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2/5/2009
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IBM Tool Scans For Malevolent Ajax, Flash Code

Rational AppScan monitors interactive Web applications and SOA services built as Web services to spot potential security holes.

Both Flash and Ajax contain known potential security holes. Nevertheless, developers rely on them for building an interactive Web presence. IBM has added AppScan to its Rational tools line to in a bid to cope with new vulnerabilities.

Rational AppScan can both scan and continuously monitor interactive Web applications and SOA services built as Web services to spot potential exposures.

MySpace hackers have in the past planted Ajax code in fields meant to be links, causing the code to run in an unsuspecting user's browser when the link is clicked, a practice known as cross-site scripting. Likewise, manipulative users can submit SQL commands where a value is sought for a database process, and the database, running the command, produces unanticipated results, a vulnerability known as SQL injection. AppScan can watch for such activity and alert administrators if it's spotted, said Scott Hebner, Rational's VP of marketing.

The vulnerabilities can be avoided through careful, up-front programming as Web applications are developed. So IBM is offering both an AppScan Standard Edition for monitoring running applications and separate Developer, Tester, and Build editions for use in the software development process. The Tester edition plugs into another product, Rational Quality Manager, for use during the testing phase.

Hebner said AppScan not only identifies where a vulnerability occurs and sends alerts, but also produces reports on the nature of a vulnerability and how it might be remedied. The product stems from IBM's July 2007 acquisition of Watchfire, producer of a Web site security and compliance system.

AppScan can be set to run timed checks, such as one every 10 minutes, to provide continuous coverage of running applications.

"When customers think of quality of applications, they used to think 20 years ago in terms of functionality. Today they think security is a big consideration," Hebner said. Concern over reliable, secure Web applications "is cutting through economic worries," in part because breach-of-security incidents themselves pose a considerable expense to the company, he added.

He put a price tag of $16,000 on repairing a software defect after the application has already been placed in production use. Hebner cited Capers Jones' book Applied Software Measurement as the source of the figure. The starting price of AppScan is $17,000, including the first year's support.

The Adobe Flash Player is on most end-user computers, and knowledge of ActionScript, the scripting language that's activated in the Player, is widespread. As a result, the increasing use of Flash tends to open more invasion routes.

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