‘Content spoofing’ a major website vulnerability, study finds

WhiteHat Security’s annual vulnerability report on 15,000 websites also shows poor remediation rates occur when ‘compliance’ drives decision-making on fixing holes

A close look at vulnerabilities in about 15,000 websites found 86% had at least one serious hole that hackers could exploit, and “content spoofing” was the most prevalent vulnerability, identified in over half of the sites, according to WhiteHat Security’s annual study published today.

“’Content spoofing’ is a way to get a website to display content from the attacker,” says Jeremiah Grossman, CTO at WhiteHat, an IT security vendor. A criminal might do this to steal sensitive customer information or simply to embarrass the owners of a website. In any event, in content spoofing the fake content is not actually on the website as it would be in a web defacement, but simply appears to be there, Grossman points out.

The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) group says content spoofing is also sometimes referred to as “content injection” or “virtual defacement,” and it’s an attack made possible by an injection vulnerability in a web application that does not properly handle user-supplied data.

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The content spoofing attack can supply content to a web application that is reflected back to the user, who’s presented with a modified page under the context of the trusted domain, according to OWASP.  It’s said to be similar to a cross-site scripting attack but uses other techniques to modify the page for malicious reasons.

’Content spoofing’ is a way to get a website to display content from the attacker.

— Jeremiah Grossman, CTO, WhiteHat Security

The annual WhiteHat Website Security Statistics Report examined vulnerabilities found over the course of 2012 in the 15,000 websites of 650 companies and government agencies for which it provides web application vulnerability assessments. These range from financial, manufacturing, technology, entertainment, energy to media, and government.

The top 15 vulnerability classes for websites are said to be cross-site scripting; information leakage; content spoofing; cross-site request forgery; brute force; insufficient transport layer protection; insufficient authorization; SQL injection; session fixation; fingerprinting; URL redirector abuse; directory indexing; abuse of functionality; predictable resource location; and HTTP response splitting.

Grossman says there were a few unexpected findings related to how quickly organizations fixed vulnerabilities when taking into account how much they’d invested in application security training for their programmers.

Emphasis on training was correlated with 40% fewer website vulnerabilities and a 59% faster rate of resolving them than in organizations that didn’t do training. But the actual remediation rate to close all the holes related to the vulnerabilities was 12% less than in organizations without training. Grossman says WhiteHat’s analysis indicates that the poorest rates of remediation overall are associated with organizations where their regulatory compliance requirements are the No.1 driver for resolving vulnerabilities. If the vulnerability wasn’t tied to compliance, it was ignored.

“When organizations’ website vulnerabilities go unresolved, ‘compliance’ was cited as the #1 reason, closely followed by ‘risk reduction,’” according to the WhiteHat study. The study also found the best remediation rates occurred when customers or partners demanded it.

Other findings in the website 2012 vulnerability study show:

  • 85% of organizations use some variety of application security testing in pre-production website environments
  • 55% have a Web Application Firewall in some state of deployment
  • In the event of of a website data or system breach, 79% said the “Security Department” would be accountable.
  •  23% experienced a data or system breach as a result of an application-layer vulnerability.

Ellen Messmer is senior editor at Network World, an IDG publication and website, where she covers news and technology trends related to information security. Twitter: MessmerE. E-mail: emessmer@nww.com.

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