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Report: Popular Web Attacks Go Stealth

Attackers are increasingly using encoding to sneak their SQL injection, cross-site scripting attacks past Web security

A sneaky form of Web attack is emerging that masks the more popular methods used by attackers today.

Encoded SQL injection and cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks are becoming all the rage as Web defenses are getting better at catching these popular scripting attacks, according to WhiteHat Security’s Website security statistics report released today. “Your garden variety SQL and XSS is being replaced by encoded versions” of them, says Jeremiah Grossman, CTO of WhiteHat Security. “Any injection-style attack can be encoded using 100 different techniques and variations.”

Attackers have begun hiding the malicious code by encoding so they can keep using these old-school attacks, which organizations are getting better at detecting in the clear, says Grossman.

Mary Landesman, senior security researcher at ScanSafe, says her Web security services firm is also seeing more obfuscation, including encryption, of malicious code being injected into Websites. “The bar is being raised each month, with different levels of obfuscation and encryption being used,” she says. ScanSafe today reported an 87 percent jump in malware blocked by its Web security service in July compared with June, 75 percent of which came from the wave of SQL injection attacks hitting Websites the past few months.

ScanSafe detected 34 percent more malware last month than it did in all of 2007, according to the report.

Meanwhile, WhiteHat’s report had some good news: For the first time, most of its customers had fixed Website vulnerabilities that had been spotted -- 66 percent of vulnerabilities on those sites had been remediated, according to the report. “People are definitely fixing their issues,” Grossman says.

But that doesn’t mean their Websites are completely safe and clean. Over 80 percent of Websites have had at least one serious vulnerability issue since they were asssessed, and 61 percent still have them, according to the WhiteHat report. There’s an average of five open vulnerabilities in each Website.

Meanwhile, WhiteHat’s top 10 Website vulnerabilities list now officially includes the potentially lethal cross-site request forgery (CSRF), which Grossman and his team long have been predicting would become an attractive method for attackers. The list -- which rates Web vulnerabilities by their likelihood of being in a Website -- has XSS still holding at No. 1 (67 percent), followed by information leakage (41 percent), content spoofing (21 percent), insufficient authorization (18 percent), SQL injection (17 percent), predictable source location (16 percent), insufficient authentication (12 percent), HTTP response splitting (9 percent), abuse of functionality (8 percent), and CSRF (8 percent).

“We knew CSRF would crack the Top 10,” Grossman says. “It’s nice to have the statistics to back up our claims [on CSRF]... but there are always more CSRF vulnerabilities than we can find.”

And with SQL injection attacks so widespread recently, why did they get such a low ranking in WhiteHat’s list? Grossman says it’s because many of the SQL injection attack victims are second-tier sites, and WhiteHat’s customers are often higher profile sites that undergo regular vulnerability assessments. “Fewer and fewer of our customers' Websites are having these issues occur by percentage as a result of weekly vulnerability assessments, secure coding best practices, and developer education,” he says.

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  • WhiteHat Security
  • ScanSafe

    Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor 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 ... View Full Bio

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