerability, which is found in two-​thirds of all applications. Statistically speaking, it’s probable that the application you are currently working on is affected.

XSS comes in many flavors, usually generated server-​side, when a variable coming from user input is interpolated without proper escaping into the HTML, opening the door to JavaScript execution, but DOM XSS is also common. How many times did you see something like this, for example, with jQuery:

$('#app').html(string_from_user)

The html() method stuffs whatever string is provided by the user into the HTML page. This should be rewritten as:

$('#app').text(string_from_user)

If formatting is required, the append() method is your friend.

CSRF: Interestingly enough, Cross Site Request Forgery (when an application doesn’t check if a POST request comes from the site itself and not from a random site on the internet which is fooling the authenticated browser to perform an operation on your site) didn’t make into the Top Ten. This is probably due to the fact that mainstream frameworks like Ruby on Rails and Django come with CSRF protections almost out of the box.

The goal of the OWASP document is to increase the awareness about security problem. We are trying to do our part to prevent security problems at End Point.

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