The Business Case for WAFs + Testing

Who’s up for another IT security story? I’m was sitting on my Xrocker wondering whether I should get back on Call of Duty or type something quick for this week. I opted for the latter and this is why you are reading this post.

Here is a real world story about a customer of ours, this was a few years ago and was one of the key points in bringing the F5/Mod_security/WhiteHat integrated solution to market.

This customer had a massive application written in ASP classic. Since it was in ASP classic it had massive numbers of SQLi vulnerabilities. Everything from Blind SQLi to the always fun SQL statements in the URL. The customer said this application was roughly 250,000 lines of code with SQL hardcoded throughout. The reason the customer had called WhiteHat is because they where working on a big deal with a potential client and this client was asking for a security report on the application. They where also in the early phases of rewriting the application in .NET (yeah) with an estimated completion date 1.5 years out.

After seeing our report (100+ SQLi and 300+ XSS) and after a protracted developer battle(yes XSS is not good) they where left with two not good options.

  1. Lose the customer.
  2. Stop the rewrite and spend a few months digging through old code to fix these issues

Now from a business point of view neither of those makes sense. At the time we where in the WAF hater camp but we saw that in this case it made total sense. The customer deployed a WAF, configured it using our vulnerability data, and was able to mitigate the risk in about 3 weeks.

Bottom line and what people continually fail it understand is that every current solution on the market today has its short comings. In security everything does. Is there one magic network solution that will prevent all network attacks? No. You have spent a ton of money protecting your network infrastructure. Let’s take a quick look at the list of things you probably have spent money on today:

  1. Firewalls
  2. IDS/IPS
  3. Network Vulnerability Scanning
  4. AntiVirus
  5. Configuration and Patch Management
  6. Database Scanning
  7. Database Encryption

Guess what, none of that protects you from the rush of SQLi, XSS, and other web based attacks. All that money and you still have big gaping holes.

To properly attack the Web Application Security problem you should be doing all of these things:

  1. Secure coding practices
  2. Source code review
  3. Black box testing
  4. Web Application Firewalls
  5. Developer Training
  6. Configuration and change management

The reality today is that people underestimate the size of the problem and therefore do not have the budget to do all these things. You can stretch those budget dollars pretty far with an open source scanner and mod_security (software cost $0). WhiteHat is not that cheap but we are very cost effective, combined with mod_security you can go a long way. Need a more robust solution, WhiteHat + F5 can scale to 1000 of web sites in a very cost effective manner. WhiteHat and our WAF partners can knock items 3-5 off your list while you go work on getting your coding practices in place. Even after you get those practices in place you are still going to find vulnerabilities and having that “instant” mitigation ability is very comforting.

Robert over at cgisec sees the light as well. He has managed and is currently managing web site security for some of the largest most frequently attacked web sites on the planet.

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