The end of Request Validation

June 1, 2017 by · Comments Off on The end of Request Validation
Filed under: Development, Security 

One of the often overlooked features of ASP.Net applications was request validation. If you are a .Net web developer, you have probably seen this before. I have certainly covered it on multiple occasions on this site. The main goal: help reduce XSS type input from being supplied by the user. .Net Core has opted to not bring this feature along and has dropped it with no hope in sight.

Request Validation Limitations

Request validation was a nice to have.. a small extra layer of protection. It wasn’t fool proof and certainly had more limitations than originally expected. The biggest one was that it only supported the HTML context for cross-site scripting. Basically, it was trying to deter the submission of HTML tags or elements from end users. Cross-site scripting is context sensitive meaning that attribute, URL, Javascript, and CSS based contexts were not considered.

In addition, there have been identified bypasses for request validation over the years. For example, using unicode-wide characters and then storing the data ASCII format could allow bypassing the validation.

Input validation is only a part of the solution for cross-site scripting. The ultimate end-state is the use of output encoding of the data sent back to the browser. Why? Not all data is guaranteed to go through our expected inputs. Remember, we don’t trust the database.

False Sense of Security?

Some have argued that the feature did more harm than good. It created a false sense of security compared to what it could do. While I don’t completely agree with that, I have seen those examples. I have seen developers assume they were protected just because request validation was enabled. Unfortunately, this is a bad assumption based on a mis-understanding of the feature. The truth is that it is not a feature meant to stop all cross-site scripting. The goal was to create a way to provide some default input validation for a specific vulnerability. Maybe it was mis-understood. Maybe it was a great idea with impossible implementation. In either case, it was a small piece of the puzzle.

So What Now?

So moving forward with Core, request validation is out of the picture. There is nothing we can do about that from a framework perspective. Maybe we don’t have to. There may be people that create this same functionality in 3rd party packages. That may work, it may not. Now is our opportunity to make sure we understand the flaws and proper protection mechanisms. When it comes to Cross-site scripting, there are a lot of techniques we can use to reduce the risk. Obviously I rely on output encoding as the biggest and first step. There are also things like content security policy or other response headers that can help add layers of protection. I talk about a few of these options in my new course “Security Fundamentals for Application Teams“.

Remember that understanding your framework is critical in helping reduce security risks in your application. If you are making the switch to .Net core, keep in mind that not all the features you may be used to exist. Understand these changes so you don’t get bit.

Security Tips for Copy/Paste of Code From the Internet

February 6, 2017 by · Comments Off on Security Tips for Copy/Paste of Code From the Internet
Filed under: Development, Security 

Developing applications has long involved using code snippets found through textbooks or on the Internet. Rather than re-invent the wheel, it makes sense to identify existing code that helps solve a problem. It may also help speed up the development time.

Years ago, maybe 12, I remember a co-worker that had a SQL Injection vulnerability in his application. The culprit, code copied from someone else. At the time, I explained that once you copy code into your application it is now your responsibility.

Here, 12 years later, I still see this type of occurrence. Using code snippets directly from the web in the application. In many of these cases there may be some form of security weakness. How often do we, as developers, really analyze and understand all the details of the code that we copy?

Here are a few tips when working with external code brought into your application.

Understand what it does

If you were looking for code snippets, you should have a good idea of what the code will do. Better yet, you probably have an understanding of what you think that code will do. How vigorously do you inspect it to make sure that is all it does. Maybe the code performs the specific task you were set out to complete, but what happens if there are other functions you weren’t even looking for. This may not be as much a concern with very small snippets. However, with larger sections of code, it could coverup other functionality. This doesn’t mean that the functionality is intentionally malicious. But undocumented, unintended functionality may open up risk to the application.

Change any passwords or secrets

Depending on the code that you are searching, there may be secrets within it. For example, encryption routines are common for being grabbed off the Internet. To be complete, they contain hard-coded IVs and keys. These should be changed when imported into your projects to something unique. This could also be the case for code that has passwords or other hard-coded values that may provide access to the system.

As I was writing this, I noticed a post about the RadAsyncUpload control regarding the defaults within it. While this is not code copy/pasted from the Internet, it highlights the need to understand the default configurations and that some values should be changed to help provide better protections.

Look for potential vulnerabilities

In addition to the above concerns, the code may have vulnerabilities in it. Imagine a snippet of code used to select data from a SQL database. What if that code passed your tests of accurately pulling the queries, but uses inline SQL and is vulnerable to SQL Injection. The same could happen for code vulnerable to Cross-Site Scripting or not checking proper authorization.

We have to do a better job of performing code reviews on these external snippets, just as we should be doing it on our custom written internal code. Finding snippets of code that perform our needed functionality can be a huge benefit, but we can’t just assume it is production ready. If you are using this type of code, take the time to understand it and review it for potential issues. Don’t stop at just verifying the functionality. Take steps to vet the code just as you would any other code within your application.

Securing The .Net Cookies

October 13, 2015 by · Comments Off on Securing The .Net Cookies
Filed under: Development, Security 

I remember years ago when we talked about cookie poisoning, the act of modifying cookies to get the application to act differently.  An example was the classic cookie used to indicate a user’s role in the system.  Often times it would contain 1 for Admin or 2 for Manager, etc.  Change the cookie value and all of a sudden you were the new admin on the block.   You really don’t hear the phrase cookie poisoning anymore, I guess it was too dark. 


There are still security risks around the cookies that we use in our application.  I want to highlight 2 key attributes that help protect the cookies for your .Net application: Secure and httpOnly.


Secure Flag

The secure flag tells the browser that the cookie should only be sent to the server if the connection is using the HTTPS protocol.  Ultimately this is indicating that the cookie must be sent over an encrypted channel, rather than over HTTP which is plain text.


HttpOnly Flag

The httpOnly flag tells the browser that the cookie should only be accessed to be sent to the server with a request, not by client-side scripts like JavaScript.  This attribute helps protect the cookie from being stolen through cross-site scripting flaws.


Setting The Attributes

There are multiple ways to set these attributes of a cookie. Things get a little confusing when talking about session cookies or the forms authentication cookie, but I will cover that as I go.  The easiest way to set these flags for all developer created cookies is through the web.config file.  The following snippet shows the httpCookies element in the web.config.

    <authentication mode="None" />
    <compilation targetframework="4.6" debug="true" />
    <httpruntime targetframework="4.6" />
    <httpcookies httponlycookies="true" requiressl="true" />


As you can see, you can set httponlycookies to true to se the httpOnly flag on all of the cookies.  In addition, the requiressl setting sets the secure flag on all of the cookies with a few exceptions.


Some Exceptions

I stated earlier there are a few exceptions to the cookie configuration.  The first I will discuss is the session cookie. The session cookie in ASP.Net is defaulted/hard-coded to set the httpOnly attribute.  This should override any value set in the httpCookies element in the web.config.  The session cookie does not default to requireSSL and setting that value in the httpCookies element as shown above should work just find for it.


The forms authentication cookie is another exception to the rules.  Like the session cookie, it is hard-coded to httpOnly.  The Forms element of the web.config has a requireSSL attribute that will override what is found in the httpCookies element.  Simply put, if you don’t set requiressl=”true” in the Forms element then the cookie will not have the secure flag even if requiressl=”true” in the httpCookies element.


This is actually a good thing, even though it might not seem so yet.  Here is the next thing about that Forms requireSSL setting.. When you set it, it will require that the web server is using a secure connection.  Seems like common sense, but…  imagine a web farm where the load balancers offload SSL.  In this case, while your web app uses HTTPS from client to server, in reality, the HTTPS stops at the load balancer and is then HTTP to the web server.   This will throw an exception in your application. 


I am not sure why Microsoft decided to make the decision to actually check this value, since the secure flag is a direction for the browser not the server.  If you are in this situation you can still set the secure flag, you just need to do it a little differently.  One option is to use your load balancer to set the flag when it sends any responses.  Not all devices may support this so check with your vendor.  The other option is to programmatically set the flag  right before the response is sent to the user.  The basic process is to find the cookie and just sent the .Secure property to “True”. 


Final Thoughts

While there are other security concerns around cookies, I see the secure and httpOnly flag commonly misconfigured.  While it does not seem like much, these flags go a long way to helping protect your application.  ASP.Net has done some tricky configuration of how this works depending on the cookie, so hopefully this helps sort some of it out.   If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.  I will be putting together something a little more formal to hopefully clear this up a bit more in the near future.

Are Application Security Certifications Worth It?

August 9, 2014 by · Comments Off on Are Application Security Certifications Worth It?
Filed under: Security 

In the IT industry there has always been a debate for and against certifications. This is no different than the age old battle of whether or not a bachelors degree is needed to be good in IT. There are large entities that have made a really good profit off the certification tracks. Not only do you have the people that create the tests, but also all of the testing centers. It is a pretty lucrative business if your cert is popular.

I remember when I first started developing applications there were certifications like the Microsoft Certified series or Sun certifications. Anyone remember doing the BrainBench tests online? The goal was to indicate that you had some base level of knowledge about that technology. This seemed to work for a technology, but so far it doesn’t seem to be catching on in the development world for secure development certifications.

You haven’t heard? There are actually certifications that try to show some expertise in application security. GIAC has a secure coding program for both Java and .Net, both leading to the GSSP certification. ISC2 has the CSSLP certification focused at those that work with developing applications. They don’t feel that wide spread though. Lets look at these two examples.

The GIAC certification focuses mostly on the developer and writing secure code. This is tough because it is a certification for a portion of your job as a developer. Your main goal is writing code so to take the effort to go out and get a certification that is so focused can be deterring, never mind the cost of these certs these days. The other issue is that we are not seeing a wide acceptance in the industry for these certifications. I have not seen many job postings for developers that look for the GSSP, or CSSLP certification or any other secure coding cert. You might see MCP or MCSD, but not security certs. Until we start looking for these in our candidates, there is no reason for developers to take the time to get them.

The ISC2 CSSLP certification is geared less at secure coding, and focused more toward the entire SDLC. This alone may make it even less interesting to a developer to attain because it is not directly related to coding. Sure we are involved in the SDLC, but do we really want some cert that says we are security conscious? I am not saying that certifications are a bad thing. I think they can help show some competence, but there seem to be a lot of barriers to adoption within the developer community with security certifications.

When you look at other security certifications they are more job direct, or encompassing. For example, the Web Application Penetration Tester certifications that are available encompass a role: Web Penetration Tester. In our examples above, there is no GSSP role for a developer.

How do we go about solving the problem? Is there a certification that could actually be broadly adopted in the developer world? Rather than have a separate security certification, should we expect that the other developer certifications would incorporate security? Just because I have the GSSP doesn’t mean I can actually write good programs with no flaws. Would I be more marketable if I had the MCSD and everyone knew that that required secure coding expertise?

Push the major developer certification creators to start requiring more secure coding coverage. We shouldn’t need an extra certification for application security, it should just be a part of what we do every day.

Future of ViewStateMac: What We Know

December 12, 2013 by · Comments Off on Future of ViewStateMac: What We Know
Filed under: Development, Security, Testing 

The .Net Web Development and Tools Blog just recently posted some extra information about ASP.Net December 2013 Security Updates (

The most interesting thing to me was a note near the bottom of the page that states that the next version of ASP.Net will FORBID setting ViewStateMac=false. That is right.. They will not allow it in the next version. So in short, if you have set it to false, start working out how to work it to true before you update.

So why forbid it? Apparently, there was a Remote Code Execution flaw identified that can be exploited when ViewStateMac is disabled. They don’t include a lot of details as to how to perform said exploit, but that is neither here nor there. It is about time that something was critical enough that they have decided to take this property out of the developer’s hands.

Over the years I have written many posts discussing attacking ASP.Net sites, many of which rely on ViewStateMac being disabled. I have written to Microsoft regarding how EventValidation can be manipulated if ViewStateMac is disabled. The response was that they think developers should be using the secure settings. I guess that is different now that there is remote code execution. We have reached a new level.

So what does ViewStateMac protect? There are three things that I am aware of that it protects (search this site for any of these and you will find articles with much more detail):

  • ViewState – protects this from parameter tampering
  • EventValidation – protects this from parameter tampering
  • ViewStateUserKey – Used to protect requests from CSRF

So why do developers disable ViewStateMac? Great question. I believe that in most cases, it is disabled because the application is deployed in a web farm and when the web.config is not configured properly, an error is thrown. When some developers search for the error, many forums recommend disabling the ViewStateMac to fix the problem. Unfortunately, that is WRONG!!. Here is a Microsoft KB article that explains in detail how to properly configure a system to allow ViewStateMac to be enabled (

Is this a good thing? For developers, yes!. This will definitely help increase the protection for ViewState, EventValidation and CSRF if ViewStateUserKey is set. For Penetration Testers, Yes/No. Yes, because we get to say you are doing a good job in this category. No, because some easy pickings are going to be wiped off the plate.

I think this is a pretty bold move by Microsoft to remove control over this, but I do think it is a good thing. This is an important control in the WebForm ecosystem and all too often mis-understood by developers. This should bring many sites one step closer to being a little more secure when this change rolls out.

Your Passwords Were Stolen: What’s Your Plan?

May 29, 2013 by · Comments Off on Your Passwords Were Stolen: What’s Your Plan?
Filed under: Development, Security 

If you have been glancing at many news stories this year, you have certainly seen the large number of data breaches that have occurred. Even just today, we are seeing reports that suffered from a breach ( that shows unauthorized access to hashed passwords, usernames, and email addresses. Note that this is not a vulnerability in the CMS product, but the actual website for Unfortunately, Drupal is just the latest to report this issue.

In addition to Drupal, LivingSocial also suffered a huge breach involving passwords. LinkedIn, Evernote, Yahoo, and have also joined this elite club. In each of these cases, we have seen many different formats for storing the passwords. Some are using plain text (ouch), others are actually doing what has been recommended and using a salted hash. Even with a salted hash, there are still some issues. One, hashes are fast and some hashes are not as strong as others. Bad choices can lead to an immediate failure in implementation and protection.

Going into what format you should store your passwords in will be saved for another post, and has been discusses heavily on the internet. It is really outside the scope of this post, because in this discussion, it is already too late for that. Here, I want to ask the simple question of, “You have been breached, What do you do?”

Ok, Maybe it is not a simple question, or maybe it is. Most of the sites that have seen these breaches are fairly quick to force password resets by all of their users. The idea behind this is that the credentials were stolen, but only the actual user should be able to perform a password reset. The user performs the reset, they have new credentials, and the information that the bad guy got (and everyone else that downloads the stolen credentials) are no good. Or maybe not?? Wait.. you re-use passwords across multiple sites? Well, that makes it more interesting. I guess you now need to reset a bunch of passwords.

Reseting passwords appears to be the standard. I haven’t seen anyone else attempt to do anything else, if you have please share. But what else would work? You can’t just change the algorithm to make it stronger.. the bad guy has the password. Changing the algorithm doesn’t change that fact and they just log in using a stronger algorithm. I guess that won’t work. Might be nice to have a mechanism to upgrade everyone to a stronger algorithm as time goes on though.

So if resetting passwords in mass appears to work and is the standard, do you have a way to do it? if you got breached today, what would you need to do to reset everyone’s password, or at least force a password reset on all users? There are a few options, and of course it depends on how you actually manage user passwords.

If you have a password expiration field in the DB, you could just set all passwords to have expired yesterday. Now everyone will be presented with an expired password prompt. The problem with this solution is if an expired password just requires the old password to set the new password. It is possible the bad guy does this before the actual user. Oops.

You could Just null out or put in a 0 or some false value into all of the password fields. This only works for encrypted or hashed passwords.. not clear text. This could be done with a simple SQL Update statement, just drop that needless where clause ;). When a user goes to log in, they will be unsuccessful because when the password they submit is encrypted or hashed, it will never match the value you updated the field to. This forces them to use the forgot password field.

You could run a separate application that resets everyone password like the previous method, it just doesn’t run a DB Update directly on the server. Maybe you are a control freak as to what gets run against the servers and control that access.

As you can see, there are many ways to do this, but have you really given it any thought? Have you written out your plan that in the event your site gets breached like these other sites, you will be able to react intelligently and swiftly? Often times when we think of incidence response, we think of stopping the attack, but we also have to think about how we would protect our users from future attacks quickly.

These ideas are just a few examples of how you can go about this to help provoke you and your team to think about how you would do this in your situation. Every application is different and this scenario should be in your IR plan. If you have other ways to handle this, please share with everyone.

ViewState: Still Mis-understood

April 22, 2013 by · Comments Off on ViewState: Still Mis-understood
Filed under: Development, Security 

Here we are in 2013 and we are still having discussions about what ViewState is and how it works.  For you MVC guys and gals, you are probably even wondering who is still using it.  Although I do find it interesting that we have ViewState in Webforms but not in MVC even though MVC has the Views.   Does that make anyone else wonder? 

A few weeks ago, I was in the midst of a Twitter discussion where there was some different ideas about ViewState floating around.  It really started when the idea came across to use Encryption for your ViewState to prevent tampering.  While I do agree 100% that encrypting your ViewState will prevent someone from tampering it, I feel that it adds quite a bit of overhead when it shouldn’t be needed.  A general rule of thumb that I use with ViewState is that you shouldn’t be storing anything sensitive in it.  There are other mechanisms for storing sensitive information, and the client is your last, last, last choice (or shouldn’t be a choice at all). 

My response, why not just use ViewStateMac?  The whole point of ViewStateMac is to protect the ViewState from tampering.  It is on by default, and doesn’t require encrypting all of your ViewState and then decrypting it.

For those of you who don’t know, ViewState is a .Net specific client-side storage mechanism.  By default, it is used to store the state of your view.  I know, webforms don’t have views per se..  But that is what it does.  It stores the values for your label controls, the items in your drop down lists, data in your datagrid, etc.  This data is then used on a postback to re-populate the server-side controls.  For example, if there is a label on the form (say copyright), when the form is submitted and re-displayed the text for that label is populated automatically from the ViewState.   This saves the developer from having to reset the value on every response. 

Another example is with a drop down list.  All of the values are stored in the ViewState.   When the user submits the form, the drop down list is re-populated from the ViewState.  This does a few things.  First, it keeps the developer from having to populate the list from the original data source for every response and request.  Of course, there are other ways to save the hit to the original data source and store it in session or some other quick storage.  Second, it is basically a version of a reference map.  When done correctly, it is not possible for an attacker to submit a value that didn’t exist in the drop down list.  This really helps when it comes to parameter tampering on these fields.   Of course there are ways to program this where it doesn’t protect you but that is beyond this post. 

So far, everything we have looked at in ViewState is visible anyway.  Why encrypt it?

I have seen some really bad things stored in ViewState.   I have seen RACF usernames and passwords, full connection strings, and lots of other stuff.  To be blunt, those should never be in there.

So again, if we are not storing this sensitive information in ViewState, why encrypt it?   If the answer is just tamper protection, my opinion is to just go with the ViewStateMac.

When I do an assessment on a web application, one of my favorite things to do is look at the ViewState.  Of course, I love to see when MAC is not enabled.  Most of the time, ViewStateMac is enabled and I don’t get much from the ViewState.  I get confirmation, that the developers aren’t storing sensitive information in there and they are properly protecting it.  When I see that the ViewState is encrypted, it sends off some bells in my head.  Why are they encrypting this ViewState?   Maybe they do have something to hide.  Maybe there is a reason for me to dig into it and see if I can’t break the encryption to see what it is. 

One additional point I would like to make is that ViewState is not meant to be storage across pages.  It is meant to be storage for a single web form. 

I was called out on the Twitter chat as loving ViewState.  I wouldn’t go that far, but I don’t have much ill will toward it.  It has a purpose and can be quite useful if used properly.  Of course, it can be a great help to an attacker if not used properly. 

I enjoyed the discussion on Twitter, unfortunately sometimes 140 characters is not really enough to get ideas across.  I would be curious if anyone has any other thoughts on this topic on how ViewState should work and pros and cons for encrypting ViewState over just setting ViewStateMac.  Feel free to reach out to me.

Hidden Treasures: Not So Hidden

April 5, 2013 by · Comments Off on Hidden Treasures: Not So Hidden
Filed under: Development, Security, Testing 

For years now, I have run into developers that believe that just because a request can’t be seen, it is not vulnerable to flaws.  Wait, what are we talking about here?   What do you mean by a request that can’t be seen?  There are a few different ways that the user would not see a request.  For example, Ajax requests are invisible to users.   What about framed pages?  Except for the main parent, all of the other pages are hidden from the user’s view.  These are what I would call hidden requests. 

Lets use a framed site as an example.  Lets say that a page has multiple frames embedded in it, each leading to a different page of content.  From a user perspective, I would normally only see the URL in the Address Bar of the parent page that contains the other frames.  Although each frame has its own URL, I don’t see it natively.  This type of out-of-site out-of-mind thought process often leads us to over look the security of these pages. 

There are all sorts of vulnerabilities that can be present in the scenario above.  I have seen SQL injection, Direct Object Reference and Authorization issues.  BUT THEY ARE HIDDEN??

To the naked eye, yes, they are hidden.  Unfortunately, there are numerous tools available to see these requests.  Web Proxies are the most popular, although there are some browser add-ins that also may do the trick.  The two proxies I used the most are Burp and Fiddler.  Both of these tools are used to intercept and record all of the HTTP/HTTPS traffic between your browser and the server.  This means that even though I might not see the URL or the request in the browser, I will see it in the proxy. 

Many years ago, I came across this exact scenario.  We had a website that used frames and one of the framed pages used parameters on the querystring.  This parameter just happened to be vulnerable to SQL Injection.  The developer didn’t think anything of this because you never saw the parameters.  All it took was just breaking the page out of the frame and directly modifying the value in the address bar, or using a proxy to capture and manipulate the request to successfully exploit the flaw. 

It was easy to fix the problem, as the developer updated his SQL to use parameterized queries instead of dynamic SQL, but this just shows how easy it is to overlook issues that can’t be seen.

In another instance, I saw a page that allowed downloading files based on a querystring value.  During normal use of the application you might never see that request, just the file downloading.  Using a proxy, it was easy to not only identify the request, but identify that it was a great candidate for finding a security flaw.  When we reported the flaw, I was asked multiple times about how I found the flaw.  It was another case where the developer thought that because the request wasn’t displayed anywhere, no one would find it.

There are many requests that go unseen in the address bar of the web browser.  We must remember that as developers, it is our responsibility to properly secure all of our code, whether or not they appear in the address bar.  I encourage all developers to use web proxies while testing and developing their applications so they can be aware of all the transactions that are actually made. 

Brute Force: An Inside Job

March 20, 2013 by · Comments Off on Brute Force: An Inside Job
Filed under: Development, Security, Testing 

As a developer, we are told all the time to protect against brute force attacks on the login screen by using a mechanism like account lockouts.  We even see this on our operating systems, when we attempt multiple incorrect logins, we get locked out.   Of course, as times have changed, so have some of the mitigations.  For example, some systems are implementing a Captcha or some other means to slow down automated brute force attacks.  Of course, the logistics are different on every system, how many attempts until lockout, or is there an auto-unlock feature, but that is outside the scope of this post.

As a penetration tester, brute force attacks are something I test for on every application.  Obviously, I test the login forms for this type of security flaw.  There are also other areas of an application that brute force attacks can be effective.  The one I want to discuss in this post is related to functionality inside the authenticated section of the application.  More specifically, the change password screen.  Done right, the change password screen will require the current password.  This helps protect from a lot of different attacks.  For example, if an attacker hijacks a user’s valid session, he wouldn’t be able to just change the user’s password.  It also helps protect against cross-site request forgery for changing a user’s password.  I know, I know, it can be argued with cross-site scripting available, cross-site request forgery can still be performed, but that gets a little more advanced. 

What about brute forcing the change password screen?   I rarely see during an assessment where the developers, or business has thought about this attack vector.  In just about every case, I, the penetration tester, can attempt password changes with a bad password as much as I want, followed by a valid current password to change the password.  What if an attacker hijacks my session?  What if someone sits down at my desk while I have stepped away and I didn’t lock my computer (look around your office and see how many people lock their computer when they walk away)? 

It is open season for an attacker to attempt a brute force attack to change the user’s password.  You may wonder why we need to change the password if we have accessed the account.  The short answer is persistence.  I want to be able to access the account whenever I want.   Maybe I don’t want the user to be able to get back in and fully take over the account.

So how do we address this?  We don’t want to lock the account do we?  My opinion is no, we don’t want to lock the account.  Rather, lets just end the current session in this type of event.  If the application can detect that the user is not able to type the correct current password three or five times in a given time frame (sounds familiar to account lockout procedures) then just end the current session.  The valid user should know their password and not be mis-typing it a bunch of times.  An invalid user should rightfully so get booted out of the system.  If the valid user’s session ends, they just log back in, however the attacker shouldn’t be able to just log back in and may have to hijack the session again which may be difficult.

Just like other brute forcible features,there are other mitigations.  A Captcha could also be used to slow down automation.  The key differentiator here is that we are not locking the account, but possibly just ending the session.  This will have less impact on technical support as the valid user can just log back in.   Of course, don’t forget you should be logging these failed attempts and auditing them to detect this attack happening.

This type of security flaw is common, not because of lazy development, but because this is fairly unknown in the development world.   Rarely are we thinking about this type of issue within the application, but we need to start.  Just like implementing lockouts on the login screens, there is a need to protect that functionality on the inside. 

Developers, Security, Business – Lets All Work Together

January 10, 2013 by · Comments Off on Developers, Security, Business – Lets All Work Together
Filed under: Development, Security 

A few years ago, my neighbors ran into an issue with each other. Unfortunately for one neighbor, the other neighbor was on the board for the HOA. The first neighbor decided to put up a fence, got the proper approvals and started work on it. They were building the fence them selves and it took a while to complete. The other neighbor, on the board of the HOA, noticed that the fence was being built out of compliance. Rather than stopping by and letting the first neighbor know about this, they decided it would be better to let them complete the fence and then issue a citation about the fence being out of compliance, requiring them to rebuild it. At times, I feel like I see the same thing in application security which leads into my post below.

There have been lots of great blogs lately talking about application security and questioning who’s responsibility the security of applications is (Matt Neely – Who is Responsible for Application Security?) and why we are still not producing secure applications (Rafal Los – Software Security – Why aren’t the enterprise developers listening?). I feel a little late to the party, even though I have been thinking about this post for over a week. At least I am not the only one thinking about this topic as the new year starts off.

There has been a great divide between security personnel and the development teams. This has been no secret. They don’t hang out at the same conferences and honestly, it looks similar to a high school dance where, in this case, the security people are on one side of the gym and the developers are on the other. Add in the chaperones (the business leadership) enforcing space between the two groups. We need to find a way to fix this and work together.

The first thing we have to do is realize that security is everyone’s responsibility. This is because building applications involves so many more people than just some developers. Is SQL Injection the outcome of insecure coding, most definitely yes it is. However, that is why development teams have layers. There are those writing code, but there are also testers involved with verifying that the developer didn’t miss something. People make mistakes, and that is why we put a second and third pair of eyes on things. If developers were perfect and did everything right the first time, would there even be a need for QA? QA is a big part to this puzzle, lets get them involved.

I don’t know if anyone else feels this, but I feel as though there is this condescending tone that comes from both sides. Developers don’t think they need security to come in and test and security has this notion that because they found a vulnerability that “I win” and “you lose.” We start security presentations off with “developers suck” or “we are going to pick on you today”, but why does it have to be that way. Constructive criticism is one thing, but lets be somewhat civil about it. Who wants to go the extra mile to fix applications when it comes across as a put down to the developers. This isn’t boot camp where we need to destroy all morale and then build them up the way we want.

I challenge the security guys to think about this when they are getting ready to criticize the developers. What if the situation were reversed, and you were required to find EVERY security issue in an application? Would you feel any pressure? How would you feel if you missed just one simple thing because you were under a time crunch to get the assessment done? I know, the standard response is that is why you chose the security field, so you didn’t have that requirement. I accept that response, but just want to encourage you to think about it when working with the teams that are fixing these issues. Fortunately, security practitioners don’t have this pressure, they just have to find something and throw a disclaimer that they don’t verify that the app doesn’t have other issues that were not identified during the test. Not everyone can choose to be in security, if they did, we wouldn’t have anyone developing. Don’t tell anyone… but if no one develops, there isn’t a whole lot left to manage security on. Interesting circle of life we have here.

This is not all about attitude coming from security. It goes both ways, and many times it can be worse from the dev side. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen it where the developers are upset as soon as they hear that their application is going through a penetration test. People mumbling about how their app is secure and how they don’t need the test. Unfortunately, there are many reasons why applications need to be tested by a third party. It is a part of development, get used to it. The good news is that these assessments are beneficial in multiple ways. First, you get another pair of eyes reviewing your app for stuff probably no one else on your team is thinking of. Second, you are given a chance to learn something new from the results of the test. Take the time to understand what the results are and incorporate the education into your programming. There are positives that come out of this.

Developers also need to start taking responsibility to understand and practice secure coding skills. This is paramount because so many vulnerabilities are due to just insecure coding. This involves much more than just the developers though. As I mentioned in a previous post, we need to do a better job of making this information available to the developers. Writing a book or tutorial, include secure coding examples, rather than short examples that are insecure. Making easier resources for developers to find when looking for secure coding principles. Many times, it is difficult to find a good example of how to do something because everyone is afraid if they give you something and it later becomes vulnerable they will be liable (blog post for another lifetime). Even intro to programming courses should demonstrate how to do secure programming. How difficult is it for an intro course to show using parameterized queries instead of dynamic queries? Same function, however one is secure. Why even show dynamic queries, that should be under the advanced section. Lets start pushing this from the start.

Eoin Keary recently posted XSS = SQLI = CMDi=? talking about the terminology used in security and how we look at the same type of vulnerability in so many different ways. I couldn’t agree more with what he wrote and I talk about this in the SANS Dev544: Secure Coding in .Net course. I can’t count how many times I point out that the resolution for so many of these different vulnerabilities is the same. Encode your output when sending to a different system. I understand that everyone wants to be the first to discover a new class of vulnerability, but we do need to start getting realistic when we work with the “builders” as Eoin refers to them as to what the vulnerabilities really are. If as a developer I don’t have 24 vulnerabilities I have to learn and understand, but realize that is really just 5 vulnerabilities, that makes it easier to start protecting against them. We need to get better at communicating what the problem is without over complicating it. I understand that the risk may be different for SQL Injection or Cross Site Scripting, but to a developer they are encoding untrusted data used for output in another system.

I think this year is off to a good start with all the conversations being held. There are some really smart people starting to think harder about how we can solve the problem. As you can hopefully see from the large amount of ranting above, this is not any one groups fault for this not working. There is contention from both sides. And don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of folks from both sides that are doing things right. Developers that are happy to see a pen test and security folks supporting the development side. We need to stay positive with each other and each think about how we interact with each other. We all have one goal and that is to improve the quality and security of our systems. Lets not lose focus of that.

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