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Risk

9/14/2009
09:29 PM
George V. Hulme
George V. Hulme
Commentary
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SQL Vulnerabilities Continue To Plague Web Security

A gray-hat hacker with a reputation for outing corporate Web site vulnerabilities says he's uncovered SQL injection flaws in the Web site of RBS WorldPay. RBS responded, saying no customer data was accessed.

A gray-hat hacker with a reputation for outing corporate Web site vulnerabilities says he's uncovered SQL injection flaws in the Web site of RBS WorldPay. RBS responded, saying no customer data was accessed.SQL injection attacks remain one of the most prominent forms of attacks levied against Web sites and databases. Essentially, attackers place junk or maliciously crafted input into Web page or application forms and if that input isn't vetted properly by the application or database -- the server may attempt to execute that command. From there, all types of nasty things can happen. The database can crash, cough up information they shouldn't, or even give the attacker complete reign over the server.

These types of problems are avoidable. While developers will always make mistakes, and SQL injection vulnerabilities won't reach extinction soon: their numbers can be reduced significantly. Applications just need be created properly, and in a way that vets user inputs and rejects obviously bogus field inputs and database requests.

A lot of companies, apparently, don't think it's worth the trouble. Some of the most notorious hacks and cyber-crimes have involved SQL injection attacks including Heartland and Hannaford. According to a report issued by WhiteHat security Inc., which evaluated the security of 1,031 sites, about 17% of Web sites were vulnerable to SQL injection attacks.

That's why it was no surprise when I read Kelly Jackson Higgins' DarkReading headline Hacker Hits RBS WorldPay Systems Database, to learn SQL injection was central to the incident:

The hacker, who goes by "Unu," says he accessed RBS WorldPay's database via a SQL injection flaw in one of its Web applications. RBS WorldPay maintains Unu accessed a test database that didn't carry any live data, and that no merchant or cardholder data accounts were compromised. The company has since taken down the pages.

[ . . . ]

"If the parameter is not well-secured, besides the legitimate request from the database -- which is related to that parameter -- other applications data can insert," he says. "The vulnerable parameter allows full access to databases on [the] server."

In addition to the SQL injection vulnerabilities, Unu also noted weak password usage on the site, including clear text publishing of an administrative password.

You can take a look at the screenshots Unu says are taken of the hacked RBS WorldPay database.

Earlier this year, the SANS Institute published a list of the top 25 security-related mistakes developers make. The list is based on a consensus gathered by 30 U.S. and international security organizations, including US-CERT, the NSA and several security vendors. SQL injection made the list. Let's hope organizations start to wise up, and stop making the same mistakes over and over again.

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