Web applications typically rely on several open-source components, where attacks are mostly orchestrated using components with known vulnerabilities. To mitigate this, the Online Web Application Security Project (OWASP) helps organizations enhance the security posture through educational content, methodologies, conferences, and open-source software projects. The project is maintained by a community of volunteers who provide free and easily accessible material, making it easy for anyone to get involved in web application security.

Key OWASP initiatives include the Security Assurance Maturity Model, OWASP Development Guide, CodeReview Guide, OWASP Testing Guide, and OWASP top 10.

Out of all various initiatives, the OWASP Top 10 is a constantly updated database that lists and prioritizes the most crucial risks to web applications in development and production. In addition, this database was made to sensitize organizations and security experts on the most prevalent threats and how to prevent them. 

This article explores why components with known vulnerabilities are considered an OWASP top 10 threat and best practices to prevent such real-world attacks.

Using Components with Known Vulnerabilities
Using Components with Known Vulnerabilities

Using Components with Known Vulnerabilities

Web development has grown exponentially, due in part to the open-source revolution. Developers can develop rich and complex applications with little cost and effort by integrating open-source development tools, frameworks, and languages. Security researchers and testers typically use automated tools to uncover compromised or vulnerable components, then publish their findings on issue trackers, security advisories, or the National Vulnerability Database (NVD). Any competent attacker who finds this information can use it to exploit particular application surfaces.

This problem is made more prevalent because most organizations use several open-source integrations that complicate the IT ecosystem. Additionally, these third-party components are typically implemented with full access privileges, making them easier to exploit. 

Rapid production and delivery times characterize the modern DevOps pipeline also contribute to vulnerabilities since teams prefer to use pre-existing or external components rather than reinvent the wheel. The pressure to deliver agility also means that security and software development teams rarely check component vulnerabilities developed offsite. This problem is commonly noticed in the software developer community, which uses free libraries and frameworks to obtain preconfigured templates that make web applications more interactive. 

Organizations understand that no application – open-source or closed-source – can be completely secure. Security researchers and DevSecOps teams discover most security vulnerabilities once an application is already in production. These professionals typically document and publish their findings so that patches can be applied. Attackers typically search these publications for those components whose known vulnerabilities haven’t been patched or organizations using outdated versions of these plugins.

The use of outdated libraries is also fueled by the lack of an existing version standardization system. As a result, most developers and proprietors of open-source fail to specify vulnerable versions of their products. Additionally, libraries use different version numbering systems that can’t be understood by all developer team members, confusing code pulling and deployment. The vendors also use disparate vulnerability reporting tools, so teams can’t search for discovered vulnerabilities collected in a centralized, organized pool.

Example of Components with Known Vulnerability attack

Due to the existence of shared vulnerability lists and databases online, hackers can develop tools that break into compromised/insecure components before patches are created. One famous instance is when attackers used unpatched versions of the Drupal-WordPress CMS plugin to expose sensitive documents from the Panama law firm, Mossack Fonseca.

This attack is considered one of the greatest data breaches ever, exposing 2.6 TB of data- over 11 million files related to offshore shell company activities. Additionally, it was discovered that Mossack Fonseca’s website was running on Drupal v7.23. Despite alerts to upgrade to v7.32, which addressed at least 25 known vulnerabilities, the site wasn’t patched and never updated website logs, creating an attack surface for hackers to gain more access to the firm’s data.

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Preventing Components with Known Vulnerability Attacks

While Using Components with Known vulnerabilities ranks number 9 on the OWASP top 10 list, the consequences of an attack could be severe, as seen from the Panama Papers breach. According to a 2018 state of vulnerability response report, up to 58% of real-world attacks carried out between 2015-2017 involved a known vulnerability. Therefore, awareness is one of the best approaches to defend an application against known vulnerabilities. Threats are evaluated by OWASP on four criteria: ease of exploitation, business impact, detectability, and prevalence

The following section discusses the best practices and tools that can be used to secure applications against component-based vulnerability attacks leveraging known vulnerabilities.

Best Practices to Avoid Components with Known Vulnerabilities

Some best practices to keep applications secure against known vulnerability attacks include:

Enable Software Composition Analysis (SCA)

SCA is a collection of automated processes and tools that enable the codebase to identify open-source software. SCA was initially developed to analyze code quality and security but has evolved to automate the tracking and awareness of open-source limitations and vulnerabilities. SCA involves inspecting source code, manifest files, container images, package managers, and more, compiling them into a Bill of Materials that is checked against various reliability databases. In addition, these tools may compare against enterprise databases to discover the contribution history, version control, and other measures of overall code quality.

Deploy Web Application Firewalls (WAFs)

WAF monitors and filters traffic enabling developers to protect web applications. Using WAFs, teams can block malicious traffic and prevent data exchange between the application and malicious actors. In addition, a WAF acts as a proxy between the web application and third-party plugins and can be used to detect a vulnerable component. The firewall can further be configured with custom policies updated regularly to meet each web application’s unique needs. 

Develop Products using only the Necessary Features and Permissions

Many development teams include open-source frameworks and components to increase the attractiveness or interactivity of their applications. Some of these include fancy features that the application doesn’t need yet require full permissions. These source components are rarely used or checked upon, creating open ground for attack initiation. It is important to use only the features needed for application functionality, with minimum privileges, reducing the chance of a successful vulnerability probe.

Formalize the Patch Management Process

Organizations should set out a clearly defined patch management and versioning process to keep all components secure and informed by DevSecOps personnel. The security patches procedures should be defined according to the application’s data needs. The policy should also include the procedures to be followed after detecting a vulnerability. 

Enforce Continuous Monitoring

An effective solution to mitigate known vulnerability attacks is continuous testing and monitoring for vulnerabilities. Monitoring can be used to inspect the performance and validity of transactions through log and event monitors. Monitoring solutions are also used to evaluate the performance of dependencies, such as open-source third-party dependencies. These metrics can help teams understand whether these components are running perfectly or with known vulnerabilities.

Some of the popular application security tools to mitigate known vulnerabilities include:

Crashtest Security Suite

An end-to-end vulnerability scanning platform that reduces the risk of API or Web Application attacks by helping software teams establish a continuous testing process. Crashtest Security automates vulnerability scanning that allows developers to focus on delivering dynamic, interactive web applications. In addition, the platform outputs vulnerability reports in a wide range of formats that can be easily shared with clients, team members, and executives.

SonarQube

This is a developer-led OWASP compliance platform that relies on taint analysis and Static Application Security Testing (SAST) to guide developers into integrating security testing into the entire application lifecycle.

Acunetix Vulnerability Scanner

An application security testing platform that offers inbuilt vulnerability assessment and management. The solution integrates with market-leading DevOps tools to increase security stance and eliminate most security risks at low costs.

Metasploit

A penetration testing and intrusion detection system helps improve organizational security awareness by probing systematic vulnerabilities across the infrastructure. In addition, the Metasploit framework is open-source, so it can be customized to suit most web applications’ needs.

Burp Suite

An integrated Application Security testing that uses automated vulnerability scanning to remove DevSecOps bottlenecks. 

Summary

Open Source Security has become a major focal point of security operations due to the rise in cyber attacks exploiting components with known vulnerabilities. For example, according to a 2017 study by VeraCode, up to 77% of all web applications contain at least one known vulnerability. 

Crashtest Security’s end-to-end vulnerability assessment platform can help organizations keep their web applications and APIs secure from attacks that exploit known vulnerabilities. The testing suite offers various tools to enable full-scale vulnerability scanning and is trusted by several software vendors and organizations globally to deploy safer web applications through vulnerability scanning and assessment. 

Start your 14-day trial with the suite to explore how Crashtest Security can help improve developer productivity and reduce security tests budgets.

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