Top 10 2007-Insecure Communications

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Applications frequently fail to encrypt network traffic when it is necessary to protect sensitive communications. Encryption (usually SSL) must be used for all authenticated connections, especially Internet-accessible web pages, but backend connections as well. Otherwise, the application will expose an authentication or session token. In addition, encryption should be used whenever sensitive data, such as credit card or health information is transmitted. Applications that fall back or can be forced out of an encrypting mode can be abused by attackers.

The PCI standard requires that all credit card information being transmitted over the internet be encrypted.

Contents

Environments Affected

All web application frameworks are vulnerable to insecure communications.

Vulnerability

Failure to encrypt sensitive communications means that an attacker who can sniff traffic from the network will be able to access the conversation, including any credentials or sensitive information transmitted. Consider that different networks will be more or less susceptible to sniffing. However, it is important to realize that eventually a host will be compromised on almost every network, and attackers will quickly install a sniffer to capture the credentials of other systems.

Using SSL for communications with end users is critical, as they are very likely to be using insecure networks to access applications. Because HTTP includes authentication credentials or a session token with every single request, all authenticated traffic needs to go over SSL, not just the actual login request.

Encrypting communications with backend servers is also important. Although these networks are likely to be more secure, the information and credentials they carry is more sensitive and more extensive. Therefore using SSL on the backend is quite important.

Encrypting sensitive data, such as credit cards and social security numbers, has become a privacy and financial regulation for many organizations. Neglecting to use SSL for connections handling such data creates a compliance risk.

Verifying Security

The goal is to verify that the application properly encrypts all authenticated and sensitive communications.

Automated approaches: Vulnerability scanning tools can verify that SSL is used on the front end, and can find many SSL related flaws. However, these tools do not have access to backend connections and cannot verify that they are secure. Static analysis tools may be able to help with analyzing some calls to backend systems, but probably will not understand the custom logic required for all types of systems.

Manual approaches: Testing can verify that SSL is used and find many SSL related flaws on the front end, but the automated approaches are probably more efficient. Code review is quite efficient for verifying the proper use of SSL for all backend connections.

Protection

The most important protection is to use SSL on any authenticated connection or whenever sensitive data is being transmitted. There are a number of details involved with configuring SSL for web applications properly, so understanding and analyzing your environment is important. For example, IE 7.0 provides a green bar for high trust SSL certificates, but this is not a suitable control to prove safe use of cryptography alone.

  • Use SSL for all connections that are authenticated or transmitting sensitive or value data, such as credentials, credit card details, health and other private information.
  • Ensure that communications between infrastructure elements, such as between web servers and database systems, are appropriately protected via the use of transport layer security or protocol level encryption for credentials and intrinsic value data.
  • Under PCI Data Security Standard requirement 4, you must protect cardholder data in transit. PCI DSS compliance is mandatory by 2008 for merchants and anyone else dealing with credit cards. In general, client, partner, staff and administrative online access to systems must be encrypted using SSL or similar. For more information, please see the PCI DSS Guidelines and implement controls as necessary.

Samples

References




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