Web 2.0 apps riddled with holes, warns SPI

Dynamic apps built using AJAX, SOAP, SOA and Flash pose possible security concerns for developers

New browser-based application technologies are opening new security holes, warned SPI Dynamics as it launched a re-engineered version of its SOA/Web 2.0 security testing software WebInspect this week.

Brian Cohen, SPI's CEO, said that older testing tools -- including his -- were fine for relatively static server-side applications, but are no good for modern dynamic apps built using the likes of AJAX, SOAP, SOA and Flash.

"These applications are not static, or even close to it," he said. "The underpinnings of the web have fundamentally changed. HTML and CGI applications were predictable, but now the environment is much more complicated to interpret - it is dynamic."

Cohen said that SPI had to completely redesign the platform that underlies the latest version of WebInspect so it can analyze Web 2.0 applications, looking at client-side security as well as server-side.

The danger is more widespread than users might think, said James Spooner, technical director of Lodoga Security, which beta-tested WebInspect 7.

"Proper corporate applications are using many of these features in quite subtle ways," he said. "For example, we've worked on a government application running single-sign on and data validation, all on web services and made up of 15 different applications.

"Traditional test tools look for menu systems and so on, but in AJAX, Javascript runs the show and you're handing over trust to the client - it's incredibly scary.

He continued, "Web developers are far too confident in the ability of their tools to protect them. The thing is, the existing toolkits are great for developing, but they don't do anything to stop you writing insecure code."

The risks are not just technical -- they also come from who's driving application development now and they come from later in the application lifecycle, Cohen added.

"Some aren't even written by engineers, they're being done by marketing," he said, noting that as applications evolve over time, it is all too easy for developers to code quick fixes onto the page without considering the security implications.

He said that as well as scanning for vulnerable application logic during development and testing apps before they go live, users need to regularly test them after they go live as well. "Most applications aren't AJAX, but most now use some element that uses AJAX," he warned.

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Bryan Betts

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