‘Broken authentication’ climbs up OWASP’s top web risks list

Authentication systems used to manage online IDs and passwords online have moved up a definitive list of web application risks, making it second only to near ubiquitous SQL ‘injection’ flaws.

The Open Web Application Security Project’s (OWASP), which has published the top 10 web application security risks for 11 years has released the “final release candidate” of its 2013 risks, updating a list that it has not refreshed since 2010.

Cross-site scripting (XSS), previously at number two, was replaced by “broken authentication and session management”, which covers risks caused by flawed implementations of credential management functions such as password change, ‘forgot my’ or ‘remember my’ password, as well as active session management.

“Application functions related to authentication and session management are often not implemented correctly, allowing attackers to compromise passwords, keys, session tokens, or exploit other implementation flaws to assume other users’ identities,” OWASP notes in the document.

Cesar Cerrudo, CTO at security firm IOActive, recently discovered this category of flaw in the way Twitter handled user sessions and authorisation levels by third party applications to users’ direct messages.

Dozens of recent leaks revealing persistent use of weak passwords have also helped put online authentication under the spotlight and given rise to a variety of ambitious plans to rid the world of one of its key components: passwords.

It’s this attention, rather than any change to the “prevalence” of risks of this category, that drove it up the top 10, according to OWASP, which bases its rankings on risk data from eight application security specialist firms that cover over 500,000 vulnerabilities across “thousands of applications”.

“Broken Authentication and Session Management moved up in prevalence based on our data set, probably because this area is being looked at harder, not because issues are actually more prevalent,” OWASP notes.

OWASP’s top 10 list reflects its estimate of the typical risk that each weakness introduces to a typical web application and factors in the prevalence, detectability, and ease of exploitation of each general weakness.

Other top risks in 2013 include Insecure Direct Object References, Security Misconfigurations, Sensitive Data Exposure, Missing Functional Level Access Control, Cross-Site Request Forgery, Using Known Vulnerable Components, and Unvalidated Redirects and Forwards.

The document is open for public comment until 30 March 2013 and the final public release of the list is due in April or May 2013.

OWASP's top 10 web application security risks. Image credit: OWASP.

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