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Are WEB applications Trojan horses? 

מאת    [ 10/10/2007 ]

מילים במאמר: 1319   [ נצפה 24942 פעמים ]

 

 As time progresses, the battle between hackers and network administrators wishing to protect themselves from network attacks only intensifies, each side attempting to outsmart the other. Attackers are continuously figuring out more advanced and malicious ways to attack web sites while network administrators are trying to stop these attacks. The situation so far has been one in which the attackers usually have the first mover advantage overcoming security products and the network administrators trying to react by constantly improving their security. The challenge that most administrators and security vendors face is to develop a security solution that will be intelligent enough to stop both known as well as unknown attacks so they will be able to always be a few steps ahead of the hackers. Current security solutions have done a good job so far protecting web sites, but we are witnessing a new generation of attacks that require a new generation of solutions.Firewalls are a great first line of defense, as they are designed to protect the information that should not be shared with outside users on the Internet. However firewalls are suffering from ?blind spots? on their open ports when it comes to detecting and stopping attacks that are using the legitimate application layer forcefully. The problem starts when you want to offer a service to your customers over the Internet. In this case you need to allow the users to access your site first and thus you need to open ports on the firewall.For example, for HTTP applications, port 80 has to be opened. From that point onwards, your site can be accessed through that open port, which means that it?s like not having firewall protection at all on that port. This represents a huge flaw in the site?s security policy because the application is then totally unprotected and the possibility of someone misusing the service to penetrate the web site and attack it becomes very real.Intrusion Detection/prevention Systems (IDS) are meant to complement firewalls as another level of security, detecting unauthorized access into the site.Unfortunately, these systems do nothing to protect against unknown threats, since most IDSs are signature-based, which means that they are only as good as their database of stored signatures. Frequent updates and false-positive alarms are common, making the management of IDSs time consuming and expensive.We are now witnessing a new generation of attacks on web sites, attacking the site through its own application, undetected by the firewall. These attacks have become more effective and much more difficult to defeat. For an attacker to launch HTTP compliance script attacks on a popular or vulnerable site is a relatively simple task. Take for example the famous AOL "Web Spamming" incident, where by embedding MetaTags into the source code, hackers made AOL reroute thousands of Web searches to a Russian site, improving the site?s rating. A typical approach is to inject a script into a popular object onany frequently accessed Web site with that will trigger an attack on another HTTP server, which then becomes the victim. This then results in a GET attacks that actually look like ?legal? request floods and can cripple the site.Such fake legitimate requests to open the HTTP or HTTPS homepage are invisible to the firewall since they look like legitimate traffic. Neither the firewall nor any other existing security product can differentiate between legitimate users and fake legitimate request that reach a site. If they can?t differentiate between legitimate traffic and malicious one, how would they be able to block these attacks?An excellent example of attacking a site by using the site?s own applications is by ?squeezing? the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) resources. (Squeezing basically means abusing and overstretching the resources of the site so that it is not able to give services to legitimate users). The easiest way to consume SSL connections is to dry out the SSL?s handshake mechanism. Sites using SSL will send you an encrypted public page first for you to log in. (The transfer of this traffic will be SSL encrypted). Attackers are abusing this public page, squeezing the SSL resources by sending faked legitimate SSL request to this page. Because SSL resources are limited, they quickly run outso that legitimate users cannot get new SSL connections. This is a classic SSL squeezing attack that results in a denial of service to legitimate users.The fact that the application layer is not protected by today?s security products leads many attackers to target it in order to launch attacks, so the application actually becomes the attack vehicle. This should prompt us to ask ourselves a tough question: ?are web applications like Trojan horses?? Unfortunately, the answer is a resounding ?Yes?. If the applications are not protected by today?s security products and allow attackers to gain access into the network and attack it, then these applications are acting like Trojan horses.However, the weak link in today?s security policy is not only the application side; the user at the remote station is also a weak link by itself. In order to fully understand the end-to-end security issues of a system which includes users accessing a Web application, we need to understand that the user at home has all the tools and permissions that allow him to access the application.This may include VPN or SSL as well and therefore the complete trust of the application, the firewalls, the PKIs and IDSs. But how can the application know that the user is who he claims to be? How can the network administrator be certain that an attacker has not taken control of some user?s station and is now able to freely access the application and attack it? SSL and VPN connections do not guarantee that the traffic is legitimate as they are only an encrypted pipeline. The attacker can get access at the front end and enter the application directly under the cover of a legitimate user and pass through all security checks right into the deepest layers of the network. Once the infected information is opened at the application server, it?s too late. No security system can inspect an encrypted malicious data on the way in. This is indeed a troubling situation.Take for example an on-line bank which is providing service to thousands of its customers. It is constantly exposed to attacks through its customers in case their stations? integrity and identity is compromised. If an attacker takes over or infiltrates a customer?s station, he than will be able to gain full access to the bank and reap havoc at will. No security mechanism will be able to detect this attack until it?s too late. A possible solution might be to install a personal firewall on every user station. But this will never pass the reality test. The cost and complexity of dealing with a large number of private users and the problems they will face make this proposition impossible form the start. The only solution is to have a security solution on the bank?s site that will be able to detect and stop application level attacks.Despite the widespread use of firewalls and other security solutions, there are obvious holes in the overall security of many web sites. The application itself often provides a point of access for hackers to launch attacks and thus acts like a Trojan horse, allowing attackers to attack web sites with their own application. A new generation of security solutions is now needed; one that can effectively detect and protect against application level attacks and one that is intelligent enough to constantly learn to protect both known and unknown attacks. This is the only way to provide the highest level of security to web applications.  

 

By: Michael (Micha) Shafir CTO, Founder MagniFire Websystems Inc.

 

 

Michael (Micha) Shafir ? CTO founder, seasoned entrepreneur (RadWare, MagniFire, PonsEye, Pons - Technology GreenHouse , CrossID )

Email: micha@Innovya.com
Direct: +972 54 4837900




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