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Security Software

The Cost of Crappy Security In Software Infrastructure 156

blackbearnh writes "Everyone these days knows that you have to double- and triple-check your code for security vulnerabilities, and make sure your servers are locked down as tight as you can. But why? Because our underlying operating systems, languages, and platforms do such a crappy job of protecting us from ourselves. The inevitable result of clamoring for new features, rather than demanding rock-solid infrastructure, is that the developer community wastes huge amounts of time protecting their applications from exploits that should never be possible in the first place. The next time you hear about a site that gets pwned by a buffer overrun exploit, don't think 'stupid developers!', think 'stupid industry!'"
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The Cost of Crappy Security In Software Infrastructure

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  • by BagOBones ( 574735 ) on Friday June 01, 2012 @02:54PM (#40184497)

    Most web app exploits ARE the developers fault!
    - They don't check their inputs (length) buffer over flow
    - They parse or merge database commands (SQL injection)
    - They don't limit abuse (brute force retry attacks)

    Yes some of these can be mitigated at other levels, but ALL are common APPLICATION DEVELOPER ISSUES! by measure of deployment to number of exploits I would say the programing languages and OS already do a MUCH better job than the application developers...

  • by Korin43 ( 881732 ) on Friday June 01, 2012 @03:08PM (#40184777) Homepage

    - They parse or merge database commands (SQL injection)

    I would argue that this one is sometimes the fault of the tool. In most database APIs, there's a function like:

    run_sql(String command, Object[] data)

    But the language that most amateur programmers use only has:

    mysql_query(String command);

    Looking at that function signature, who's the know that you're supposed to also use mysql_real_escape_string. Even if you know what you're doing, you might accidentally use addslashes or mysql_escape_string. Or forget it for one parameter.

    Interestingly, the language that does this best, is also the second worst language ever invented (after PHP). In ColdFusion, if you do this:

    select * from cats where cat_name = '#catname#'

    It's perfectly safe, since ColdFusion detects that catname is inside of quotes, so it automatically escapes it. You can still use variables inside of SQL, since it only escapes them when they're inside quotes.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Friday June 01, 2012 @03:59PM (#40185963) Homepage

    The article is stupid. But the language and OS problem is real.

    First, we ought to have secure operating system kernels by now. Several were developed and passed the higher NSA certifications in the 1980s and 1990s. Kernels don't need to be that big. QNX has a tiny microkernel (about 70KB) and can run a reasonable desktop or server environment. (The marketing and politics of QNX have been totally botched, but that's a different problem.) Microkernels have a bad rep because CMU's Mach sucked so badly, but that was because they tried to turn BSD into a microkernel.

    If we used microkernels and message passing more, we'd have less trouble with security problems. The way to build secure systems is to have small secure parts which are rigorously verified, and large untrusted parts which can't get at security-critical objects. This has been known for decades. Instead, we have bloated kernels for both Linux and Windows, and bloated browsers on top of them.

    On the language front, down at the bottom, there's usually C. Which sucks. The fundamental problems with C are 1) "array = pointer", and 2) tracking "who owns what". I've discussed this before. C++ doesn't help; it just tries to wallpaper over the mess at the C level with what are essentially macros.

    This is almost fixable for C. I've written about this, but I don't want to spend my life on language politics. The key idea is to be able to talk about the size of an array within the language. The definition of "read" should look like int read(int fd, &char[n] buf; size_t n); instead of the current C form int read(int fd, char* buf, size_t n); The problem with the second form, which the standard UNIX/Linux "read" call, is that you're lying to the language. You're not passing a pointer to a char. You're passing an array of known size. But C won't let you say that. This is the cause of most buffer overflows.

    (It's not even necessary to change the machine code for calling sequences to do this. I'm not proposing array descriptors, just syntax so that you can talk about array size to the compiler, which can then do checking if desired. The real trick here is to be able to translate old-style C into "safe C" automatically, which might be possible.)

    As for "who owns what", that's a language problem too. The usual solution is garbage collection, but down at the bottom, garbage collection may not be an option. Another approach is permissions for references. A basic set of permissions is "read", "write", "keep", and "delete". Assume that everything has "read" for now. "write" corresponds to the lack of "const". "delete" on a function parameter means the function called has the right to delete the object. That's seldom needed, and if it's not present, the caller can be sure the object will still be around when the function returns. "Keep" is more subtle. "Keep" means that the callee is allowed to keep a reference to a passed object after returning. The object now has multiple owners, and "who owns what" issues come up. If you're using reference counts, only "keep" objects need them. Objects passed without "keep" don't need reference count updates.

    Do those few things, and most low-level crashes go away.

    I won't live to see it.

If all the world's economists were laid end to end, we wouldn't reach a conclusion. -- William Baumol