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The top 10 reasons Web sites get hacked

Web developers ignore security flaws at customers' peril

By , Network World
October 04, 2007 01:05 PM ET

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2. Injection flaws

The problem: When user-supplied data is sent to interpreters as part of a command or query, hackers trick the interpreter — which interprets text-based commands — into executing unintended commands. “Injection flaws allow attackers to create, read, update, or delete any arbitrary data available to the application,” OWASP writes. “In the worst-case scenario, these flaws allow an attacker to completely compromise the application and the underlying systems, even bypassing deeply nested firewalled environments.”

Real-world example: Russian hackers broke into a Rhode Island government Web site to steal credit card data in January 2006. Hackers claimed the SQL injection attack stole 53,000 credit card numbers, while the hosting service provider claims it was only 4,113.

How to protect users: Avoid using interpreters if possible. “If you must invoke an interpreter, the key method to avoid injections is the use of safe APIs, such as strongly typed parameterized queries and object relational mapping libraries,” OWASP writes.

3. Malicious file execution

The problem: Hackers can perform remote code execution, remote installation of rootkits, or completely compromise a system. Any type of Web application is vulnerable if it accepts filenames or files from users. The vulnerability may be most common with PHP, a widely used scripting language for Web development.

Real-world example: A teenage programmer discovered in 2002 that Guess.com was vulnerable to attacks that could steal more than 200,000 customer records from the Guess database, including names, credit card numbers and expiration dates. Guess agreed to upgrade its information security the next year after being investigated by the Federal Trade Commission.

How to protect users: Don’t use input supplied by users in any filename for server-based resources, such as images and script inclusions. Set firewall rules to prevent new connections to external Web sites and internal systems.

4. Insecure direct object reference

The problem: Attackers manipulate direct object references to gain unauthorized access to other objects. It happens when URLs or form parameters contain references to objects such as files, directories, database records or keys.

Banking Web sites commonly use a customer account number as the primary key, and may expose account numbers in the Web interface.

“References to database keys are frequently exposed,” OWASP writes. “An attacker can attack these parameters simply by guessing or searching for another valid key. Often, these are sequential in nature.”

Real-world example: An Australian Taxation Office site was hacked in 2000 by a user who changed a tax ID present in a URL to access details on 17,000 companies. The hacker e-mailed the 17,000 businesses to notify them of the security breach.

How to protect users: Use an index, indirect reference map or another indirect method to avoid exposure of direct object references. If you can’t avoid direct references, authorize Web site visitors before using them.

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