OWASP – What is it?

I conduct security assessments for a living. More often than not, web application security is part of the engagement. You would be surprised at how many organizations don’t consider information security beyond the bare minimum when it comes to web application development.

For the record, I’m not a web application developer and I tell that to my clients up front.

That being said, when I (or my clients) need guidance I often refer to OWASP as a best practices baseline.

What is OWASP?

OWASP stands for Open Web Application Security Project. It is a not-for-profit charitable organization focused on improving the security of software. Their mission is to make software security visible, so that individuals and organizations worldwide can make informed decisions about true software security risks.

What is the OWASP Top Ten?

The OWASP Top Ten is an awareness (not a standard) document for web application security. It represents a broad consensus about what the most critical web application security flaws are.

Adopting the OWASP Top Ten is perhaps the most effective first step towards changing your software development method to one that produces secure code. The list is as follows:

1. Injection: “Injection flaws, such as SQL, OS, and LDAP injection occur when untrusted data is sent to an interpreter as part of a command or query. The attacker’s hostile data can trick the interpreter into executing unintended commands or accessing data without proper authorization.”

2. Broken Authentication and Session Management: “Application functions related to authentication and session management are often not implemented correctly, allowing attackers to compromise passwords, keys, or session tokens, or to exploit other implementation flaws to assume other users’ identities.”

3. Cross-Site Scripting (XSS): “XSS flaws occur whenever an application takes untrusted data and sends it to a web browser without proper validation or escaping. XSS allows attackers to execute scripts in the victim’s browser which can hijack user sessions, deface web sites, or redirect the user to malicious sites.”

4. Insecure Direct Object References: “A direct object reference occurs when a developer exposes a reference to an internal implementation object, such as a file, directory, or database key. Without an access control check or other protection, attackers can manipulate these references to access unauthorized data.”

5. Security Misconfiguration: “Good security requires having a secure configuration defined and deployed for the application, frameworks, application server, web server, database server, and platform. Secure settings should be defined, implemented, and maintained, as defaults are often insecure. Additionally, software should be kept up to date.”

6. Sensitive Data Exposure: “Many web applications do not properly protect sensitive data, such as credit cards, tax IDs, and authentication credentials. Attackers may steal or modify such weakly protected data to conduct credit card fraud, identity theft, or other crimes. Sensitive data deserves extra protection such as encryption at rest or in transit, as well as special precautions when exchanged with the browser.”

7. Missing Function Level Access Control: “Most web applications verify function level access rights before making that functionality visible in the UI. However, applications need to perform the same access control checks on the server when each function is accessed. If requests are not verified, attackers will be able to forge requests in order to access functionality without proper authorization.”

8. Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF): “A CSRF attack forces a logged-on victim’s browser to send a forged HTTP request, including the victim’s session cookie and any other automatically included authentication information, to a vulnerable web application. This allows the attacker to force the victim’s browser to generate requests the vulnerable application thinks are legitimate requests from the victim.”

9. Using Components With Known Vulnerabilities: “Components, such as libraries, frameworks, and other software modules, almost always run with full privileges. If a vulnerable component is exploited, such an attack can facilitate serious data loss or server takeover. Applications using components with known vulnerabilities may undermine application defenses and enable a range of possible attacks and impacts.”

10. Unvalidated Redirects and Forwards: “Web applications frequently redirect and forward users to other pages and websites, and use untrusted data to determine the destination pages. Without proper validation, attackers can redirect victims to phishing or malware sites, or use forwards to access unauthorized pages.”

If you’re an web application developer, you should become very familiar with this list, especially if you’re in the area of ecommerce, because some well-known security standards (eg. PCI-DSS) require validated proof that you are developing secure code.

This post was written as part of the Dell Insight Partners program, which provides news and analysis about the evolving world of tech. To learn more about tech news and analysis visit Tech Page One. Dell sponsored this article, but the opinions are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dell’s positions or strategies.