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Chapter 11. Web Security Assessment

The purpose of a web system security assessment is to determine how tight security is. Many deployments get it wrong because the responsibility to ensure a web system's security is split between administrators and developers. I have seen this many times. Neither party understands the whole system, yet they have responsibility to ensure security.

The way I see it, web security is the responsibility of the system administrator. With the responsibility assigned to one party, the job becomes an order of magnitude easier. If you are a system administrator, think about it this way:

It is your server. That makes you responsible!

To get the job done, you will have to approach the other side, web application development, and understand how it is done. The purpose of Chapter 10 was to give you a solid introduction to web application security issues. The good news is that web security is very interesting! Furthermore, you will not be expected to create secure code, only judge it.

The assessment methodology laid down in this chapter is what I like to call "lightweight web security assessment methodology." The word "lightweight" is there because the methodology does not cover every detail, especially the programming parts. In an ideal world, web application security should only be assessed by web application security professionals. They need to concern themselves with programming details. I will assume you are not this person, you have many tasks to do, and you do not do web security full time. Have the 20/80 rule in mind: expend 20 percent of the effort to get 80 percent of the benefits.

Though web security professionals can benefit from this book, such professionals will, however, use the book as a starting point and make that 80 percent of additional effort that is expected of them. A complete web security assessment consists of three complementary parts. They should be executed in the following order:

Black-box testing

Testing from the outside, with no knowledge of the system.

White-box testing

Testing from the inside, with full knowledge of the system.

Gray-box testing

Testing that combines the previous two types of testing. Gray-box testing can reflect the situation that might occur when an attacker can obtain the source code for an application (it could have been leaked or is publicly available). In such circumstances, the attacker is likely to set up a copy of the application on a development server and practice attacks there.

Before you continue, look at the Appendix A, where you will find a list of web security tools. Knowing how something works under the covers is important, but testing everything manually takes away too much of your precious time.

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