Third-Party Content Could Threaten Websites, Study Says

Widgets, ads, and applications from third parties could give hackers an in, Dasient warns

2 Min Read

You've likely spent a good deal of time and money securing your company's websites and the back-end data from which they draw. But what about the ads, widgets, and other content that's put on your site by third parties?

If you haven't secured that content as well, then your organization could be at risk, according to a new report published today by security startup Dasient.

The report found that, across all verticals, 75 percent of enterprises use some form of third-party JavaScript widget, 42 percent of websites display external advertisements, and up to 91 percent run third-party Web applications. This third-party content can be compromised to gain access to a corporate website, but most companies don't do much to secure it, says Dasient CTO and co-founder Neil Daswani.

"This is a different sort of vulnerability than cross-site scripting or SQL injection, where the software developer can find the flaw and fix it," Daswani observes. "These third-party issues are around the structure of the site -- and if ads or widgets are part of your business, you can't just stop using that content."

To conduct the study, Dasient ran automated, passive malware risk assessments against the websites of Fortune 500 companies and other sites that depend heavily on advertising, widgets, or third-party applications.

Some 99 percent of travel sites are using widgets, and about 94 percent of publishers rely on them as well, according to the study. Dasient earlier this month reported vulnerabilities that could threaten sites that use widgets. More than four out of 10 websites carry some third-party advertising; publishers carry twice as much, Dasient says. Surprisingly, 41 percent of financial institutions carry third-party ads. "That means if their third-party ad network is infected, they could be subject to drive-by downloads," Daswani says.

Many websites today are also running outdated, vulnerable third-party applications. Across all verticals, Dasient found up to 91 percent of businesses had outdated software applications, such as a content management, blogging, or shopping cart systems.

Attackers are using ad networks and widgets to help give scale to their malware attacks, Daswani says. In some cases, a single infection on an ad network could carry malware to thousands of sites.

To help mitigate the threat, Dasient recommends organizations vet their third-party content providers to ensure they are following security best practices. Many companies don't do enough research before they add new content to their sites, Daswani says.

Companies should also look into ways to monitor third-party content for potential vulnerabilities, Daswani says. "Ultimately, you want to know if there's an infection before your third-party provider tells you," he says. "If you wait for them to tell you, you may already be infected."

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About the Author(s)

Tim Wilson, Editor in Chief, Dark Reading


Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one of the top cyber security journalists in the US in voting among his peers, conducted by the SANS Institute. In 2011 he was named one of the 50 Most Powerful Voices in Security by SYS-CON Media.

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