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Non-Web App Vulnerabilities Outpace Web App Flaws

On back of IoT and other growing application spaces, the gap between vulns found in Web apps compared to all other apps widens in 2016.

As experts start to sift through the vulnerability and attack data of the previous year, most statistics bubbling to the surface are anything but surprising. Predictably, researchers pretty much agree across the board that the total number of application vulnerabilities found keeps increasing. But digging deeper, there was a surprise: On the vulnerability front, the total number of Web application vulnerabilities actually decreased in 2016.

This stat comes by way of Imperva researchers who last week reported their findings in a technical analysis of vulnerability trends for 2016. While that might get those with rose-colored glasses to proclaim progress in Web app security, researchers Nadav Avital and Mia Joskowicz believe that corresponding attack data shoots that down as unlikely. Instead, they believe that there's only so many security researchers out there in the wide world and right now, they've got other fish to fry. 

"A more likely explanation can be that this trend stems from a shift in the cyber security research focus that was influenced by changes in network-based consumption," they wrote. "For instance, a growing number of IoT devices, with a growing number of new security vulnerabilities, were introduced to the market with little or no security at all.

As an example of the low-hanging fruit security researchers are currently plucking from the IoT space, reports from DEF CON alone last year showed that researchers found 47 vulnerabilities in a minuscule sampling of 23 IoT applications. Consider that rate of flaws in context of the magnitude of IoT growth and it becomes a very scary proposition, indeed.

According to Gartner predictions in the fall, analysts believe that by 2021 there will be 1 million new IoT devices sold every hour and $2.5 million spent per minute on IoT applications. With that kind of wide open attack surface area within individual IoT apps - combined with the current explosion in deployments - is it any wonder that researchers are shifting gears into this new frontier of security? Many recognize that the impact of their finds have a very high likelihood of making a huge splash.

"When smart thermostats alone exceed one million devices, it’s not hard to imagine a vulnerability that can easily exceed the scale of other common web vulnerabilities such as Heartbleed, especially if multiple IoT solutions include the same open source component," Forrester analysts recently wrote about IoT.

Plus, beyond the current ease of uncovering serious IoT flaws and the magnitude of pain that potential IoT vulnerabilities could cause, there's also one other major draw for researchers. The crossover of many of these IoT apps into the physical realm makes them sexy to people fascinated with breaking stuff.

What that will mean for the future of Web app vulnerability research is still up in the air, but the rise of the Mirai botnet shows that attackers in 2016 are already making hay while the sun shines, making haste to leverage obvious IoT flaws profitably. So a little diversion of resources to this niche can't come fast enough.

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