Tag Archives: vulnerability

NSA Directorates

An earlier post made the point that security problems can come from subdivisions of an organization pursuing incompatible goals. In the Cold War, for example, lack of coordination between the CIA and the State Department allowed the KGB to identify undercover agents.

The Guardian reports that the NSA is reorganizing to address this issue. Previously, its offensive and defensive functions were carried out by two “directorates”: the Signals Intelligence Directorate and the Information Assurance Directorate, respectively. Now, the two directorates will merge.

It seems to be a controversial decision:

Merging the two departments goes against the recommendation of some computer security experts, technology executives and the Obama administration’s surveillance reform commission, all of which have argued that those two missions are inherently contradictory and need to be further separated.

The NSA could decide not tell a tech company to patch a security flaw, they argue, if it knows it could be used to hack into a targeted machine. This could leave consumers at risk.

It’s doubtful that the NSA considers consumer protection part of its main objectives. This is how the Information Assurance Directorate describes its own purpose:

IAD delivers mission enhancing cyber security technologies, products, and services that enable customers and clients to secure their networks; trusted engineering solutions that provide customers with flexible, timely and risk sensitive security solutions; as well as, traditional IA engineering and fielded solutions support.

As explained here, “customer” is NSA jargon for “the White House, the State Department, the CIA, the US mission to the UN, the Defense Intelligence Agency and others.” It doesn’t refer to “customers” in the sense of citizens doing business with companies.

Simultaneously patching and exploiting the same vulnerabilities seems like an inefficient use of agency resources, unless it’s important to keep up appearances. After the Dual Elliptic Curve Deterministic Random Bit Generator and the Snowden revelations, the NSA is no longer credible as a source of assurance (except for its customers). Now, the agency can make a single decision about each vulnerability it finds: patch or exploit?

Other former officials said the restructuring at Fort Meade just formalizes what was already happening there. After all, NSA’s hackers and defenders work side by side in the agency’s Threat Operations Center in southern Maryland.

“Sometimes you got to just own it,” said Dave Aitel, a former NSA researcher and now chief executive at the security company Immunity. “Actually, come to think of it, that’s a great new motto for them too.”

Even President Obama’s surveillance reform commission from 2013, which recommended that the Information Assurance Directorate should become its own agency, acknowledged the following (page 194 of PDF):

There are, of course, strong technical reasons for information-sharing between the offense and defense for cyber security. Individual experts learn by having experience both in penetrating systems and in seeking to block penetration. Such collaboration could and must occur even if IAD is organizationally separate.

As David Graeber puts it in The Utopia of Rules, “All bureaucracies are to a certain degree utopian, in the sense that they propose an abstract ideal that real human beings can never live up to.” If something needs to be done, with a lot of potential costs and benefits, it can’t help to use an organizational chart to hide the ways that work gets done in practice.

#HackerKast 41: HackingTeam, Adobe Flash Bug, UK Government’s Possible Encryption Ban

Hello everyone! Welcome to Week 41! Hope everyone enjoyed the holiday last week. Let’s get right to it:

First off, we talked about HackingTeam which is an Italian survaillence firm which sells its tools to governments to spy on citizens. We don’t know much about the breach itself in terms of technical details but the fact that this is a security company who builds malware makes it super interesting. One of the things revealed in their malware source code that was breached was weaponized child pornography which would plant this nasty stuff on victim’s computers. Also in the mix was some 0-days, most notably a previously unknown flash bug.

We covered a bit about the Flash bug which Adobe has already released a patch for and which is now available in exploit kits and Metasploit. HD Moore’s law in full effect here as we are seeing how fast these things get picked up and weaponized. We quickly rehashed some advice from the past of enabling click-to-play or uninstall this stuff completely as these things pop up constantly. It is also super telling that the only way we know about this bug is that it was leaked from an already existing exploit kit being hoarded by a private firm. There are likely tons of these floating around. Another behavior of some of these Flash bugs is once you are compromised by them, they patch the hole they used in order to make sure other hackers can’t get in.

Another story that keeps rearing its head is the UK government trying to ban encryption entirely. They’ve been talking about this for a while now but it keeps bubbling up in political news stories. Governments want the ability to spy on their own citizens as a whole and encryption is not allowing them to. We touched on the same conversation going on in the USA where the FBI wants a “golden key” scenario where there would still be encryption but they’d have the backdoor to decrypt everything. This is inherently insecure and an awful idea but lots of people keep bringing it up. This is closest to becoming a reality in the UK which would make even things like iMessage illegal and unusable.

We’re all looking forward to Vegas for BlackHat in a few weeks. Be sure to hunt us down to say hi!

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Join the conversation over on Twitter at #HackerKast or write us directly @jeremiahg, @rsnake, @mattjay

#HackerKast 16: India blocks GitHub, GoGo fake SSL certificates, North Korea’s only network

Happy 2015 everybody! Jeremiah, Robert, and I got right back on track our first week back in the office and there were plenty of stories to talk about. Turns out hackers don’t really take vacation.

Right off the bat Robert brought up a story about the Indian government pulling a China and blocking access to a ton of sites this week. Some notable sites include Pastebin, Dailymotion, and Github, according to reports coming from Indian users. The reasons cited all have to do with anti-terrorism and blocking potential terrorists’ access to sites that can be used as virtual dead drops. This seems like a complete overreaction to us and has some serious overarching repercussions, most obviously the fact that a giant chunk of the world’s developers can no longer access the largest chunk of open source code, GitHub. We’ll see where this goes but if you’re an investor in VPN services you probably have a big smile on your face right about now.

Next, I brought up some disturbing tweets that caught my eye this week about GoGo Inflight WiFi services. If any of you are frequent flyers like us you’ve undoubtably been forced to use GoGo at some point, but a few more technically savvy users noticed GoGo is up to no good recently. While browsing the internet in the air, some noticed that GoGo was issuing fake SSL certificates while browsing certain websites such as Google and YouTube. Ironically, the user who started attracting attention to this was an engineer who worked for Google. This effectively allows GoGo to Man in The Middle all the SSL traffic of their users and read sensitive data that should be encrypted. Spokespeople from GoGo have stated this is only used to block or throttle video streaming services so that there is enough bandwidth to go around but it is still pretty shady that they have access to sensitive information.

Next, Robert found a fun image floating around of a (the?) North Korean web browser called Naenara Browser:


This was just something really quick we wanted to bring up because the screenshot shows that as soon as you install this browser it makes a call to a RFC 1918 address ( from your computer. The importance of this that left my jaw open was that this means that all of North Korea is on the same network. As in intranet. Things that make you go “Wah?”.

Ever think you found something cool and couldn’t wait to share it with your friends? Well don’t share it with RSnake because he probably knows about it already. As was the case with this “recent” HSTS (HTTP Strict Transport Security) research coming out of the UK. A few weeks ago you might remember us mocking Google’s former CEO Eric Schmidt over his claim that Google’s Incognito mode would protect you from the NSA. Well after we all facepalmed collectively on the podcast, this researcher in the UK decided to set out and prove Schmidt wrong. Robert gets into the technical details of deanonymizing somebody with the nitty gritty of how HSTS works, which is super interesting and deserves a read through some of these blog posts.

Lastly, we talked about Moonpig. Not to be confused with Pigs In Space.


This Moonpig is an online mail order greeting card service. While most mail order greeting card services are at the forefront of information security, Moonpig fell victim to a vulnerability in their API which allowed full account take over of any user. Their API was poorly designed and had no authentication at all which allowed just a quick flip of a customerID parameter to start impersonating other users, making fake orders, stealing credit card information, etc. The kicker of this vulnerability was that it was responsibly disclosed to Moonpig back in August of 2013 and responded with they’d “get right on it”. 17 months later, this researcher and user of Moonpig was frustrated of waiting for a fix and decided to write them again in September 2014. The reply this time was that a fix was coming before Christmas. Well, New Years has just passed and the researcher decided to publish his findings publicly and guess what? Less than 24 hours an engaget article later the API was pulled offline. Another unfortunate win for Full Disclosure.

We closed off with some musings about time to fix statistics and overall browser security suggestions for everyday people. Unfortunately we are going to have to break the web to fix the web. There is a Dan Kaminsky quote about this never happening somewhere…

That’s all for this week. Stay tuned for next week when hopefully we’ll have some bonus footage for you all. Also! Check us out in iTunes now for those of you who like that sort of thing and would rather just listen to the podcast instead of staring at our mugs for 15-20 minutes.

Happy New Year!

Notable stories this week that didn’t make the cut:
Banks doing Hack-back being investigated by FBI
Playstation network may have just been a ploy to market a DDoS tool
But then one of the alleged Lizard Mafia guys got arrested, and another is being questioned
Katie from HackerOne was detained and forced to decrypt her laptop in France – don’t travel with exploits or anything you care about!
$5M US in Bitcoin stolen from Bitstamp in unexplained hack

Pastebin, Dailymotion, Github blocked after DoT order: Report
Gogo issues fake HTTPS certificate to users visiting YouTube
North Korean Browser
Brit Proves Google’s Eric Schmidt Totally Wrong: Super Cookies Can Track Users Even When In Incognito Mode
Moonpig flaw leaves customer accounts wide open for 17 months (update)

#HackerKast 9: .NET Goes Open Source, “SChannel” Vulnerability and Browserstack’s Breach Report

“Oh. My. God. Becky, look at that .NET code”
Leading story of this week’s HackerKast was about Microsoft choosing to open source .NET on GitHub. This is a pretty huge deal and a bold move from the big wigs up in Seattle. The issue here? Everybody has access to the source code, good and bad people alike. Robert is a bit pessimistic, understandably so. The thing we all agree on is that right out of the gate starting today there will be new vulnerabilities found. The real question comes down to which side puts in more diligence in flushing out the low-hanging fruit first. After that, things will be mostly unchanged from the current state except with the added benefit of the community getting to find and even help fix vulnerabilities via pull requests.

Next, Jeremiah dug into a new breach report from the team over at Browserstack. Really cool service that if you’re not familiar with you should go check out. Turns out they were hacked by Shellshock, cleaned it up, did a post mortem, and (most importantly to us) published their lessons learned! Super interesting incident response writeup so go check it out. Side note: The other company I was referring to in the video was CodeSpaces going out of business due to their AWS getting hacked in a similar fashion.

Robert followed that up with an overview of some of the recent TOR news about the Silk Road clones getting taken down by law enforcement. The interesting point here is that none of us know for sure how the feds found the actual location of the TOR Hidden Services. TOR did a great job by putting out a response blog of possibilities of how these things got decloaked. The most AppSec related avenue of attack TOR mentioned was SQL Injection which could possibly be a cause of deanonymizing the server.

I rounded this week’s HackerKast out by getting the word out about the latest major Microsoft 0-Day. This time the culprit is the Secure Channel or “SChannel” package that is used to turn on SSL/TLS implementations on all sorts of Windows Server boxes going back to 2003. The bug found was a remote code execution and can lead to some seriously nasty compromise. Now that this has been announced and the severity is well understood, the attackers will be all over this in a matter of days so please go patch!

Microsoft Security Bulletin MS14-066 – Critical
BrowserStack Explains The Hacking Attack With Honesty And Maturity
Both Of The Men Accused Of Running The Silk Road Made The Exact Same Mistake

#HackerKast 8: Recap ofJPMC Breach, Hacking Rewards Programs and TOR Version of Facebook

After making fun of RSnake being cold in Texas, we started off this week’s HackerKast, with some discussion about the recent JP Morgan breach. We received more details about the breach that affected 76 million households last month, including confirmation that it was indeed a website that was hacked. As we have seen more often in recent years, the hacked website was not any of their main webpages but a one-off brochureware type site to promote and organize a company-sponsored running race event.

This shift in attacker focus has been something we in the AppSec world have taken notice of and are realizing we need to protect against. Historically, if a company did any web security testing or monitoring, the main (and often only) focus was on the flagship websites. Now we are all learning the hard way that tons of other websites, created for smaller or more specific purposes, happen either to be hooked up to the same database or can easily serve as a pivot point to a server that does talk to the crown jewels.

Next, Jeremiah touched on a fun little piece from our friend Brian Krebs over at Krebs On Security who was pointing out the value to attackers in targeting credit card rewards programs. Instead of attacking the card itself, the blackhats are compromising rewards websites, liquidating the points and cashing out. One major weakness that is pointed out here is that most of these types of services utilize a four-digit pin to get to your reward points account. Robert makes a great point here that even if they move from four-digit pins to a password system, they stop can make it more difficult to brute force, but if the bad guys find value here they’ll just update current malware strains to attack these types of accounts.

Robert then talked about a new TOR onion network version of Facebook that has begun to get set up for the sake of some anonymous usage of Facebook. There is the obvious use of people trying to browse at work without getting in trouble, but the more important use is for people in oppressive countries who want to get information out and not worry about prosecution and personal safety.

I brought up an interesting bug bounty that was shared on the blogosphere this week by a researcher named von Patrik who found a fun XSS bug in Google. I was a bit sad (Jeremiah would say jealous) that he got $5,000 for the bug but it was certainly a cool one. The XSS was found by uploading a JSON file to a Google SEO service called Tag Manager. All of the inputs on Tag Manager were properly sanitized in the interface but they allowed you to upload this JSON file which had some additional configs and inputs for SEO tags. This file was not sanitized and an XSS injection could be stored making it persistent and via file upload. Pretty juicy stuff!

Finally we wrapped up talking about Google some more with a bypass of Gmail two-factor authentication. Specifically, the attack in question here was going after the text message implementation of the 2FA and not the tokenization app that Google puts out. There are a list of ways that this can happen but the particular, most recent, story we are talking about involves attackers calling up mobile providers and social engineering their way into accessing text messages to get the second factor token to help compromise the Gmail account.

That’s it for this week! Tune in next week for your AppSec “what you need to know” cliff notes!

J.P. Morgan Found Hackers Through Breach of Road-Race Website
Thieves Cash Out Rewards, Points Accounts
Why Facebook Just Launched Its Own ‘Dark Web’ Site
[BugBounty] The 5000$ Google XSS
How Hackers Reportedly Side-Stepped Google’s Two-Factor Authentication

In Your Oracle: Part Two

In Micheal‘s previous post, ‘In Your Oracle: The Beginning‘, he introduced a blind SQL Injection vulnerability that a client was asking us to dig deeper into. The client wanted us to do this, because while they recognized that the vulnerability was real, actionable, and a threat – especially to their users – they weren’t convinced of its severity. Instead, the client claimed that the vulnerability could only be leveraged to read data already intended to be accessible by the logged-in user. In other words, the SQL query was executing within the context of a low-privileged database user.

A quick aside: I had a different client who recently downplayed the severity of an SQL Injection vulnerability because the result set was being parsed and formatted before being incorporated into the response. Because of this behavior, they didn’t think any data could be accessed other than what was intended to be parsed and formatted into the page. Aside from being able to UNION other data into the result set, or simply to brute force dropping tables, I introduced the client to something Micheal touched on in his post: The true/false/error condition. More on this in a minute.

The Vulnerability

The vulnerability that Micheal and I were digging into did not involve the entire result set being output to the page, so we couldn’t simply UNION other data and get it all dumped back to us. That’s because the application would execute an SQL query – using an ID that was being supplied in the query string – and the first row of data returned by the query would be used to determine the response. Therefore, we could only return a limited amount of data at a time, and that data would have to conform to certain data types – otherwise, the page would error out.

Here’s an example of what the back-end SQL query may have looked like (though, in reality, it was much more complex than this):

SELECT * FROM listingsData WHERE id='504'

And an example of the URL we were injecting on:


And last, but not least, an extraordinarily simplified example of the output from the page:

Listing ID: 504
Listing Entity: Acme, Inc.
Listing Data: <a table of data>

The True/False/Error Condition

When an SQL Injection vulnerability can’t be leveraged to just dump rows upon rows of data, a true/false condition can allow an attacker to fuzz the database, and determine the table and column names, the cell values, and more. Basically, with a reliable true/false condition, an attacker can brute force the entire database in a practical amount of time.

However, due to strange behavior from the application (plus what we suspected was a complex query syntax that we couldn’t discern), we were not able to simply append our own WHERE clause condition, like this:


We were, however, able to perform string concatenation. Injecting id=5'||'0'||'4 would give us the same response as id=504. We also discovered that id=54 would result in the following response:

Listing ID:
Listing Entity:
Listing Data:

Furthermore, we found that a syntax error, such as what id=' would cause, produced the following response:

An error has occurred. Please try again.

In Oracle, there exists a dummy table called ‘dual‘. We were able to use this table, in combination with string concatenation and a sub-query, to establish a boolean condition:


The URL encoding makes it look messy. Here’s the URL-decoded version of our injection:

5'||(SELECT 0 FROM dual WHERE 1=1)||'4

Because the WHERE clause of our sub-query evaluated to TRUE, the SELECT would return a zero, which got concatenated with the 5 and 4, and became 504. This injection resulted in Acme, Inc.’s information being returned in the page, and became our TRUE condition.

Now consider this injection (URL decoded for readability):

5'||(SELECT 0 FROM dual WHERE 1=0)||'4

Because the WHERE clause evaluated to FALSE, the SELECT returned nothing, which got concatenated with 5 and 4, and became 54. This injection resulted in blank listing data in the response, and was considered to be our FALSE condition.

The TRUE condition let us know when the WHERE clause of our sub-query evaluated to TRUE, and the FALSE condition told us the inverse. The error condition (described a few paragraphs above) let us know if there was a syntax error in our query (possibly due to characters being unexpectedly encoded).

Now that we had established a reliable true/false/error condition, we could start having some fun.

The Good Stuff

We were able to use the true/false condition to brute force some pieces of information that we figured the client did not intend logged-in users to obtain, such as the database name (from this point forward, all injections will remain URL-decoded for the sake of readability):


The above injection took the first character of the database and determined if it was a lowercase letter. If true, we’d get Acme, Inc.’s data in the response; if false, we’d get blank listing data.

We could quickly brute force each character by cutting our BETWEEN range in half for each test. For example, if the above injection resulted in a TRUE condition, then we could figure out which lowercase letter the database name started with by using the following process:

Cut the range of characters in half:


If the above resulted in a TRUE condition, then we knew the letter was between ‘a’ and ‘m’, and could then test for it being between ‘a’ and ‘g’. If the above resulted in a FALSE condition, then we’d drill down into the ‘m’ through ‘z’ range. In either case, we kept narrowing the search range until we were able to pinpoint the correct character.

We could then brute force the rest of the database name characters by incrementing the second parameter of the SUBSTR function (2 for the second character, 3 for the third, etc). If we incremented the parameter and got an error condition as a result, we knew we had surpassed the length of the database name.

We could also pre-determine the length of the database name with a similar “test and drill down” technique with this injection:


Once we had brute forced the entire value, we verified our finding with this injection:

5'||(SELECT 0 FROM dual WHERE SYS.DATABASE_NAME='dbmaster01')||'4

We were able to extract information from other tables, too, such as:

5'||(SELECT 0 FROM SYS.USER_USERS WHERE SUBSTR(username, 1, 1) BETWEEN 'a' AND 'z')||'4

Using this method, we were able to extract various pieces of information, such as the database name, database user (which the query was being executed with), database user ID, and default table space. However, Micheal and I were not happy stopping there. With the help of pentestmonkey.net, we discovered some interesting Oracle features that gave us some juicy insights into our client’s network.

The Juicy Stuff

Oracle has a couple of variables that allowed us to extract the server’s internal hostname and IP address: UTL_INADDR.get_host_name and UTL_INADDR.get_host_address, respectively. Using the same brute force technique described above, we were able to successfully extract the hostname/IP and verify our findings with the following injections:

5'||(SELECT 0 FROM dual WHERE UTL_INADDR.get_host_name='srvdb01')||'4
5'||(SELECT 0 FROM dual WHERE UTL_INADDR.get_host_address='')||'4

What we found even more interesting was the fact that UTL_INADDR.get_host_name would accept a parameter – an IP – and would allow us to basically perform DNS queries through the SQL Injection vulnerability:

5'||(SELECT 0 FROM dual WHERE LENGTH(UTL_INADDR.get_host_name(''))>0)||'4

If the above resulted in a TRUE condition, we knew the IP resolved successfully, and we could proceed with brute forcing the hostname. If the result was a FALSE condition, we’d presume the IP to be invalid.

Micheal and I, being the PHP fans that we are, collaborated with each other to automate the entire process. Several hundred lines of code later, we were able to quickly harvest dozens of internal IPs and corresponding hostnames – information that would come in quite handy for a network-level attack, or even for a social engineering approach (“Hi, I’m Matt from IT. I’m having trouble logging in to srvdb01 at IP Is the root password still “qSSQ[W2&(8#-/IQ4b{W;%us”?).

Conclusion & Take-Aways

Never assume that you know the full extent of the threat that a vulnerability represents to your organization. While you can reach a particular level of confidence in your knowledge and understanding of the situation, you never know what new and imaginative avenues of attack or combinations of techniques an attacker may discover or create – like mapping out your internal network through an SQL Injection vulnerability.

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” -Albert Einstein

Our Process — How We Do What We Do and Why

A while back I published what became an extremely popular post, looking behind the scenes at WhiteHat Sentinel’s backend infrastructure. On display were massive database storage clusters, high-end virtualization chassis, super fast ethernet backplanes, fat pipes to the internet, near complete system redundancy, round-the-clock physical security, and so on. Seriously cool stuff that, at the time, was to support the 2,000 websites under WhiteHat Sentinel subscription where we performed weekly vulnerability assessments.

Today, only seven months later, that number has nearly doubled to 4,000. A level of success we’re very proud of. I guess we’re doing something right, because no one else, consultancy or SaaS provider, comes anywhere close. This is not said to brag or show off, but to underscore that scalability is a critical part of solving one of the many Web security challenges many companies face, and an area we focus on daily at WhiteHat.

To meet the demand we scaled up basically everything. Sentinel now peaks at over 800 concurrent scans, sends roughly 300 million HTTP requests per month, a subset of which are 3.85 million security checks sent each week, resulting in around 185 thousand potential vulnerabilities that our Threat Research Center (TRC) processes each day (Verified, False-Positives, and Duplicates), and collectively generate 6TBs of data per week. This system of epic proportions has taken millions in R&D and years of effort by many of the top minds in Web security to build.

Clearly Sentinel is not some off-the-shelf, toy, commercial desktop scanner. Nor is it a consultant body shop hiding behind a curtain. Sentinel is a true enterprise class vulnerability assessment platform, leveraging a vast knowledge-base of Web security intelligence.

This is important because a large number of corporations have hundreds, even thousands of websites each, that all need to be protected. Being able to achieve the aforementioned figures, without sacrificing assessment quality, requires not only seriously advanced automation technology, but development of a completely new process of performing website vulnerability assessments. As a security pro and vendor who values transparency, this process, our secret sauce, something radically different than anything else out there, deserves to be better explained.

As a basis for comparison, the typical one-off consultant assessment/pen-test is conducted by a single person using an ad hoc methodology, with one vulnerability scan, and one website at a time. Generally, high-end consultants are be capable of thoroughly assessing roughly twenty websites in a year, each a single time. An annual ratio of 20:1 (assessment to people).

To start off, our highly acclaimed and fast growing Threat Research Center is the department responsible for service delivery. At over 40 people strong, the entire team is located at WhiteHat headquarters in Santa Clara, California. All daily TRC workload is coordinated via a special software-based workflow management system, named “Console,” we purpose-built to shuttle millions of discreet tasks across hundreds/thousands of websites that need to be completed.

Work units include initial scan set-ups, configuring the ideal assessment schedule, URL rule creation, form training, security check customization, business logic flaw testing, vulnerability verification, findings review meetings, customer support, etc. Each of these work units is able to be handled by any available TRC expert, or team of experts, who specialize and are proficient in a specific area of Web security, that might take place during different stages of the assessment process. Once everything is finished, every follow-on assessment becomes automated.

That is the real paradigm buster, a technology-driven website vulnerability assessment process capable of overcoming the arcane one-person-one-assessment-at-a-time model that stifles scalability. It’s as if the efficiency of Henry Ford’s assembly line met the speed of a NASCAR pit crew — this model dramatically decreases man hours necessary per assessment, leverages the available skills of the TRC, and delivers consistently over time. No other technology can do this.

As a long time Web security pro, to see such a symphony of innovation come together is really a sight to behold. And if there is any question about quality, we expect Sentinel PE testing coverage to meet or exceed that of any consultancy anywhere in the world. That is, no vulnerability that exposes the website or users to a real risk of compromise should be missed.

Let’s get down to brass tacks. If all tasks were to be combined, a single member of TRC could effectively perform ongoing vulnerability assessments on 100 websites a year. At 100:1, Sentinel PE is 5x more efficient than the traditional consulting model. Certainly impressive, but this is an apples to oranges comparison. The “100” in the 100:1 ratio is websites NOT assessments like the earlier cited 20:1 consultant ratio. The vast majority of Sentinel customer websites receive weekly assessments, not annual one-time one-offs. So the more accurate calculation would equal 5200:1 (52 weeks). Sentinel also comes in varied flavors of coverage. SE and BE measure in at 220:1 and 400:1 websites to TRC members respectively.

The customer experience perspective

Whenever a new customer website is added to WhiteHat Sentinel, a series of assessment tasks are generated by the system and automatically delegated via a proprietary backend workflow management system — “Console.” Each task is picked up and completed by either a scanner technology component or a member of our Threat Research Center (TRC) — our team of Web security experts responsible for all service delivery.

Scanner tasks include logging-in to acquire session cookies, site crawling, locating forms that need valid data, customizing attack injections, vulnerability identification, etc. Tasks requiring some amount of hands-on work are scan tuning, vulnerability verification, custom test creation, filling out forms with valid data, business logic testing, etc. After every task has been completed and instrumented into Sentinel, a comprehensive assessment can be performed each week in a fully automated fashion, or by whatever frequency the customer preferrers. No additional manual labor is necessary unless a particular website change flags someone in the TRC.

This entire collection of tasks, all of which must be completed when a new website is added to Sentinel, is a process we call “on-boarding.” From start to finish, the full upfront on-boarding process normally takes between 1 – 3 weeks and 2 – 3 scans.

From there, there are people in the TRC purely dedicated to monitoring nearly hundreds of running scans and troubleshooting anything that looks out of place on an ongoing basis. Another team is tasked to simply verify hundreds of thousands of potential scanner flagged vulnerabilities each week such as Cross-Site Scripting, SQL Injection, Information Leakage, and dozens of others. Verified results, also known as false-positive removal, is one of the things our customers say they like best about Sentinel because it means many thousands of findings they didn’t have to waste their time on.

Yet another team’s job is to configure forms with valid data, and marking which are safe for testing. All this diversification of labor frees up time for those who are proficient in business logic flaw testing, allowing them to focus on issues such as Insufficient Authentication, Insufficient Authorization, Abuse of Functionality, and so on. Contrast everything you’ve read so far with a consultant engagement that amounts to a Word or PDF report.

At this point you may be wondering if website size and client-side technology complexity cause us any headaches. The answer is not so much anymore. Over the last seven years we’ve seen and had to adapt to just about every crazy, confusing, and just plain silly website technology implementation the Web has to offer — of which there are painfully many. Then of course we’ve had to add support for Flash, Ajax, Silverlight, JavaScript, Applets, Active X, (broken) HTML(5), CAPTCHAs, etc.

The three most important points here are:

1) Sentinel has been successfully deployed on about 99% of websites we’ve seen. 2) Multi-million page sites are handled regularly without much fanfare. 3) Most boutique consultancies assess maybe a few dozen websites each year. We call this Monday through Friday.

Any questions?

Are 20% of Developers Responsible for 80% of the Vulnerabilities?

That’s the question I recently posed in a twitter exchange with @securityninja and @manicode. For those unfamiliar with the Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, is where roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. This Pareto principle phenomenon can be seen in economics, agriculture, land ownership, and so on. I think it may also apply to developers and software security — particularly software vulnerabilities.

Personal experience would have most of us agreeing that not all developers are equally productive. We’ve all seen where a few developers generate way more useful code in a given amount of time than others. If this be the case, then it may stand to reason that the opposite could be true — where a few developers are responsible for a bulk of the shoddy vulnerable code. Think about it, when vulnerabilities are introduced, are they fairly evenly attributable across the developer population or clumped together within a smaller group?

The answer, backed up by data, would have a profound affect on general software security guidance. It would to more efficiently allocate security resources in developer training, standardized framework controls, software testing, personnel retention, etc. Unfortunately very few people in the industry might have the data to answer this question authoritatively, and then only from within their own organization. Off the top of my head I can only think that Adobe, Google, or Microsoft might have such data handy, but they’ve never published or discussed it.

In the meantime I think we’d all benefit from hearing some personal anecdotes. From your experience, are 20% of developers responsible for 80% of the vulnerabilities?