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OWASP at Northumbria Uni – June 2010


June 16th marked the first time the Open Web Application Security Project’s (OWASP) Leeds/Northern Chapter ran an event at Northumbria University, meaning it was the first time I was able to attend. Jason Alexander started off events with a brief overview of OWASP and the projects the group is involved with.

ENISA Common Assurance Maturity Model (CAMM) Project

Colin Watson did a good job of explain the work he and others have been working on. The project have released two documents which Colid discussed, the Cloud Computing Risk Assessment[.pdf] and the Cloud Computing Information Assurance Framework[.pdf]. Don’t be put off by the focus on ‘Cloud’, whilst this was the focus and reasoning behind the work at the start of the project, the information and processes Colin describes could easily be related to any IT environment and at first glance seem to be well worth a read.

Open Source Security Myths

Next up David Anumudu gave a somewhat brave talk considering the audience discussing and (potentially) debunking the assumption that open source software is more secure than it’s closed source competitors. David picked on the now famouse phrase from The Cathedral and the Bazaar, ‘ Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow’. David argues that while this is true and reasonable, it only works in practice if all the eyeballs have both the incentive and the skills to effectively audit the code for bugs, something is rarely discussed. A sited example of insecurities in prominent open source software was that of the MD6 hashing algorithm, intruced at Crypto 2008, where despite being designed and developed by a very clued up team still had a critical flaw in it’s implementation.

My ultimate take away from this talk was that software’s licensing model has no direct impact on the security and vulnerabilities of any codebase, only the development model and developers themselves have any real impact.

SSL/TLS – Just when you thought it was safe to return

Arron Finnon (Finux) gave a great presentation on vulnerabilities and weaknesses with the implementation of SSL protection. Arron argues that most problems with SSL are actually related to the implementation rather than methodology itself, and that despite the high profile of problems related to SSL most techies still don’t ‘get’ it; and most users, regardless of user awareness training will continue to blindly click through the cert warning prompts.

Several of Moxie Marlinspike’s tools were discussed, mainly SSLStrip and SSLSniff. I was aware of both tools, but hadn’t tried them out in my own lab yet, after Arron’s discussion of the problem and capabilities this is definitely something that I intend to rectify shortly. Especially when combined with other SSL issues, including the SSL renegotiation attack and the Null Prefix[.pdf] attack issues with SSL can be deadly to an environment.

Main takeaway from this talk was that SSL isn’t as secure as some would state, and that when planning to defend against the attack vectors we need to stop thinking ‘what if’ and start working towards ‘what when’.

AppSensor – Self aware web app

Colin Watson came back to the front to discuss the work currently being undertaken with the AppSensor project. The idea behind the project is to create web applications that are ‘self aware’ to a lesser extent enabling any user making ‘suspicious’ web requests to be limited or disconnected to limit the damage that they can cause to the target system, and works on the premise that the application can identify and react to malicious users in fewer connection requests than the user needs to find and exploit a vulnerability.

The identification comes from watching for a collection of red flags and tripwires built throughout the system, from simply looking for X number of failed log-in attempts to real-time trend analysis looking for an unusual increase in particular functionality requests. A lot of the potential indicators and trapped reminded me a lot of an old post on the Application Security Street Fighter blog, convering using honeytokens to identify malicious activity, which I’ve covered previously.


Overall I really enjoyed the event, I’m hoping that the Leeds/Northern OWASP chapter decide to run more events within Newcastle, but if not it’s convinced me that the events are worth the time and cost to travel down to the other locations. Always good to discuss infosec topics face to face with some really knowledgeable people.

–Andrew Waite

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  1. 2010/06/22 at 09:54
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