It should come as no surprise that misconfigured security by far remains the most common flaw found in applications today with the wave of exposed Amazon Web Services S3 buckets, HTTPS pages, and other high-profile mistakes exposed publicly over the past year. But new data gathered from real-world appsec penetration tests exposes just what types of configuration mistakes organizations are making that expose their data.
Pen-test-as-a-service firm Cobalt found in nearly 1,000 pen tests using its platform in 2018 that 60% of all security misconfigurations are mistakes with security headers and application settings. Security misconfiguration basically is where an app or setting doesn't enforce security controls, according to Cobalt, which has seen misconfiguration as the No. 1 vulnerability for the past three years of its pen testing. Misconfiguration mistakes can include insecure default configurations, exposed S3 buckets, error messages that include sensitive information, and not keeping systems or software and development frameworks updated.
As obvious as properly setting security-headers sounds — ensuring the entire site is HTTPS and doesn't revert to HTTP, for example — it isn't always as easy for organizations to get it right. "These things are often an afterthought. Folks continue to be focused on getting their code completed, done, and released," says Caroline Wong, chief security strategist at Cobalt, which will release its appsec pen-testing report this week. "It's pretty easy to make mistakes."
Ensuring that all Web connections use HTTPS, for example, can be tricky. "There are security features in [platforms] that take these [potential] mistakes out of the hands of developers, but developers still have to use them and include them," she says.
Cobalt found that 30.1% of security misconfigurations were in security headers; 28.5% in application settings; 12.7% in encryption settings; 11.5% in server configuration; 9.6% in mobile settings; 4.9% in cloud settings; and 2.9% due to an improper security control. But the highest-risk mistakes, according to the pen-test report, are server configuration — such as unprotected file shares and unpatched operating systems — and application settings such as error messages that reveal sensitive information and software version disclosure.
Joe Sechman, vice president of Cobalt Core Labs, says security misconfiguration won't be solved overnight, especially with the arrival of Internet of Things devices. "The grim observation is we don't see misconfigurations magically turned around and fixed overnight," he says. "I'll bet it's going to be a little worse in ... IoT devices ... with the rush to market [new] features.
But the good news, he says, is that progress is actually being made on the application side in general. "Be informed before you do pen testing," he advises.
Cobalt also surveyed 150 security, DevOps, and other related professionals across various industries including cloud, retail, and finance, about their secure development practices and pen-testing strategies. Some 92% of those surveyed employ Agile/DevOps, and 20%, waterfall development methods. More than half write their own software, and 26% work with third parties to develop apps.
Cobalt's Wong says the main nugget from the survey, which is part of the overall pen-test report, is that while most of the organizations want to conduct more appsec pen testing, the cost is prohibitive. Half of the organizations say it's too expensive to perform pen tests more regularly than they currently do.
Some 80% say they pen test their apps because it improves their security; 60% because it's part of their development life cycle; 57% because customers request it; 56% to prove security issues were fixed; 54% for regulatory compliance for customers; and 36% for risk assessment for third-party vendors.
Nearly half of the organizations say they pen test some 67% to 100% of their applications; that was the case of just 24% of organizations in last year's survey by Cobalt.
Budget-wise, 60% say pen testing is a high priority and 2% say it's a low priority, according to the new report.
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