Ten Most Critical Web Application Security Risks

I thought it was time to sit down and begin writing a series of articles on the subject of application security for a number of reasons. First, because security should and must be foremost in everyone’s mind and second I have decided to return to school to obtain a Master’s Degree in CyberSecurity. I can think of no better reasons to both educate myself and other surrounding to topic of security.

application security


If you’re not familiar with The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) then I strongly urge you to take time to visit them. The amount of information you will find there can be a little overwhelming at first but if you continue to soak up the material that they provide you will soon find yourself becoming much more knowledgeable about security than you may have ever wish to have learned. A great starting point is what OWASP has coined as the Top 10. For a number of years know they research the industry and report to the general public the top ten security risk that they find. I must admit that the really frightening part is a number of vulnerabilities remain on the list year after year and it makes one stop and consider why this is. I personally have been working as a software developer since the mid 1990’s and I never really became aware of security until early 2000 and to date I am still learning and in no way consider myself an expert, for now that is. Now that we have broken the ice and introduced what is considered to Top 10 Security Risk take a moment and review them.

2010 OWASP Top 10 Application Security Risks
A1-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 unauthorized data.
A2-Cross Site Scripting (XSS) XSS flaws occur whenever an application takes untrusted data and sends it to a web browser without proper validation and 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.
A3-Broken Authentication and Session Management Application functions related to authentication and session management are often not implemented correctly, allowing attackers to compromise passwords, keys, session tokens, or exploit other implementation flaws to assume other users’ identities.
A4-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.
A5-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.
A6-Security Misconfiguration Good security requires having a secure configuration defined and deployed for the application, frameworks, application server, web server, database server, and platform. All these settings should be defined, implemented, and maintained as many are not shipped with secure defaults. This includes keeping all software up to date, including all code libraries used by the application.
A7-Insecure Cryptographic Storage Many web applications do not properly protect sensitive data, such as credit cards, SSNs, and authentication credentials, with appropriate encryption or hashing. Attackers may steal or modify such weakly protected data to conduct identity theft, credit card fraud, or other crimes.
A8-Failure to Restrict URL Access Many web applications check URL access rights before rendering protected links and buttons. However, applications need to perform similar access control checks each time these pages are accessed, or attackers will be able to forge URLs to access these hidden pages anyway.
A9-Insufficient Transport Layer Protection Applications frequently fail to authenticate, encrypt, and protect the confidentiality and integrity of sensitive network traffic. When they do, they sometimes support weak algorithms, use expired or invalid certificates, or do not use them correctly.
A10-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.


Now that we have the foundation to in place to understand these risk, the next step is understanding the options surrounding tooling to began tackling these problem areas. While the following list serves only as a starting point, the goal is to provide options relevant to these risks.

Application Security Risk Tooling
SQL Inject Me SQL Inject Me is the Exploit-Me tool used to test for SQL Injection vulnerabilities. The tool does not attempt to compromise the security of the given system, rather it looks for possible entry points for an attack against the system. There is no port scanning, packet sniffing, password hacking or firewall attacks done by the tool. You can think of the work done by the tool as the same as the QA testers for the site manually entering all of these strings into the form fields.
Microsoft Anti-Cross Site Scripting Library The Microsoft Anti-Cross Site Scripting Library V3.1 (Anti-XSS V3.1) is an encoding library designed to help developers protect their ASP.NET web-based applications from XSS attacks. It differs from most encoding libraries in that it uses the white-listing technique — sometimes referred to as the principle of inclusions — to provide protection against XSS attacks. This approach works by first defining a valid or allowable set of characters, and encodes anything outside this set (invalid characters or potential attacks). The white-listing approach provides several advantages over other encoding schemes. New features in this version of the Microsoft Anti-Cross Site Scripting Library include:- An expanded white list that supports more languages- Performance improvements- Performance data sheets (in the online help)- Support for Shift_JIS encoding for mobile browsers- A sample application- Security Runtime Engine (SRE) HTTP module – HTML Sanitization methods to strip dangerous HTML scripts.
OWASP WebScarab WebScarab is a framework for analysing applications that communicate using the HTTP and HTTPS protocols. It is written in Java, and is thus portable to many platforms. WebScarab has several modes of operation, implemented by a number of plugins. In its most common usage, WebScarab operates as an intercepting proxy, allowing the operator to review and modify requests created by the browser before they are sent to the server, and to review and modify responses returned from the server before they are received by the browser. WebScarab is able to intercept both HTTP and HTTPS communication. The operator can also review the conversations (requests and responses) that have passed through WebScarab.
Burp Burp Suite is an integrated platform for performing security testing of web applications. Its various tools work seamlessly together to support the entire testing process, from initial mapping and analysis of an application’s attack surface, through to finding and exploiting security vulnerabilities.

Cost, Who, How and What

Face it, any company is in the business of making money and understandably so. This being said, security should and must be job #1! Training is more often than not a pain point with many companies and in reality there are very few companies out there that focus on security from the perspective of training and education. It has been my experience that no one wishes to cut into the bottom line when it comes to the profits and the fact that software may or may not be developed for an enterprise or a group of five makes no difference. While I’m always surprised to hear from customers that that want a quality product, more often than not when it comes down to requirements gathering and eventually cost estimates one of the first thing that typically gets cut is security.

To further drive home the point of what occurs when security is not addressed all you need to do is read the 2010 Verizon Data Breach Investigation Report. This reporting provides very interesting insight into the types of security breaches and answers who, how and what.


Who is behind data breaches?


How do breaches occur?


What commonalities exist?


Technology continues to advance and security must advance much more quickly if we are ever to succeed and protecting all involved. It is not enough to just sit back and wait for breaches to occur and then address them as they do. Stop for a moment to really consider the recent security incidents that have happened in 2011 alone and the scale of these breaches. My goal is to hopefully engage others in addressing security at every level of business.

Do you have any success stories or opinions that you would like to share? It is always interesting in hearing about what works for others under what conditions and why. If this is a subject that perks your interest then please leave a comment.


  1. OWASP Top 10 Introduction
  2. OWASP Developer’s Guide
  3. OWASP Testing Guide
  4. OWASP Code Review Guide
  5. Microsoft Security Development Lifecycle
  6. Verizon’s 2010 Data Breach Report

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