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Risk

8/18/2009
06:33 PM
George V. Hulme
George V. Hulme
Commentary
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Hacker Indictments Highlight Application Security

As you probably know, A federal grand jury has indicted Albert Gonzales, 28, of Miami, Fla., for allegedly hacking into computers belonging to retail and financial companies and stealing more than 130 million credit and debit cards. And the hacking didn't involve anything more than standard SQL injection attacks.

As you probably know, A federal grand jury has indicted Albert Gonzales, 28, of Miami, Fla., for allegedly hacking into computers belonging to retail and financial companies and stealing more than 130 million credit and debit cards. And the hacking didn't involve anything more than standard SQL injection attacks.From Thomas Claburn's InformationWeek report yesterday

Gonzales, known online by the nicknames "segvec," "soupnazi" and "j4guar17," and two unidentified co-conspirators located in or near Russia, are charged with conducting SQL injection attacks on corporate computer networks.

The U.S. Department of Justice says the indictment represents the largest data breach indictment ever brought in the United States.

Simply put, a SQL injection attack is an attack that exploits a database, especially when user input isn't properly filtered. Essentially, attackers will craft strings that they inject until the database breaks -- and that break leaves the opening for infiltration. By having applications only accept properly structured and expected input, many of these attacks can be eliminated.

According to the indictment, it was SQL injection attacks that were used to infiltrate Heartland, 7-Eleven Inc., and Hannaford Brothers. Each of these were significant breaches.

While the perpetrators allegedly visited store locations, when they could, to footprint the point-of-sale systems used -- ultimately it was application flaws that enabled the attackers to crack the application. Once that occurs, it's relatively easy to plant malware and then the attacker is generally off to the races on the victim's server and network.

The pity is that SQL injection attacks are preventable. It just takes more time and a little extra effort to build a more resilient application.

Most everyone in information security knows this. The problem is, based on my chats with security managers, is getting the budget for a proper Web application security program. In a recent post, Firms Taking Web App Security (More) Seriously, we highlighted how companies tend to only take Web application security seriously after they've suffered a breach.

These indictments prove just how shortsighted that attitude is. Now might be a great time to use a little, just a little, FUD to try to begin to get that Web application security program in place.

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