The OWASP Top 10 — Response to the controversy from Jeff Williams

The official response

Following my previous post about the OWASP Top 10 as well as the reaction from many others, Steve Ragan at CSO Online reached out to Contrast Security for their comments on the inclusion of “Insufficient Attack Protection” as the new A7.

Jeff Williams who is one of the OWASP Top 10 Co-Authors as well as being the CTO for Contrast Security provided the response. My thoughts as follows:

Contributions to the Project

The project is open for anyone to participate in. Unfortunately, like most OWASP projects, it is a huge amount of work and very very few contribute.

I think this a fair and important point. As I previously highlighted, there was a minimal response to the original call for data with only 11 companies responding with relatively large datasets and 13 additional companies with smaller datasets. As I said in my previous post and in my conclusion again here, OWASP needs more feedback and more contributors.

The proactive addition of items

The project uses the open data call data to select and prioritize issues, but has also always looked to experts for ideas on what we could include that would drive the appsec community to get in front of problems instead of being reactive. In 2007 it was CSRF, which is still a top ten item supported by tons of data. In 2013 it was use of libraries with known vulnerabilities, again an obvious yet serious and underappreciated problem, and the T10 helped to refocus the industry on it.

Again, I think this is a fair point. Being forward-looking and pro-active is important in such a fast-moving industry.

Certainly in hindsight, “CSRF” and “Libraries with Known Vulnerabilities” were worthy additions to previous releases of the Top 10 but note that they are both “Risks”, i.e. an issue/problem in the application. This is in keeping with the official title of the OWASP Top 10 which is “the OWASP Top 10 Web Application Security Risks”.

In this case, “Insufficient Attack Protection” is not a “Risk”, it is the lack of a “Control”. Note that OWASP already has a less famous but also very valuable Top 10 Proactive Controls list which already has as its item #8 “Implement Logging and Intrusion Detection”.

Moreover, despite the assertion above that the project has “looked to experts for ideas”, there is still no evidence of any discussion or consultation about the inclusion of A7 as I discussed in my previous post nor is any further information on this provided in this response.

Lack of a Control ≠ a Risk

Depending on where you observe the problem from, isn’t the lack of a defense a security vulnerability? It just depends on what we expect from our code, our vantage point on security.

Lack of defence is certainly an issue but in order to decide which controls should be put in place to defend an application, we first have to decide on the risks/vulnerabilities that are most concerning and prioritise accordingly.

The OWASP Top 10 was supposed to highlight the biggest risks to consider and including a control as part of this list confuses this assessment and takes up a space which could be taken by an actual application security risk.

Much of the appsec industry is focused on creating clean code, rather than protecting against attacks. But clearly we need both, as all the focus on hygiene hasn’t worked.

Agreed and again, I imagine this is why “Implement Logging and Intrusion Detection” is on the Top 10 Proactive Controls list.

In conclusion

Disappointingly, the response does not substantively address what I think is one of the key concerns with the latest release which is the lack of an appearance of independence. The response does not provide any further information to fill in the gap between the raw data and the final list nor demonstrate which other experts may have been consulted outside of the project team.

I think the response’s final sentence clearly demonstrates what the next steps should be:

I hope everyone interested in helping with the OWASP T10 will participate in the process, and discuss the pros and cons of this latest release candidate.

I set out my opinions for the future of the Top 10 risks project in my previous post but it is clear that there will still be a 2017 release.

The official instructions on the OWASP Top 10 site state:

Constructive comments on this OWASP Top 10–2017 Release Candidate should be forwarded via email to Private comments may be sent to Anonymous comments are welcome. All non-private comments will be catalogued and published at the same time as the final public release. Comments recommending changes to the items listed in the Top 10 should include a complete suggested list of 10 items, along with a rationale for any changes. All comments should indicate the specific relevant page and section.

I would therefore urge anyone in the application security industry to provide public comments by June 30, 2017 as has been requested by the project team. If enough constructive comments are submitted in the requested format, we will be in a good position at the final release of the list to assess to what extent the project team has taken the industry’s feedback into consideration.

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