The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) was founded in 2001 and is a community that produces freely-available documentation, tools, articles, and methodologies in the field of security and risk. The “OWASP Top 10 Application Security Risk” list was first published in 2003 and is probably the closest that the development community has ever come to a set of rules on how to keep products secure.

The Top 10 list focuses on identifying the most serious web application security risks for a broad array of organizations. For each of these risks, generic information about the likelihood and technical impact is provided which is based on the OWASP Risk Rating Methodology.

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Many standards and organizations reference the Top 10 project, including but not limited to PCI DSS or the FTC. The latest version of the list was released in 2017.

The Goal of the Top 10

The goal of the list is to raise awareness for security issues in application development. It’s a guideline for avoiding common mistakes people make when they’re inexperienced, or don’t know any better.

SQL injection and cross-site scripting vulnerabilities are regularly exploited and there is no sign of that changing anytime soon. The Top 10 makes people aware of those threats when writing code or auditing others.

OWASP’s Top 10 shouldn’t be used as a tick box exercise after the code is written and ready to be rolled out.

The approach of discrediting developers who fail to follow the teachings of OWASP is counterproductive and misses the goal of encouraging people to be more knowledgable about security.

Team Culture and Composition

Good security culture is about educating people. Giving them the knowledge and processes to stay secure. While it is always important to run QA and security checks before going live with a release, security is best baked into the product instead of built on top.

One increasingly trendy approach for bringing security into the heart of product development is in embedding security folks into cross-functional teams. This enables people to learn from each other and address security best practices in a less confrontational way. The OWASP Top 10 list will naturally be part of discussions in the team and awareness for common vulnerabilities will increase. The list is a great start for conversations.

Improving the Technologies

Implementing tools along the deployment pipelines will help to amplify developers’ capabilities in addressing the OWASP Top 10 list. Some examples are:

  • Software Composition Analysis to address the Security of the Software Supply Chain
  • Static Code Analysis
  • Dynamic Code Analysis

Continuously applied tests and analysis provide quick feedback and is helping teams to build better and more secure products.

The 2017 List

Let’s take a look at the latest list and the meaning of the risks. The list is created from gathering the data from hundreds of organizations and over 100,000 real-world applications and APIs. The Top 10 items are selected and prioritized according to this prevalence data, in combination with consensus estimates of exploitability, detectability, and impact.

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A1:2017-Injection - Injection flaws, such as SQL, NoSQL, OS, and LDAP injection, occur when untrusted data is sent to an interpreter as part of a command or query. The attacker’s hostile data can trick the interpreter into executing unintended commands or accessing data without proper authorization.

A2:2017-Broken Authentication - Application functions related to authentication and session management are often implemented incorrectly, allowing attackers to compromise passwords, keys, or session tokens, or to exploit other implementation flaws to assume other users’ identities temporarily or permanently.

A3:2017-Sensitive Data Exposure - Many web applications and APIs do not properly protect sensitive data, such as financial, healthcare, and PII. Attackers may steal or modify such weakly protected data to conduct credit card fraud, identity theft, or other crimes. Sensitive data may be compromised without extra protection, such as encryption at rest or in transit, and requires special precautions when exchanged with the browser.

A4:2017-XML External Entities (XXE) - Many older or poorly configured XML processors evaluate external entity references within XML documents. External entities can be used to disclose internal files using the file URI handler, internal file shares, internal port scanning, remote code execution, and denial of service attacks.

A5:2017-Broken Access Control - Restrictions on what authenticated users are allowed to do are often not properly enforced. Attackers can exploit these flaws to access unauthorized functionality and/or data, such as access other users’ accounts, view sensitive files, modify other users’ data, change access rights, etc.

A6:2017-Security Misconfiguration - Security misconfiguration is the most commonly seen issue. This is commonly a result of insecure default configurations, incomplete or ad hoc configurations, open cloud storage, misconfigured HTTP headers, and verbose error messages containing sensitive information. Not only must all operating systems, frameworks, libraries, and applications be securely configured, but they must be patched/upgraded in a timely fashion.

A7:2017-Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) - XSS flaws occur whenever an application includes untrusted data in a new web page without proper validation or escaping, or updates an existing web page with user-supplied data using a browser API that can create HTML or JavaScript. XSS allows attackers to execute scripts in the victim’s browser which can hijack user sessions, deface web sites, or redirect the user to malicious sites.

A8:2017-Insecure Deserialization - Insecure deserialization often leads to remote code execution. Even if deserialization flaws do not result in remote code execution, they can be used to perform attacks, including replay attacks, injection attacks, and privilege escalation attacks.

A9:2017-Using Components with Known Vulnerabilities - Components, such as libraries, frameworks, and other software modules, run with the same privileges as the application. If a vulnerable component is exploited, such an attack can facilitate serious data loss or server takeover. Applications and APIs using components with known vulnerabilities may undermine application defenses and enable various attacks and impacts.

A10:2017-Insufficient Logging&Monitoring - Insufficient logging and monitoring, coupled with missing or ineffective integration with incident response, allows attackers to further attack systems, maintain persistence, pivot to more systems, and tamper, extract, or destroy data. Most breach studies show time to detect a breach is over 200 days, typically detected by external parties rather than internal processes or monitoring.