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SQL Injection Exploits on the Upswing

A number of new attacks have surfaced in the last week, raising new issues in protecting sensitive corporate data

Researchers have reported a new wave of SQL injection exploits over the past two weeks, and experts say it may indicate a new attack vector on corporations.

No less than 15 SQL injection incidents or vulnerabilities have been reported since Apr. 17 on Security Focus' BugTraq site alone, and observers say the wave is not slowing. Security firm Secunia ranked recent SQL injection exploits as "moderately critical."

SQL injection attacks can take many approaches, but in the most common exploit, an attacker adds special SQL characters to an online form and fools the database into disclosing large amounts of sensitive data. Unlike other types of attacks that target large numbers of computers in hopes of finding a vulnerability, SQL injection generally targets a specific database or organization.

"The mindset of hackers is changing," says Alan Paller, director of research at the SANS Institute, a computer security research organization. "They are realizing that there can be a lot more money involved in stealing information than in stealing funds. They are going after specific targets, and that's easier to do if you come in as a regular user, which is why SQL injection is becoming such a popular method of attack."

SQL injection, along with other types of database attacks, ranked as one of the top trends in the SANS Institute's Top 20 Vulnerabilities list. (See SANS Exposes 'Safe' Technologies.) In addition to SQL, Oracle databases are also being targeted more frequently; a researcher reported finding some 44 vulnerabilities in the Oracle environment this past weekend.

Experts say the most reliable way to defend against SQL injection attacks is to use application test programs, such as Acunetix's vulnerability scanner, to find potential holes in SQL code. SQL injection generally works only if the attacker can find a fault in the application code.

But Paller suggested that more needs to be done earlier in software developer training. "Most universities don't teach much about security when they teach computer science, and that's where most people learn to program," he observes. "They pick up bad habits that are hard to break."

— Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading

Organizations mentioned in this article:

  • Acunetix Ltd.
  • Oracle Corp. (Nasdaq: ORCL)
  • The SANS Institute
  • Secunia