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E-shopkeepers stabbed with SQL needles 'twice' as much as other sites

US number-one source of injection attacks, says security biz

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Retailers suffer twice as many SQL injection attacks on their systems as other industries, according to a new study by data-centre security firm Imperva, which claims the ferocity of web-based assaults is growing.

The fourth annual edition of Imperva's Web Application Attack Report [PDF] also revealed that e-shopping applications received "749 individual attack requests per attack campaign" on average.

SQL injections exploit vulnerabilities in software that does not correctly or sufficiently clean up user-submitted data, allowing hackers to (for example) hijack database searches to retrieve private information, alter sensitive data or execute arbitrary commands.

Online shops have plenty of goodies, namely customer credit card details, in their databases for hackers to swipe, which explains why they were disproportionately targeted by SQL probing, said Amichai Shulman, Imperva's chief technology officer.

According to the report, the US kept its place as the number-one source of web attacks; the majority of requests and attackers originated in America, Western Europe, China and Brazil. While a typical attack lasted around five minutes, we're told, the worst recorded incident lasted more than 15 hours. Most of the web apps surveyed by Imperva received four or more attacks per month.

"While most of the 70 web applications monitored were attacked a significant amount, some received an astounding number of attacks – with one application receiving up to an average of 26 per minute," said Shulman.

"While these findings undeniably demonstrate that web application attacks are far from consistently distributed, the takeaway is that organizations should base security measures on the worst case scenario, not on the average case."

Shulman told El Reg that hackers are setting up more and more automated assaults, threatening therefore a greater number of web-based applications.

Dwayne Melancon, chief technology officer at security tools vendor TripWire, said web stores have improved their information security policies after years of being hammered by hackers.

“Retailers have traditionally been attractive targets for cyber attacks because they have widely distributed networks, they handle payment data, and many of them have taken a ‘bare minimum’ approach when it comes to funding information security," Melancon claimed.

"Thankfully, this is beginning to change as retail executives see the negative impact that data breaches can have on repeat sales customer relationships."

Imperva's study involved matching events to known attack signatures, comparing attack sources to black lists of malicious hosts, and reviewing specific attributes of malicious traffic. The reports aims to paint a comprehensive picture of the web attack threat landscape by outlining the frequency, type, and geographical of origin of each attack. The result is a study that Imperva hopes will help security professionals prioritise their vulnerability remediation efforts.

The study focused on looking at six types of web application attack: SQL injection, remote file inclusion, local file inclusion, directory traversal, cross-site scripting, email extraction and comment spamming. Logs from six months of attacks against Imperva's customers were used to compile the final report, published on Tuesday. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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