Study: Top Web Application Vulnerabilities Remain Unfixed

Organizations still aren't doing enough to protect their data from Web application vulnerabilities, according to a study released Tuesday by security firm Cenzic. The study, Application Security Trends Report, Q1 2008, identified "1,409 unique published vulnerabilities for the first quarter of 2008, with Web technology vulnerabilities comprising 70 percent of the vulnerability volume and 65 percent of the total vulnerabilities classified as easily exploitable," according to Cenzic.

According to the report, the most prevalent vulnerabilities were in the areas of information exposures/leaks, cross-site scripting, and "session management." Other highlights included:

  • Seventy percent of analyzed Web applications suffered from insecure communications problems;
  • About 65 percent of the applications studied were classified as "easily exploitable";
  • Seventy percent of Web applications were affected by the most common injection flaw type: cross-site scripting; and
  • Twenty percent of applications studied were found to be vulnerable to SQL injection attacks that "could result in a direct compromise of the application's back-end user by an attacker," according to the report.

"We're seeing many patterns over time, and our results remain consistent with the Symantec Internet Security Threat Report for the second half of 2007--that organizations are still not taking the proper initiatives to secure their Web applications," said Mandeep Khera, vice president of marketing at Cenzic, in a statement released to coincide with the report. "With organizations required to become compliant with PCI requirement 6.6 by June 30, they need to act aggressively. Many of these vulnerabilities are being discovered in the most commonly used commercial applications. However, most proprietary applications have even more vulnerabilities that are never fixed. PCI Compliance is important, however it's even more important to protect customer information by getting security vulnerabilities fixed in applications."

The vulnerabilities affected a wide range of technologies, from home-grown applications to commercial or publicly available technologies from Adobe, IBM, Microsoft, Sun, and others. The percentage of overall vulnerabilities stemming from Web applications remained consistent with reports dating back to early 2007, with each quarter hovering within two points of 70 percent.

Of these Web application vulnerabilities, 82 percent stemmed from the application itself; 12 percent were the fault of the Web server; 3 percent were attributable to Web browsers; and another 3 percent fell at the doorstep of media players.

The breakdown in vulnerabilities went something like this:

  • SQL injection: 27 percent;
  • Cross-site scripting: 24 percent;
  • Miscellaneous: 15 percent;
  • Web servers: 12 percent;
  • Directory traversal: 10 percent;
  • Remote file inclusion: 4 percent;
  • Media applications: 3 percent;
  • Web browsers: 3 percent;
  • Authorization and authentication: 2 percent; and
  • Cross-site request forgery: 2 percent.

The complete study, with breakdowns of the top-10 specific vulnerabilities, is available for download from Cenzic's site in PDF format here.

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About the author: David Nagel is the executive editor for 1105 Media's online education technology publications, including THE Journal and Campus Technology. He can be reached at [email protected].

Proposals for articles and tips for news stories, as well as questions and comments about this publication, should be submitted to David Nagel, executive editor, at [email protected].

About the Author

David Nagel is the former editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal, STEAM Universe, and Spaces4Learning. A 30-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art, marketing, media, and business publications.

He can be reached at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at .