A bit later on, I responded to another post where someone had suggested that we were “lucky” that it was only ransomware.
As I responded, the only thing that was “lucky” about this story was the fact that the WannaCry outbreak finally brought well-deserved attention to the incredibly dangerous exploits leaked by the TheShadowBrokers in April.
How bad is a vulnerability?
I blogged about these exploits on my employer’s blog, precisely because we wanted to make sure that the company’s clients had the relevant information to protect themselves. We don’t blog about every vulnerability or issue that comes to light but the unique danger posed by this leak meant that we decided it was important that we prepared advice. Like I said there, this probably the worst Windows vulnerability since 2008.
Given the overall panic, it seems that despite the leak of *working exploits*, MS17–010 was still not taken seriously enough by Microsoft or by the Industry. Microsoft in particular stuck to their guns and didn’t patch XP and 2003 for non-paying customers until it became prudent from a PR perspective.
We in the Information Security industry need to find a better way of communicating the risk posed by a security issue. The frustrating “branded vulnerabilities” trend has led to risk assessment based on logo quality rather than actual potential for damage.
The fact is that as noted in the 2016 DBIR (page 16), the most dangerous vulnerabilities are those for which real public exploits exist such as in Metasploit. TheShadowBroker’s release effectively met that criteria but despite this the outcry was less than something like Heartbleed or the damp squib which was Badlock.
Just patch it?
It is clear that there are plenty of organisations where patching is difficult or impossible. For organisations where it is difficult, security professionals need to help these organisations “choose their battles” where MS17-010 should have been a battle that was fought and won as soon as TheShadowBroker’s leak of live exploits was shown to be related to it.
However, for places where patching is impossible and to be honest in all mature organisations, the focus needs to shift to an “anticipate breach” posture whereby it is almost assumed that attackers will get in through unpatched vulnerabilities or just plain old phishing. In this model, the goal becomes preventing and detecting lateral movement through segmentation and better behavioural logging.
So, in some ways maybe we got lucky that WannaCry drew so much attention to MS17–010 because it should now be easier to get buy-in to patch some of these specific flaws, just in time for the Metasploit module release (remember the DBIR metric above?)
However, despite this we must ask ourselves now, what other quiet malware was able to infiltrate Company networks whilst this flaw remained unpatched or unconsidered? We have already seen acouple of examples of this.
We need to be better at articulating risk regarding known issues but we also need the detective controls to be ready for the unknown issues as well.
Before I start on that, I think it is important to acknowledge the enormous amount work which Jeff Williams, Dave Wichers and others have put into the OWASP Top 10. Their efforts have made it into the best known OWASP project and certainly the one thing that anyone in technology knows about Application Security. The current controversy and discussion has only arisen due to the project’s high profile and it is important to give credit to those who made that happen.
I have a decade of IT Risk experience with the last few years mostly focussed on Application Security testing. In this time I have seen, tested and found vulnerabilities in web applications of many different sizes, types and technologies. At the same time I have also had experience explaining these vulnerabilities to client contacts and helping developers with practical mitigations. As such, whilst I cannot provide detailed statistics, I think I can provide a fair assessment of the key issues that web application developers are struggling with today.
More importantly, I work as a security consultant and have no actual or perceived allegiance to any solution or service. My interest is that we have effective tools and materials to help clients better understand application security risk overall.
So what should the Top 10 look like?
I have seen at least one criticism of the OWASP Top 10 which states that most of the categories should no longer be relevant. Unfortunately, recent experience has shown that many companies are still struggling with the basics and therefore many of the existing categories which have stayed in the OWASP Top 10 should remain. Here are my thoughts about the changes.
The Good: Removal of 2013 A10 — Unvalidated Redirects and Forwards
A good change in my opinion. This is clearly still a risk but is probably not serious enough to be in the Top 10. I had a call with a client not long ago where I was trying to mentally run through the Top 10 to guide the conversation and this one didn’t come to mind at all.
The Good con’t: 2017 A4 — Broken Access Control
This is a great change that makes explaining the list a lot easier. 2013 A4 and 2013 A7 were just too similar for such a short list and it made explaining things difficult.
The Bad(ish): 2017 A10 — Underprotected APIs
I can appreciate that this is a big enough issue that merits its own item even though fundamentally the security risks of APIs will include many of the other items in the Top 10.
Currently the text of 2017 A10 just talks about standard vulnerabilities that can affect all application types. I think that maybe this item should be a little more focussed on issues which are more specific to APIs or “AJAX” style applications which use APIs for populating their web pages.
For example, it should specifically talk about Mass Assignment style vulnerabilities where the API framework blindly accepts parameters and updates the database without checking them against a whitelist or the opposite issue where it provides too many data items in a response, e.g. the password field from the database.
It should also highlight the perils of mis-configuring Cross Origin Resource Sharing headers which can effectively disable the same origin policy. Maybe also risks of JSONP.
I would rename it to simply “API Vulnerabilities”
The Ugly: 2017 A7 — Insufficient Attack Protection
I have spent a long time wrestling with defining IT Risk and IT Security Risk and one of the key principles I have found is that a risk cannot just be the absence of a control.
This new item is describing the absence of a controls in an application. Other items in the list describe broken controls but this is the only one which actually talks about the absence of a new set of controls.
I 100% agree that the future of application security is applications which can better protect themselves. Clearly this is a widely-held view which is why OWASP already has OWASP Top 10 Proactive Controls which has “Implement Logging and Intrusion Detection” control as its #8. This seems like the correct place for explaining what attack protection measures should be implemented.
I therefore think that this item should not appear in the list at all but rather the “Implement Logging and Intrusion Detection” control should be enhanced with the content leaving the Top 10 Risks containing only actual risks.
One spot left
So I have one spot currently untaken on the Top 10, what will I choose?
Another day, another client with external RCE from a #Java Deserialisation vulnerability. Truly the gift which keeps on giving… #appsec
The severity is often critical leading to full Remote Code Execution on the web server, usually from the external Internet.
There are plenty of off-the-shelf products which are vulnerable to this. Some of them have been patched to fix it, the older ones have not.
Fixing the issue is not always straightforward or trivial.
I have already said previously that I think the OWASP Top 10 risks concept needs revamping and I stand by that.
However, in the short term, I think that the keeping the focus on actual security risks, especially those which are poorly understood will add the most value to the OWASP Top 10 2017. The Top 10 is a key tool for helping companies to understand and focus their application security efforts but this will only remain the case if the list remains internally consistent and relevant.
Following my previous post about the OWASP Top 10 as well as the reaction frommanyothers, 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”.
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.
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.
Constructive comments on this OWASP Top 10–2017 Release Candidate should be forwarded via email to OWASP-TopTen@lists.owasp.org. Private comments may be sent to email@example.com. 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.
OWASP (The Open Web Application Security Project) was started in 2001 and describes itself as a:
“…worldwide not-for-profit charitable organization focused on improving the security of software”
The project has been enormously successful in reputation terms and is now considered the primary source of knowledge and truth when it comes to Web Application security.
In my job as an IT Security Consultant, I see many examples of companies relying on OWASP and the OWASP Top 10 Web Application Security Risks (hereafter “the OWASP Top 10”) and even considering the OWASP Top 10 as a de facto standard.
I have seen the following real life examples of this (without discussing whether each company is making correct use of the terminology):
Companies engaging with a software supplier will require them to have a secure development life-cycle which complies with OWASP guidelines.
Companies want us to provide (potentially based on own their client requirements) secure development training which covers the OWASP Top 10.
Companies expect that when we provide them with Application Security testing services, we follow a recognised methodology such as that set out by OWASP
Companies require us to provide an Application Security testing report which maps our findings to the OWASP Top 10. (We don’t like doing this as clearly the OWASP Top 10 cannot cover all types of findings)
Companies want us to provide just a “quick test” which “just covers the OWASP Top 10”. (We don’t do this!)
Companies want us to provide them with a “certification” that their application “complies” with the OWASP Top 10. (Good lord, no!)
To paraphrase the blog post above, not enough people were willing/able to spend time developing/maintaining it.
I don’t think that the ESAPI example should be considered to detract from the overall benefits which OWASP brings to the community but I think that people do not necessarily understand the relatively narrow base on which OWASP rests and the reliance on certain key people.
The OWASP Top 10 itself is considered a Flagship project and justifiably so given its success over the last 15 years. However…
Appearance of independence
Early in my professional life, I worked at a Big 4 accountancy firm where the idea of “independence” was drummed into me. In the Big 4 context, this is relevant for “Auditor Independence” where a Financial Auditor firm and its staff must demonstrate that they are able to perform a completely unbiased review of a company’s financial reporting without being exposed to external pressures which prevent it from being impartial such as a financial interest or inducement.
We were told that a Financial Auditor must both “be independent” and “be seen to be independent”. This second definition effectively means that even something that just looks like it would threaten independence, even if it does not, should be considered as a risk and avoided as carefully as an actual independence risk.
However, I want to highlight a key point. The new items in the list are A7 — Insufficient Attack Protection and A10 — Underprotected APIs. Specifically about A7, the 2017 introduction says:
I don’t want to get into the merits of this new item but the analysis which I noted above highlights that there were three companies who suggested an idea similar to the new A7 risk, “Network Test Labs Inc.”, “Shape Security” and “Contrast Security”.
Shape Security are a vendor who make anti-automation software.
The vulnerability data which they have provided for the OWASP Top 10 relates to anti-automation and nothing else. They have recommended one additional item for the OWASP Top 10 and that is the problem which they can solve (h/t to Andrew Kalat at the Defensive Security Podcast).
Similarly, Network Test Labs also only provided vulnerability data in the anti-automation category and no other. They have performed some very limited research to support this:
We chose 3 US companies that had many users (as evidenced by their Alexa ratings) and were sizeable ($1B+ revenue) along with 2 other large US companies. We used a simple Selenium test to login to a website with 5 sets of credentials, 4 fake and 1 real. On 3 of the websites we tested, all 5 login attempts were possible, including the real set of credentials.
Finally, one of Contrast Security’s key products is a RASP (Runtime Application Self Protection) solution:
The new OWASP Top 10 2017 RC draft specifically name-drops “RASP” as a possible way of addressing the new A7 Insufficient Attack Protection risk.
Contrast Security was also the only contributor to suggest the other new risk which was added “A10 — Underprotected APIs”.
Having the only two new risks coming from one company with such a close tie to the OWASP Top 10 does not have the appearance of independence. Whilst, there is no attempt to disclose or highlight this connection in the OWASP Top 10 material, the company itself is already using the new Top 10 (which is technically still only a release candidate) in its marketing.
In my opinion, the process by which the new OWASP Top 10 release candidate has been produced does not have the appearance of independence and it is not currently clear whether it can demonstrate actual independence due to the missing link between the data and the end result.
On the other hand, as I noted above OWASP is entirely dependent on volunteers who are prepared to put time and effort into the its projects and therefore it can only work with what it has.
I think the response to this has to be three-fold.
In the short term, I think the OWASP Top 10 project has to more clearly articulate its limitations. I would like to think that if the issues I have set out above were communicated correctly to companies and policy writers, they would understand the limitations and we would see less use of the OWASP Top 10 as a de facto standard. Companies should be using the more comprehensive Testing Guide and the ASVS (Application Security Verification Standard) as a starting point, potentially cherry picking the areas which will be most relevant to them.
Perhaps the OWASP Top 10 Web Application Security Risks needs to be a data/risk driven view of the key issues which are being seen in the wild with more frequent updates but less focus on preparing a detailed and complex document. The focus should be on an ordered list of specific issues rather than trying to compress lots of issues into a top 10 list. The OWASP Top 10 Proactive Security controls which is a really useful and practical document for developers should be based on the this list of top issues (but not one-to-one) and provide actual hands-on ways to address security the most common security issues from the original list.
Finally, the industry needs to be more involved in contributing to efforts like these. Only 11 companies contributed the vast majority of the data for the OWASP Top 10. I will certainly be encouraging my employer to start collecting the data required to submit and I think it is important that others do as well.
OWASP and its volunteers have worked hard to build this brand and reputation and it is our responsibility to help maintain and develop this.
Update: In a subsequent post, James Kettle pointed out that a similar issue involving Contrast Security has occurred in the past.