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Bad guys now focusing on web applications

Hackers and other ‘bad guys’ are focusing on web applications as an easy means of breaking into enterprise systems, some 500 CIOs and security solutions resellers were warned at a conference in Dubai.

Hackers and other ‘bad guys’ are focusing on web applications as an easy means of breaking into enterprise systems, some 500 CIOs and security solutions resellers were warned at a conference in Dubai.

Richard Archdeacon, Director of the Innovation Team covering Europe, Middle East and Africa for security vendor Symantec, said that Symantec’s recent research found that nearly 70% of vulnerabilities are now around web applications.

“This is because it is the entry point into and organisation and often a weak point. It’s a point where a system has been put together rapidly with a series of tools that aren’t as secure perhaps as more traditional tools,” he told delegates to the Symantec Vision conference.

According to the Symantec report, of the 1,900 new vulnerabilities uncovered during the last six months of 2005, those entering via web applications are particularly threatening because they are more difficult to prevent and detect.

Symantec has recommended that administrators employ a good asset management system or vulnerability alerting service, both of which can help to quickly assess whether a new vulnerability is a viable threat or not. Enterprises should devote sufficient resources to alerting and patch deployment solutions. They should also consider engaging a managed security service provider to assist them in monitoring their networks.

Archdeacon also recommended using application performance tools to monitor the performance of transactions through the infrastructure. “Monitoring the web application using application performance management is a critical part of securing your systems now because the tighter your web application is controlled the more secure you’ll be. Monitoring applications is an important part of your security,” he told the conference.

Another source of concern is the way in which vulnerable web applications are patched. Organisations that rely on the application must wait for the maintainers of the application to apply patches according to their own development and patching schedules.

Patching of internal systems was also a concern, said Archdeacon. “In a complex environment you typically have seven days to patch everything. That’s a huge task. It could take several weeks before you have a patch available so you have to have situations where you have to make sure your data is protected and secure. ”

Research had shown, he added, that companies that managed their patches correctly were unlikely to have their environments compromised by attacks, whereas those that did not patch regularly were almost guaranteed to be attacked successfully.

As far as the Middle East is concerned, he said Nimda worm attacks were still prevalent three years after the appearance of the threat. This was evidence that users – probably less sophisticated home or small office users – were failing to patch correctly.

“This indicates that geographically there are a lot of systems here that are not patched and are not compliant. Pretty old attacks still have some traction here and indicates to me that a lot of systems are not as secure as they should be and pose a threat to organisations that wish to trade with their users on line,” he said.

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