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Why are there still so many website vulnerabilities?

David Geer | June 22, 2015
The battle lines are drawn between the enterprise URL and the cyber mercenaries taking up ranks on the other side of the Internet. Are you ready?

The cracks in the armor of most enterprise websites are many including recurring holes in OpenSSL, PHP, and WordPress and are largely due to a combination of extensive customizations paired with a shortage of testing and fixing of vulnerabilities when compared with that of long-standing commercial OS software.

CSO Magazine traverses the treacherous terrain of the massive security craters present in today's websites. Find out what it takes to fix these holes from the start and throughout the development life cycle.

So many Website security punctures and protrusions

"The primary cause for constant and recurring website (and web application) vulnerabilities is the heavily-modified to fully custom-developed nature of these technologies," says David J. Venable, CISSP, director, Masergy Communications & former intelligence collector, the NSA. The result is largely untested sites and applications that do not undergo the same rigorous and thorough testing that most commercial software packages such as operating systems and server packages do.

In fact, more vulnerabilities appear in websites and web applications than just about anywhere else in the enterprise. These security holes crop up in .PHP sites, third-party and homegrown software, and WordPress code and installations as well as in OpenSSL, Single Sign-On, and SQL and LDAP implementations and technologies.

PHP sites that use third-party software present inherent vulnerabilities due to the fact that third-party application development is out of the hands of the afflicted enterprise. "You can design your site so that all of your home-baked code is perfectly secure, but then if you rely on third-party software for anything, you inherit any vulnerability that might exist in it," says Joe Sremack, director, Berkeley Research Group.

WordPress is a growing problem as sites that represent small to midsize enterprises increasingly incorporate it along with its countless plug-ins that require constant updating. "Companies want the WordPress functionality but unfortunately the risk also comes with it," says Sremack.

OpenSSL is continuously running into trouble. As people innovate improvements to the technology, those innovations create new vulnerabilities that attackers discover and exploit. Attackers continue to exploit OpenSSL vulnerabilities new and old as part of large breaches a few times a year. Many seemingly new holes were actually old ones that had not yet been uncovered, says Sremack.

Even when a coder produces an otherwise secure website, they are largely developing based on the vulnerabilities they are aware of, not the ones that no one has yet confirmed. There are always new vulnerabilities that appear for the first time in the wild.

Injection vulnerabilities are still common and attackers have adjusted how they approach these with the growing popularity of single sign-on. "Single sign-on is very popular at hotels where people check their accounts and the points they earn. New LDAP injection techniques attack vulnerabilities and pass parameters into the code to take over their web sessions," explains Sremack.


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