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In separate presentations at the Black Hat Security Briefings in Las Vegas in August, two researchers warned that such flaws, paired with high-level scripting languages such as Javascript and AJAX, could be used by data thieves and online attacker to compromise systems using a web worm. Last year, the Samy worm used just such techniques to propagate among MySpace users, using Javascript and AJAX code to add a MySpace.com user "Samy" to the victim's list of friends.

Data from the CVE Project also highlighted two other types of common web vulnerabilities. Database injection vulnerabilities, which accounted for 14 per cent of the flaw reported to date in 2006, are security holes that allow an outside user to inject commands into the database powering a given site. PHP remote file inclusion vulnerabilities, which accounted for 9.5 per cent of flaws so far this year, occur in applications created with the popular PHP web programming language and which allow a malicious user to load their own PHP program to the remote website. The two classes of flaws ranked second and third, respectively, on the CVE Project's list of common flaws.

The difficulty in eradicating cross-site scripting flaws will likely mean that online attackers will continue to focus on the vulnerabilities and find better ways of exploiting them, said Brian Chess, chief scientist with code-checking tool maker Fortify Software.

"With cross-site scripting, it's hard to write good code to exploit the flaws - I think that will change," Chess said. "But doesn't this all sound familiar? It sounds like the same thing as what we were seeing with buffer overflows."

Buffer overflows have been a thorn in the side of security-conscious programmers for more than three decades. While cross-site scripting flaws might not last that long, they have all the makings of a bad headache for security professionals, MITRE's Christey said.

"Their potential for high impact security incidents is not yet fully explored," he said. "Look to the MySpace worm and think about the sort of damage that could have been done in the hands of a malicious individual."

With greater interconnectivity promised by such technologies as Web 2.0, network administrators may have to look forward to just such threats in the future.

This article originally appeared in Security Focus.

Copyright © 2006, SecurityFocus

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