Archive for the ‘IT Applications and Business Process Transformations’ Category

Security vulnerabilties in SW - Should we worry?

Friday, April 4th, 2008

I was speaking to a VP of IT of a financial institution in the San Francisco bay area to understand what keeps him up at nights - Two issues - Security vulnerabilities of financial SW that was developed in-house  & some of them that they have installed several years ago. And the other issue was telcom applications. The telcom applications support is slowly outsourced to MSP so he was not concerned on a long term.

Security vulnerabilities in SW can be used as a vehicle to expose the privacy and data. Vulnerabilities from inadequately designed or written code create opportunities for attackers to threaten privacy and steal data.

The major vulnerabilities that is taking a lot of attention these days are:

Buffer Overflow

Cross-Site Scripting

Parameter Manipulation

SQL Injection

Tools from companies such as Coverity (SWAT), Fortify (360), Ounce, etc help detect the Security vulnerabilities and eliminate in the place they reside : in the source code itself.

Which applications should an organization be concerned about?
Security vulnerabilities can exist in virtually any application accessible via the Internet or other networks. Web applications provide a popular avenue for delivering information and services, which makes them attractive targets for attack. These applications can contain security vulnerabilities that, unless identified by some reliable means, can remain undetected until an exploit is discovered and the damage has been done.

Newer SW development tools along with coding SW applications with Security in perspective (adequate checks and closing doors for any threats such as crosss-site scripting) would make more robust SW leading to reduced threats and hence exposures. But these software wou;ld interface with legacy SW applications and thats where my new connection (VP) was expressing his top most challenge that he is facing now.

What are the most common application vulnerabilities that could compromise the information security?

The most common application security vulnerabilities fall into two categories:

  • coding errors and
  • design flaws.

Coding errors are programming flaws related to input validation, unbounded parameters and encoding, and they include:

  • Unvalidated sources of input
  • Use of unvalidated input
  • Unvalidated output streams

Design flaws could include the following issues not implemented appropriately:

  • Flawed authorization and access control - Access control and authorization would
  • Flawed authorization and session management
  • Native code and buffer overflows
  • Dynamic code
  • Weak encryption
  • Application configuration
  • Denial of service
  • Network communications - Network communications btw applications, one feeding fake data and the other not validating for fake data can mislead the design, and design based on this data could end up as a fraud - somebody on the other end could be data-diddling for all you know.
  • Unsupported application interfaces - Connecting to/from an interface that has not implemented security measures to overcome compromise of information security can be a nightmare as the interface cannot be brought down instantly and even if the measures are taken at the receiving end, it costs a lot of processing power at the receiving end to detect, process and respond back with a error code for each data instance. So, data interface should be treated with utmost importance whenever interfacing with a legacy applications that known to have none/weak in security design.
  • Improper administrative and exception handling

So,….. What would you recommend to strengthen the security for legacy applications? I will write in the next blog.

When not to outsource your service or process?

Monday, March 31st, 2008

Clearly anything that is not core to your business can be outsourced - it is upto you to define what is core service to your business and what is not.

As an example, One company believes the helpdesk is core to their business while another company does not believe the helpdesk is core to their culture and they go ahead and outsource it to IBM completely.

Mark Egan, ex-CIO of Symantec once said, “Help desk department is the internal facing ambassadors - they are core to the success of the employees productivity - I would not outsource it”.

Would you outsource your finance department? Probably not. That is one of your core process. How about Datacenter monitoring? Probably yes - that is not one of your core process/service and you might as well outsource.

 We did not talk about the risk - overall risk is ‘ownership’ - internal staff tend to own the process/service and try to resolve it with process maturity while an outsourced vendor cannot offer the ‘ownership’ but can offer accountability.

Bottomline, there is no right answer for this - you measure the risk while review your core services and then take the decision.