Nine out of 10 custom-built web applications vulnerable to attack

By Graeme Burton
10 May 2012 View Comments

Almost nine out of 10 custom-built web-facing applications contain severe vulnerabilities that could expose organisations to a serious attack, according to an expert at HP.

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"Some 86 per cent of the web applications that we analysed as part of HP Fortify had an SQL injection vulnerability of some kind of other," said Simon Leech, pre-sales director EMEA at HP.

An SQL injection vulnerability enables an attacker to compromise the database back-end of an application by entering SQL commands – often disguised as a legitimate query – into a web-facing interface. Recent attacks against Sony, for example, which yielded customers' credit card details, and RSA Security were perpetrated using SQL injection attack techniques. It is also a favoured technique of hacking groups Anonymous and LulzSec, according to Leech.

Custom-developed applications are at greater risk than commercially developed applications because fewer people and organisations are testing them regularly for potential vulnerabilities.

"If a bank or insurance company develops a piece of software, it will become a nice target for someone to break into if they find a vulnerability, because there's nobody actively patching it or particularly looking after it," said Leech.

Even in commercial software, while the number of vulnerabilities fell from a record high in 2006, their severity has increased, said Leech. The 2006 peak, he added, was when "fuzzing" was at its height – a automatic or semi-automatic software testing technique used to find holes in commercial software, although they would not necessarily be serious flaws.

Today, though, serious security vulnerabilities – ones that could expose an application to remote code execution and, hence, the "pwning" of a system by an attacker – account for one-quarter of all reported security flaws in commercial software.

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