New freebie tool fingerprints out-of-date apps

A researcher at Black Hat USA this month will demonstrate and release an open-source tool he created for remotely "fingerprinting" which Web apps and plug-ins are running on a server before the bad guys can find and exploit weaknesses in them.

The so-called "BlindElephant" tool roots out which versions of Web applications and plug-ins are running on a particular website. Patrick Thomas, a vulnerability researcher with Qualys, says the tool is for helping security pros and systems administrators identify everything that's running on their servers, including any Web applications users may have downloaded. "It doesn't check for vulnerabilities or if they're vulnerable to a particular exploit, but rather what version [of apps] are running on their site," he says. "Some user may have said, 'Hey, I can set up WordPress,'" for example, he says.

Thomas and a team at Qualys are also currently conducting an experiment across the Internet with the tool to determine which third-party Web apps -- blogging platforms, content management, or database administration tools, for instance -- are sitting on various websites and posing security risks with outdated or vulnerable versions. He won't reveal any preliminary data, but Thomas says his presentation at Black Hat will feature some surprises about which apps are doing poorly when it comes to version control across the Web. "We'll also do some live demos where we shame some people in the audience who think they are running [secure and up-to-date]" sites, he says.

The BlindElephant tool was named after an ancient Indian fable where several blind men each touch an elephant in order to figure out what it is. One man touches the side of the elephant and declares it's a wall, another its tusk, concluding that it's a spear, etc. "All of them only have one small piece of the picture and are making inferences about it," Thomas says.

Thomas came up with the tool as a way for admins to get a holistic view of their Web apps and discover any apps they didn't know were running, possibly exposing their organizations to security weaknesses, he says. The underlying open-source technology can also be integrated into other tools, such as vulnerability scanners and Web application firewalls (WAFs), he says.

Fingerprinting isn't a new concept. There are existing operating system and Web server fingerprinting methods and tools, he says, but BlindElephant is all about the applications. "There are a couple of other [application fingerprinting] tools that do similar [things] as this tool, but this one is more ... accurate and mature."

BlindElephant is a Python-based tool, and it conducts static-file fingerprinting. "Rather than interact with the Web apps and get active content pages, it's looking at static JavaScript files, icons, etc. ... static content," Thomas says.

It can identify Joomla or WordPress and show if a site is running an outdated or unpatched version of the app, for example. It's basically just a "fire and forget" process: "You point it at a URL and say, 'Tell me if this is a Web app and, if so, what version, what plug-ins it's running," and then it returns that information, Thomas says.

Qualys' Thomas says the goal of the tool is provide "situational awareness," rather than specific vulnerabilities in an application.

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About the Author(s)

Kelly Jackson Higgins, Editor-in-Chief, Dark Reading

Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Editor-in-Chief of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise Magazine, Virginia Business magazine, and other major media properties. Jackson Higgins was recently selected as one of the Top 10 Cybersecurity Journalists in the US, and named as one of Folio's 2019 Top Women in Media. She began her career as a sports writer in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, and earned her BA at William & Mary. Follow her on Twitter @kjhiggins.

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