CWE Top 25

on Jan 13, 09 • by Gwyn Fisher • with 5 Comments

Another year, another list of the most obvious things that competent developers should already know how to avoid? This one even has the NSA backing it, as well as the usual laundry list of pimping vendors attempting to make PR out of anything remotely related to homeland security… Quick, where do I sign up? OK, ...

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Another year, another list of the most obvious things that competent developers should already know how to avoid? This one even has the NSA backing it, as well as the usual laundry list of pimping vendors attempting to make PR out of anything remotely related to homeland security… Quick, where do I sign up?

OK, perhaps that’s a bit cynical, but I have to say that my usual reaction to any web application-centric security laundry list is that most developers in that space write crap code, so why should we be surprised, or expect that a new list of world-ending doom and gloom will make any difference? I mean, why the heck is SQL Injection still a cause for concern? Haven’t we learned to write prepared statements yet? According to the widely quoted experts, SQL Injection and input validation alone comprised 1.5M exploits last year. Sigh…

Was nice to see some level-headed reporting in amongst all the hyperbole, however. My favorite quote of the day comes from the BBC article linked above, with Patrick Lincoln from SRI International saying:

“The real dedicated serial attacker will probably find a way in even if all these errors were removed. But a high school hacker with malicious intent – ankle-biters if you will – would be deterred from breaking in.”

Ankle-biters. Oh, the irony… All this money being spent on what? A barrier to deter script kiddies…

Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t help myself reflecting back to 1999. If you had code you’d written properly, that wasn’t lazy, that was expected to be around for a while, you simply weren’t cool enough to grab the big Y2K contracts. You weren’t cool enough to be worried about airplanes falling out of the sky. You were just a decent programmer doing a decent job.

Now of course, all the cool kids are worried about web site security. Why? Well as with everything that sounds noble and just on the outside, it probably has something to do with money, let’s face it. And cool-looking eye glasses with those little wire frames (oh yeah, you know you want them…). Because now you’re not a maintenance coder, you’re a code forensics expert. You’re not patching up some piece of garbage that should never have left the test server, you’re implementing cutting-edge perimeter security measures. You’re not hiding your head in shame about just how misguided our industry has become, you’re trumpeting it on the front page of every news outlet in the world…

And if you’re really cool you’re already fitting yourself out for your Steve Jobs lookalike outfit, because now, people, now we have the NSA telling us that the world is going to hell in a hand-basket, but if we’re quick enough, if we throw enough buzzwords around, maybe we’ll land ourselves a cushy gig as a maintenance programmer. Err.. I mean an architecturally-motivated, build-security-in, leading-from-the-trenches, application security infrastructuralizer kind of guy. Yeah, that sounds about right…

OK, don’t get me wrong… buzzwords aside, CWE is an awesome endeavor being run by some very smart and motivated people. And hey, this list will probably help me sell more of my software, which is always good, right?

But will this list of the Top 25 “dumb mistakes” change the world? Will it lead to a greater comfort for those of us waiting for the next terrorist attack to scare us senseless? Somehow I doubt it… But maybe, just maybe, it’ll stop grandma’s password making its way to the Ukraine next month. And that’s kind of the point. Web sites don’t run the world, but they can ruin it for you in a very personal way. Missiles aren’t going to fall out of the sky if your web site is vulnerable to path injection (or at least, let’s really hope not), but if your bank account is suddenly not yours anymore they might just as well have done.

But much as Hollywood’s brief dalliance with attempting to relate to developers by having some idiot repeatedly generate a 404 while “hacking the man” was obviously insane, hoping that a new list (“Larger and now with added scare factor!!!”) will have much impact on the security of things outside of web sites (like embedded device controller logic, or missile guidance systems, or air traffic management environments, or stop lights, or stuff that really, you know, matters) seems to this consumer to be equally off-base.

As an educational instrument I wish it all the success in the world. Better web applications would make lots of peoples’ lives easier. I’d really like to be able to visit any old web site and think that my personal details (“likes rock climbing, sushi and long beach walks…”) aren’t automatically open season for anybody with half a brain and too much time on their hands.

But here’s the bottom line: you don’t get security by enforcing a list. CWE is way, way bigger than this list of “Most Dangerous Programming Errors.” And it needs to be. So don’t go buying that shiny new product because it “Conforms to CWE 25” (or whatever this thing lands up being called). And don’t use the Top 25 to interview your new security consultant. Because what’s outside that list is just as important as what made the cut. Security is a big deal, it’s not a list.

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5 Responses to CWE Top 25

  1. Harold Roberts says:

    Is Klocwork also participating in the Static Analysis Tool Exposition (SATE, I believe it is hosted by NIST, http://samate.nist.gov/index.php/SATE.html) and its “Software Assurance Metrics and Tool Evaluation” (SAMATE) effort? SATE claims its goals are:

    * To enable empirical research based on large test sets
    * To encourage improvement of tools
    * To speed adoption of the tools by objectively demonstrating their use on real software
    Their web site claims “Our goal is not to choose the “best” tools: there are many other factors in determining which tool or tools is appropriate in each situation.” Which is good! It is interesting that they are trying to define some software benchmark programs for finding bugs by static source code analysis tools.

  2. Tiff says:

    Hey very nice blog!! Man .. Beautiful .. Amazing .. I will bookmark your blog and take the feeds also…

  3. Fleedsist says:

    kloctalk.klocwork.com – cool sitename man)))
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  4. MaryKate says:

    Good morning! Very interesting subject.
    Certainly can be and so!

  5. yo, kloctalk.klocwork.com great name for site)))
    ————————

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