Application Security — Cutting Edge Or Critical Failure?

Editors Note: I’ve been writing a lot about application and web security quite a bit lately, and that’s on purpose. There’s never been more attacks on our personal and private information.  These attacks are comging from not only lone hackers but also from state-supported groups and intelligence agencies. This guest post gives a good overview of what’s been going on and a little on the tactics we can take to combat these activities. This isn’t an exhaustive treatise on how to secure your applications. It’s more an intro course on the topic. It’s a springboard for you to dive into this vast and quickly-evolving world.


Application Security — Cutting Edge Or Critical Failure?

How secure are your applications? While you might be confident about apps designed in-house, what about third-party software for desktops or mobile apps made using open-source code? Are current application security methods doing enough to meet the threat of cutting-edge cybercriminals, or are companies facing critical failure?

Continuing Compromise

At the beginning of March, information-sharing site WikiLeaks published what could be the largest release of CIA documents on record, if the 7818 pages and 943 attachments actually belong to the spy agency.

Non-denial denials aside, however — according to spokesman Don Boyd, “We do not comment on the authenticity or content of purported intelligence documents.” The released data contains a number of application attacks that could presumably net access to almost any device around the world. For example, some files contained instructions for compromising computer applications such as Skype, commercial antivirus programs and even PDF files. Applications such as “Wrecking Crew,” meanwhile, could crash targeted computers while others claim the ability to breach both Apple and Android smartphones, in turn bypassing the encryption offered by tools like WhatsApp, Signal or Telegram. It doesn’t stop there, though. A program code-named “Weeping Angel” — which the documents claim was developed in partnership with British intelligence — supposedly used Samsung smart televisions to listen in on conversations even when the device appears to be turned off.

There’s also another level of concern here: An authentic leak means that even CIA servers and storage solutions aren’t of reach for interested hackers. If the vaunted spy agency is at risk, what’s the downstream consequence for the average application or device?

Emerging Threats

While the WikiLeaks story may be top of mind given its high-profile target and potentially dangerous app attacks, it’s not exactly an outlier: Applications across multiple industries and government agencies are now under threat.

Consider the rise of connected-vehicle applications. Recent research suggests that Android-based connected car apps could be easily hacked if attackers gain access to rooted phones or convince users to download malicious files. Once in control of the car app, cybercriminals could leverage the tool to gain physical access without setting off the alarm. Seven of nine car apps tested were vulnerable. Research firm Kaspersky noted that the problem didn’t stem from code flaws but a simple lack of defense. According to security researcher Victor Chebyshev, these apps are “controlling very valuable things for the user, but they’re not thinking about security mechanisms.”

North of the border, meanwhile, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) was forced to temporarily shutter its online services and mobile applications after a vulnerability was discovered in Apache Struts 2, an open-source software tool that is widely used by government and private sector agencies alike. While there’s no evidence of lost or stolen data, it’s a sobering reminder that even popular (and presumably well-tested) applications can put companies at risk.

The Speed of Security

As noted by Dark Reading, the recent CIA breaches, vulnerable industry apps and open-source issues make the case for app security as “pre-industrial,” since it lacks the ability to handle attacks at scale, focuses mainly on vertical threats, and includes a “vast landscape of tools and point solutions.” Plus, without effective standardization and specification, these tools are ad hoc at best and may not successfully address the accelerating speed of security threats.

Top Tactics

The first step in shifting app security from critical failure to cutting edge? Identifying key threat vectors. For example, both DoS and DDoS attacks are on the rise, with 53 percent of security pros saying these threats are among their top concerns. In addition, 60 percent of apps are vulnerable to SQL injection, allowing hackers to gain access and take control. More than 50 percent of web applications still allow cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks. Companies aren’t doing themselves any favors when it comes to design and testing, with stock permissions and APIs opening the app door to hackers even as timid testing of apps assumes that internal code offers superior protection.

Bottom line? Apps are vulnerable and software security isn’t keeping pace. Pushing app protection into the present demands a hard look at current targets and a better understanding of top application threats.

For more information on application security threats and how to handle them, review the accompanying slideshow from Column Information Security.

Author bio: Nori De Jesus is Global Director of Marketing at Column Information Security. De Jesus brings more than 20 years of experience as an advent marketer and business strategist working with software manufacturers and launching proprietary software solutions into the market. With expertise in BPM and case management B2B marketing, she focuses on innovation and making a difference by maintaining agility as the technology climate continues to shift. De Jesus is an evangelist in educating buyers through their technology-purchasing journey via content and research.

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