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

February 16, 2016 by · Comments Off on Does the End of an Iteration Change Your View of Risk?
Filed under: Development, Security, Testing 

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.

ASP.Net Insufficient Session Timeout

October 6, 2015 by · Comments Off on ASP.Net Insufficient Session Timeout
Filed under: Development, Security, Testing 

A common security concern found in ASP.Net applications is Insufficient Session Timeout. In this article, the focus is not on the ASP.Net session that is not effectively terminated, but rather the forms authentication cookie that is still valid after logout.

How to Test

  • User is currently logged into the application.
  • User captures the ASPAuth cookie (name may be different in different applications).
    • Cookie can be captured using a browser plugin or a proxy used for request interception.
  • User saves the captured cookie for later use.
  • User logs out of the application.
  • User requests a page on the application, passing the previously captured authentication cookie.
  • The page is processed and access is granted.

Typical Logout Options

  • The application calls FormsAuthentication.Signout()
  • The application sets the Cookie.Expires property to a previous DateTime.

Cookie Still Works!!

Following the user process above, the cookie still provides access to the application as if the logout never occurred. So what is the deal? The key is that unlike a true “session” which is maintained on the server, the forms authentication cookie is self contained. It does not have a server side component to stay in sync with. Among other things, the authentication cookie has your username or ID, possibly roles, and an expiration date. When the cookie is received by the server it will be decrypted (please tell me you are using protection = all) and the data extracted. If the cookie’s internal expiration date has not passed, the cookie is accepted and processed as a valid cookie.

So what did FormsAuthentation.Signout() do?

If you look under the hood of the .Net framework, it has been a few years but I doubt much has changed, you will see that FormsAuthentication.Signout() really just removes the cookie from the browser. There is no code to perform any server function, it merely asks the browser to remove it by clearing the value and back-dating the expires property. While this does work to remove the cookie from the browser, it doesn’t have any effect on a copy of the original cookie you may have captured. The only sure way to really make the cookie inactive (before the internal timeout occurs) would be to change your machine key in the web.config file. This is not a reasonable solution.

Possible Mitigations

You should be protecting your cookie by setting the httpOnly and Secure properties. HttpOnly tells the browser not to allow javascript to have access to the cookie value. This is an important step to protect the cookie from theft via cross-site scripting. The secure flag tells the browser to only send the authentication cookie over HTTPS, making it much more difficult for an attacker to intercept the cookie as it is sent to the server.

Set a short timeout (15 minutes) on the cookie to decrease the window an attacker has to obtain the cookie.

You could attempt to build a tracking system to manage the authentication cookie on the server to disable it before its time has expired. Maybe something for another post.

Understand how the application is used to determine how risky this issue may be. If the application is not used on shared/public systems and the cookie is protected as mentioned above, the attack surface is significantly decreased.

Final Thoughts

If you are facing this type of finding and it is a forms authentication cookie issue, not the Asp.Net session cookie, take the time to understand the risk. Make sure you understand the settings you have and the priority and sensitivity of the application to properly understand “your” risk level. Don’t rely on third party risk ratings to determine how serious the flaw is. In many situations, this may be a low priority, however in the right app, this could be a high priority.

Static Analysis: Analyzing the Options

April 5, 2015 by · Comments Off on Static Analysis: Analyzing the Options
Filed under: Development, Security, Testing 

When it comes to automated testing for applications there are two main types: Dynamic and Static.

  • Dynamic scanning is where the scanner is analyzing the application in a running state. This method doesn’t have access to the source code or the binary itself, but is able to see how things function during runtime.
  • Static analysis is where the scanner is looking at the source code or the binary output of the application. While this type of analysis doesn’t see the code as it is running, it has the ability to trace how data flows the the application down to the function level.

An important component to any secure development workflow, dynamic scanning analyzes a system as it is running. Before the application is running the focus is shifted to the source code which is where static analysis fits in. At this state it is possible to identify many common vulnerabilities while integrating into your build processes.

If you are thinking about adding static analysis to your process there are a few things to think about. Keep in mind there is not just one factor that should be the decision maker. Budget, in-house experience, application type and other factors will combine to make the right decision.

Disclaimer: I don’t endorse any products I talk about here. I do have direct experience with the ones I mention and that is why they are mentioned. I prefer not to speak to those products I have never used.

Budget

I hate to list this first, but honestly it is a pretty big factor in your implementation of static analysis. The vast options that exist for static analysis range from FREE to VERY EXPENSIVE. It is good to have an idea of what type of budget you have at hand to better understand what option may be right.

Free Tools

There are a few free tools out there that may work for your situation. Most of these tools depend on the programming language you use, unlike many of the commercial tools that support many of the common languages. For .Net developers, CAT.Net is the first static analysis tool that comes to mind. The downside is that it has not been updated in a long time. While it may still help a little, it will not compare to many of the commercial tools that are available.

In the Ruby world, I have used Brakeman which worked fairly well. You may find you have to do a little fiddling to get it up and running properly, but if you are a Ruby developer then this may be a simple task.

Managed Services or In-House

Can you manage a scanner in-house or is this something better delegated to a third party that specializes in the technology?

This can be a difficult question because it may involve many facets of your development environment. Choosing to host the solution in-house, like HP’s Fortify SCA may require a lot more internal knowledge than a managed solution. Do you have the resources available that know the product or that can learn it? Given the right resources, in-house tools can be very beneficial. One of the biggest roadblocks to in-house solutions is related to the cost. Most of them are very expensive. Here are a few in-house benefits:

  • Ability to integrate directly into your Continuous Integration (CI) operations
  • Ability to customize the technology for your environment/workflow
  • Ability to create extensions to tune the results

Choosing to go with a managed solution works well for many companies. Whether it is because the development team is small, resources aren’t available or budget, using a 3rd party may be the right solution. There is always the question as to whether or not you are ok with sending your code to a 3rd party or not, but many are ok with this to get the solution they need. Many of the managed services have the additional benefit of reducing false positives in the results. This can be one of the most time consuming pieces of a static analysis tool, right there with getting it set up and configured properly. Some scans may return upwards of 10’s of thousands of results. Weeding through all of those can be very time consuming and have a negative effect on the poor person stuck doing it. Having a company manage that portion can be very beneficial and cost effective.

Conclusion

Picking the right static analysis solution is important, but can be difficult. Take the time to determine what your end goal is when implementing static analysis. Are you looking for something that is good, but not customizable to your environment, or something that is highly extensible and integrated closely with your workflow? Unfortunately, sometimes our budget may limit what we can do, but we have to start someplace. Take the time to talk to other people that have used the solutions you are looking at. Has their experience been good? What did/do they like? What don’t they like? Remember that static analysis is not the complete solution, but rather a component of a solution. Dropping this into your workflow won’t make you secure, but it will help decrease the attack surface area if implemented properly.

A Pen Test is Coming!!

October 18, 2014 by · Comments Off on A Pen Test is Coming!!
Filed under: Development, Security, Testing 

You have been working hard to create the greatest app in the world.  Ok, so maybe it is just a simple business application, but it is still important to you.  You have put countless hours of hard work into creating this master piece.  It looks awesome, and does everything that the business has asked for.  Then you get the email from security: Your application will undergo a penetration test in two weeks.  Your heart skips a beat and sinks a little as you recall everything you have heard about this experience.  Most likely, your immediate action is to go on the defensive.  Why would your application need a penetration test?  Of course it is secure, we do use HTTPS.  No one would attack us, we are small.  Take a breath..  it is going to be alright.

All too often, when I go into a penetration test, the developers start on the defensive.  They don’t really understand why these “other” people have to come in and test their application.  I understand the concerns.   History has shown that many of these engagements are truly considered adversarial.  The testers jump for joy when they find a security flaw.  They tell you how bad the application is and how simple the fix is, leading to you feeling about the size of an ant.  This is often due to a lack of good communication skills. 

Penetration testing is adversarial.  It is an offensive assessment to find security weaknesses in your systems.  This is an attempt to simulate an attacker against your system.  Of course there are many differences, such as scope, timing and rules, but the goal is the same.  Lets see what we can do on your system.  Unfortunately, I find that many testers don’t have the communication skills to relay the information back to the business and developers in a way that is positive.  I can’t tell you how may times I have heard people describe their job as great because they get to come in, tell you how bad you suck and then leave.  If that is your penetration tester, find a new one.  First, that attitude breaks down the communication with the client and doesn’t help promote a secure atmosphere.  We don’t get anywhere by belittling the teams that have worked hard to create their application.  Second, a penetration test should provide solid recommendations to the client on how they can work to resolve the issues identified.  Just listing a bunch of flaws is fairly useless to a company. 

These engagements should be worth everyone’s time.  There should be positive communication between the developers and the testing team.  Remember that many engagements are short lived so the more information you can provide the better the assessment you are going to get.  The engagement should be helpful.  With the right company, you will get a solid assessment and recommendations that you can do something with.  If you don’t get that, time to start looking at another company for testing.  Make sure you are ready for the test.   If the engagement requires an environment to test in, have it all set up.  That includes test data (if needed).   The testers want to hit the ground running.  If credentials are needed, make sure those are available too.  The more help you can be, the more you will benefit from the experience.   

As much as you don’t want to hear it, there is a very high chance the test will find vulnerabilities.  While it would be great if applications didn’t have vulnerabilities, it is fairly rare to find them.  Use this experience to learn and train on security issues. Take the feedback as constructive criticism, not someone attacking you.   Trust me, you want the pen testers to find these flaws before a real attacker does. 

Remember that this is for your benefit.  We as developers also need to stay positive.  The last thing you want to do is challenge the pen testers saying your app is not vulnerable.  The teams that usually do that are the most vulnerable. Say positive and it will be a great learning experience.