2 July 2013: The third annual Web Application Vulnerability Report from Context Information Security shows that despite increased awareness and understanding of web application security, the level of vulnerabilities in web apps remains largely unchanged. On average, the number of security issues affecting each web application increased from approximately 12.5 in 2010 to 13.5 in 2011, before declining to 12.1 in 2012.
However, the report does highlight that not all sectors have faired the same. Web apps for the Government and Media & Advertising sectors contained the highest number of vulnerabilities in 2010 and 2011, but Insurance & Law came out on top in 2012 with an average of almost 16 vulnerabilities per app. When it comes to the types of vulnerabilities, server misconfiguration and information-leakage have been top of the list for three years, while input validation weaknesses such as Cross-Site Scripting and SQL Injections are in slow decline.
The Context report is based on penetration test analysis drawn from nearly 12,000 confirmed vulnerabilities found in almost 900 pre-release and production web applications between January 2010 and December 2012. Because the dataset has been generated from manual penetration tests and not automated vulnerability scanners, the results provide a credible and high-quality view of web application security.
“Despite lessons learned, it appears that developers are still not addressing web app security sufficiently,” says Jan Tudor, security consultant at Context and author of the report. “But there are signs of improvement and the reduction in cross-site scripting and SQL injections suggests that developers are implementing more robust data validation controls within web applications; and the high levels of server misconfiguration, authentication and information-leakage vulnerabilities indicate a possible disconnect between robust application development and secure deployment.”
Context believes that steady improvements in the healthcare industry along with the technology & telecoms sectors, are due to a growing security awareness and a reduced risk appetite in these industries. Results from the finance sector show the number of vulnerabilities identified varies significantly across vulnerabilities, type of financial institution and even between individual organisations, suggesting that there is a wide variation in the quality of application security.
Context grouped each of the identified vulnerabilities into eight broad categories: server configuration, information leakage, authentication, session management, authorisation, input validation, encryption and other weaknesses that do not fit into the previous categories. Server configuration issues accounted for the most vulnerabilities found per application with 2.9 being discovered in 2012, a slight increase on both 2011 and 2010. Four types of server misconfiguration affected between a third and three quarters of the applications tested from revealing HTTP headers, system error messages and lack of search index protection to more serious vulnerable software versions.
“Now in its third year, we hope that this annual survey will provide a reality check and valuable source of guidance for developers and security professionals to focus their web application security efforts,” said Mark Raeburn, CEO at Context Information Security. “There is still a lot of room for improvement and it is certainly clear that strong penetration testing before a web application goes live is more important than ever.”
The full Web Application Vulnerability Statistics Report can be downloaded at: