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Vulnerabilities / Threats

Web Applications See Sharp Rise In Attacks

Prepackaged exploits are helping attackers compromise more sites at once, while many content management systems are running with known vulnerabilities, finds report from HP DVLabs.

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Nearly half of all software vulnerabilities found today involve Web applications -- a statistic that has remained relatively unchanged since 2006. Yet the percentage of attacks that exploit Web applications continues to increase.

That's according to HP Digital Vaccine Labs' (DVLabs) 2010 Top Cyber Security Risks Report, released Monday.

The sharp increase in attack volume -- especially against Web applications -- is due to the ready availability of botnet-based attack toolkits, many of which exploit known vulnerabilities, to automatically infect PCs and steal sensitive financial information from consumers.

"There's a growing market of underground, mafia-type organizations that develop and maintain toolkits for helping criminals compromise and monetize victims," said Mike Dausin, manager of advanced security intelligence for HP DVLabs, in an interview.

Many attack toolkits retail on the black market for just $3,000 to $4,000, which an enterprising attacker can quickly recoup. Furthermore, the latest toolkits come with an array of features, such as the ability to install code on websites that infects visiting browsers via known vulnerabilities. Other toolkit software infects PCs with code that removes competing botnet code that may already be present.

Better, more automated scripts are likewise helping attackers compromise websites and PCs more quickly. "We're seeing specialized scripts that you can load onto a host after you've compromised it that will use the host to launch further attacks, and that script may only be 100 Kbytes in length," said Dausin.

Another interesting trend called out by the HP DVLabs report was the change in vulnerabilities relating to popular, open source content management systems (CMS), such as WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal. "From 2006 to 2009-ish, the majority of vulnerabilities found in these content management systems were in the core product itself," said Dausin.

Owing to bad press over application vulnerabilities, however, he said many of the applications' developers have heavily refined their code. But the plug-ins for the applications haven't received the same level of scrutiny. As a result, whereas 60% of CMS vulnerabilities used to be in the core application, today it's closer to 50%, with plug-ins making up the rest. For Joomla and Drupal, about 95% of all vulnerabilities involve plug-ins, while for WordPress, it's about 80%.

But how secure are CMS applications running in the wild? "We tried to create a detection mechanism against these CMSes on the internet to see if they were vulnerable or running an un-patched version of the software or a plug-in," said Dausin. "We found that WordPress is generally quite secure, whereas almost all Joomla instances are vulnerable or at least running an un-patched version, as are Drupal instances."

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