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Application Coding Errors Exacerbated by Misconfiguration: HP

Source Code Vulnerabilities

The good news is the total number of new software vulnerabilities reported last year through November dropped six percent from what it was during the same period of 2012. The not-so good news is that that still represents an increase over 2010 and 2011.  

In Hewlett-Packard's 'Cyber Risk Report 2013', the picture of the software vulnerability landscape was a mixed bag. According to HP, even when software is perfectly coded, the vast majority of applications tested during 2,200 audits performed by HP Fortify on Demand were vulnerable to issues exposed by misconfiguration.

"We found that nearly 80 percent of applications contain vulnerabilities outside of the source code," explained Jewel Timpe, malware research manager and research communications manager for HP's Security Research, Enterprise Security Products group. "Several contributing factors include improper file settings, outdated software versions and misconfiguration. Patch management is (the) most well-known cause, so let's look at misconfiguration in the network itself."

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"For example," Timpe continued, "adjusting particular network settings could interfere with how a security function in an application is supposed to work. If a setting is turned off, that protection may no longer be functional."

This reality, the report argues, makes it important for organizations to take a holistic view of security that considers not only static and dynamic analysis of an application but also other potential security weaknesses as well.

In addition to misconfiguration challenges, 72 percent of the applications were vulnerable due to poor implementation of features such as authentication and access control, while input validation and representation errors were found nearly 53 percent.

One of the main weakpoints in application security in 2013 was cookie security, according to HP. For example, 41 percent of applications did not set the HTTPOnly attribute, underscoring that special care should be given to controlling how much access client-side scripts have to cookies. System information leaks and access control issues such as unprotected directories were also common problems, according to the report.

The news wasn't much better in the world of mobile applications. Forty-six percent of the more than 180 apps for Google Android and Apple iOS analyzed used encryption improperly, and HP's research showed that some mobile developers fail to use encryption when storing sensitive data on mobile devices or rely on weak algorithms to do so. Missing or misused cryptographic APIs were commonplace in the vulnerable applications.

"The misuse of encryption refers to developers either disabling authentication or implementing through the use of weaker ciphers," Timpe  told SecurityWeek. "Thirty-one percent of this category attributed to unencrypted login forms which is an obvious protection point for sensitive authentication data. The problems are obvious – confidentiality is not adequately being protected, and the problems likely are the old adage of rush to market in spite of security concerns or just a clear lack of proper education in secure software development principles."

"Adversaries today are more adept than ever and are collaborating more effectively to take advantage of vulnerabilities across an ever-expanding attack surface," said Jacob West, chief technology officer, Enterprise Security Products at HP, in a statement. "The industry must band together to proactively share security intelligence and tactics in order to disrupt malicious activities driven by the growing underground marketplace."

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