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3 questions: Etsy, ecommerce and application security

By Michael Fitzgerald, CSO
February 25, 2013 11:50 AM ET

CSO - 'Add to cart'. 'Click to buy'. --What could be simpler?

Well, web commerce may be simple indeed, but whether it's secure is another question.

CSO asked Dinis Cruz for some quick insights into the state of application and ecommerce security online. Cruz is leader of the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) O2 platform project and principal security engineer at Security Innovation, which provides curriculum, training and services around application security.

CSO: What are the big issues with application security?

Dinis Cruz: One of the biggest challenges we have from a security point of view is that most development is broken from a process point of view.

A lot of companies struggle just to have a development life cycle, let alone injecting security into it. It's code security really. Mobile apps have the same issues. They live in a bit more of a controlled environment.

CSO: You've blogged about Etsy, the social e-commerce company, and what you (as an outside observer) think it gets right with its application security.

What do you like about Etsy's app security?

First, I am not involved with them at all.

If you look at their blog, at their presentations, they are introducing a lot of visibility into what's happening with the application. They have a system that's so slick and mature that they can blog about it. That speaks volumes about what happens behind the scenes. [Editor's note: Etsy declined to speak to CSO about their security practices.]

They show how you add value by giving (developers) visibility metrics--how it works, how it fits together, and the other changes that happen when you make a change. I like their focus on 'If you have to fix security, you have to fix development.'

They really have a very good view of how security can add value to development. They make it so developers don't view security like a tax, a pain point you have to go through. If you can make security add value, then developers want to engage with it.

CSO: Are you concerned about state of app security? Is it improving?

It's a disaster with a capital D. The good news is we don't have more attackers with very strong business models. And, the industry is finally starting to pay attention, and doing a much better job of how to develop applications, instead of waiting to get attacked spectacularly.

Etsy stands out. They are not the norm.

What's interesting is, [what they're doing] should be normal.

If you go to any other industry--well, look at the horsemeat in the food chain story that's happening now. They're now talking about evaluating [products labeled as] beef and making sure they know what's in there. They should do that for software. We build all these applications and frameworks, and very few people understand them. We buy all these products without pragmatic information about how secure they are.

Etsy's probably best-in-class, but the information we have is very fuzzy. We have information from a blog. It's non-verifiable, not independently auditable. We're relying on them to do the right thing and they seem to be, but we don't know. And they're one of the best.

If that were food you were buying, you wouldn't accept that.

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