Top 10 2013-A9-Using Components with Known Vulnerabilities

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NOTE: THIS IS NOT THE LATEST VERSION. Please visit the OWASP Top 10 project page to find the latest edition.

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Threat Agents Attack Vectors Security Weakness Technical Impacts Business Impacts
Application Specific Exploitability
Application / Business Specific
Some vulnerable components (e.g., framework libraries) can be identified and exploited with automated tools, expanding the threat agent pool beyond targeted attackers to include chaotic actors. Attacker identifies a weak component through scanning or manual analysis. They customize the exploit as needed and execute the attack. It gets more difficult if the used component is deep in the application. Virtually every application has these issues because most development teams don’t focus on ensuring their components stay up to date. In many cases, the developers don’t even know all the components they are using, never mind their versions. Component dependencies make things even worse. The full range of weaknesses is possible, including injection, broken access control, XSS, etc. The impact could be minimal, up to complete host takeover and data compromise. Consider what each vulnerability might mean for the business controlled by the affected application. It could be trivial or it could mean complete compromise.
Am I Vulnerable To 'Using Components with Known Vulnerabilities'?

In theory, it ought to be easy to figure out if you are currently using any vulnerable components or libraries. Unfortunately, vulnerability reports do not always specify exactly which versions of a component are vulnerable in a standard, searchable way. Further, not all libraries use an understandable version numbering system. Worst of all, not all vulnerabilities are reported to a central clearinghouse that is easy to search, although sites like CVE and NVD are becoming easier to search.

Determining if you are vulnerable requires searching these databases, as well as keeping abreast of project mailing lists and announcements for anything that might be a vulnerability. If one of your components does have a vulnerability, you should carefully evaluate whether you are actually vulnerable by checking to see if your code uses the part of the component with the vulnerability and whether the flaw could result in an impact you care about.

How Do I Prevent 'Using Components with Known Vulnerabilities'?

One option is not to use components that you didn’t write. But realistically, the best way to deal with this risk is to ensure that you keep your components up-to-date. Many open source projects (and other component sources) do not create vulnerability patches for old versions. Instead, most simply fix the problem in the next version. Software projects should have a process in place to:

  1. Identify the components and their versions you are using, including all dependencies. (e.g., the versions plugin).
  2. Monitor the security of these components in public databases, project mailing lists, and security mailing lists, and keep them up-to-date.
  3. Establish security policies governing component use, such as requiring certain software development practices, passing security tests, and acceptable licenses.
Example Attack Scenarios

Component vulnerabilities can cause almost any type of risk imaginable, from the trivial to sophisticated malware designed to target a specific organization. Components almost always run with the full privilege of the application, so flaws in any component can be serious, The following two vulnerable components were downloaded 22m times in 2011.

  • Apache CXF Authentication Bypass – By failing to provide an identity token, attackers could invoke any web service with full permission.
  • Spring Remote Code Execution– Abuse of the Expression Language implementation in Spring allowed attackers to execute arbitrary code, effectively taking over the server.

Every application using either of these vulnerable libraries is vulnerable to attack as both of these components are directly accessible by application users. Other vulnerable libraries, used deeper in an application, may be harder to exploit.




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