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The presentation

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A presentation about the OWASP Enterprise Security API, or ESAPI

This presentation is given as part of OWASP Software Assurance Day at the | 13th Annual Software Assurance Forum.

Download the presentation

The speaker

Jeff Williams is the founder and CEO of Aspect Security, specializing exclusively in application security professional services. Jeff also serves as the volunteer Chair of the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP). He has made extensive contributions to the application security community through OWASP, including writing the Top Ten, WebGoat, Secure Software Contract Annex, Enterprise Security API, OWASP Risk Rating Methodology, and starting the worldwide local chapters program. If nothing else, Jeff is probably the tallest application security expert in the world and likes nothing better than discussing new ideas for changing the way we build software.


OWASP Enterprise Security API (ESAPI) Project

ESAPI is a free and open collection of all the security methods that a developer needs to build a secure web application. (Assessment Criteria v1.0)

Several years ago, Williams was asked to review applications supported by a development shop. He discovered that every developer was reinventing code, and doing it incorrectly, sometimes multiple distinct solutions for the same problems. We looked at the application vulnerabilities. Scanning is valuable but it will not distinguish why applications are broken. Our findings were: • 35% of vulnerabilities had no controls. • 30 percent of application controls were broken and ineffective. • 20 percent were ignored. This is harder than just giving developers the controls. So we need to make the controls easier to use. • 15 percent of controls were not used correctly. Ease of use is necessary for this case as well. Security Controls are Hard There are 1.6 quadrillion or 785 ways to encode a character in canonical form. We need to make it simpler for the developers to use the controls. We want to pull the controls out of the code and put them in a application security control library for the developers to use. We want to manage security instead of insecurity. Controls instead of threats. Patterns instead of vulnerabilities. If you manage vulnerabilities and patches, the problems quickly become unmanageable. If you manage assurance, you can get ahead of the vulnerabilities by stamping large classes of vulnerabilities at a time. We identified 100 methods with a common application programming interface (API).

ESAPI (The OWASP Enterprise Security API) is a free, open source, web application security control library that makes it easier for programmers to write lower-risk applications. The ESAPI libraries are designed to make it easier for programmers to retrofit security into existing applications. The ESAPI libraries also serve as a solid foundation for new development. You cant just download ESAPI and use it out of the wrapper. Each organization needs to create its own security library.

Allowing for language-specific differences, all OWASP ESAPI versions have the same basic design: • There is a set of security control interfaces. They define for example types of parameters that are passed to types of security controls. • There is a reference implementation for each security control. The logic is not organization specific and the logic is not application specific. An example: string based input validation. • There are optionally your own implementations for each security control. There may be application logic contained in these classes which may be developed by or for your organization. An example: enterprise authentication.

There are ESAPI tools for Java, .NET, PHP, Cold Fusion, ASP, Python, AJAX (Javascript on the client side), Ruby, C, and Salesforce.com. Also, with ESAPI each application could have its own web application firewall. The WAF can implement a virtual patch, check session states, user authentication, and other application characteristics.

When an attack comes out, we can review our code and make patches so that all developers using ESAPI will benefit. Taking an assurance case perspective, we built almost a thousand test cases. We have tests for canonicalization, output escaping. Also we can establish user identification and access control. We have run Fortify, AppScan (Once Labs), and PMD. The output from FindBugs is interesting. Do all my Sturts action make sequential calls to authentication and logger?

Why invest in application security? There is a business and ROI. Also appsec enables innovation, it allows organizations to do things they can’t do today.

Q. What is the training requirement? A. It is difficult to teach developers to teach all about application security. It is far easier to teach an API in their own language. ESAPI simplifies the learning process. You can cover ESPAI in a day for a decent Java developer.

See the composition paper in the rainbow series by Mario Tinto.

In order for the firewall to determine if the request is malevolent. The application understands the business rules whereas the firewall does not. ESAPI makes the code a lot simpler and easier to figure out what the policy being enforced.