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UK.biz flunks app security tests

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Protecting against web application threats using SSL

Weak encryption or cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerabilities remain a big problem for UK firms. Tests on web application security by UK penetration testing firm NTA Monitor on its clients uncovered problems in three out of five cases.

Furthermore, more than three quarters (78 per cent) of websites tested contained one or more medium level risks that may enable external users to gain unauthorised access or disrupt service availability.

The findings form part of the latest edition of NTA’s Annual Web Application Security Report, which analysed data gathered from web application security tests performed for a wide range of industry sectors including finance, government, education, IT, law and retail.

Roy Hills, technical director at NTA Monitor, described web applications as the Achilles' heel of many organisations. "Web applications are commonly the most vulnerable part of an organisation's network, as they necessarily allow internet users to input and access data," Hills explained. "Content and design is frequently altered in order to keep up with the demand for new features and functionality, but even simple changes could produce a new vulnerability that may threaten confidential information."

Weak SSL encryption vulnerabilities may cause sessions to be compromised. Cross-site scripting allows attackers to bypass access controls, such as the same origin policy. Attacks based on the class on vulnerability typically allow malicious JavaScript from hackers, served up over the web, to execute in a computer's local zone.

NTA recommends three key procedures that organisations can follow to reduce their risk:

  • Apply a hardening and patching procedure to all Internet facing web servers.
  • Strong encryption (128 bit SSL) should be used for all sensitive details, such as credit card numbers and passwords.
  • All user-supplied data should be properly sanitised before returning it to the browser or storing it in a database.

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