Study: Web sites, open source, social networking at risk

Open source software makes IBM, Websense half-yearly security trend reports for the first time.

IBM and Websense are separately issuing their semiannual security trend reports this week, and the picture isn't pretty for Web sites, open source software and social networking programs.

The IBM Internet Security Systems "Midyear Trend Statistics" report tracked 3,534 disclosed vulnerabilities in software for the first half of the year, a 5% increase from the first half of 2007. When it comes to the Top Ten worst offenders in terms of vulnerabilities, big players like IBM, Microsoft, Apple, Sun, Cisco, Oracle and IBM continue to make the list. But this time they are joined by names in the open source software community: Joomla!, Drupal, WordPress and Linux.

"IBM makes a lot of software, and companies that make a lot of software are subject to more disclosures," says Tom Cross, X-Force researcher at IBM ISS, by way of explaining why IBM and other software giants make the Top Ten disclosures list.

But this is the first time that community-developed open source software such as the Drupal and Joomla! content-management software packages for the Web also showed up on the list.

Drupal and Joomla! are open source packages that "have both been vulnerable to SQL injection attacks," Cross says.

The first half of this year will be remembered far and wide for SQL injection attacks. A massive series of such attacks struck earlier this year across the Internet, hitting Web sites based on Microsoft's Internet Information Server.

Vulnerabilities in both proprietary and open source software has led to a spike in SQL injection as well as cross-site scripting attacks that allow perpetrators to compromise Web servers, loading them up with malicious code for their own designs.

According to the Websense "State of Internet Security Q1-Q2" report, the situation regarding compromised Web sites is becoming dire.

"Sixty percent of the of 100 most-popular Web sites have been hosting malicious code or inadvertently distributing it," says Stephan Chenette, manager of the Websense Security Labs, adding, "75 percent of malicious Web sites in general are actually legitimate Web sites that are compromised." That's a huge jump from last year when Websense surmised that number stood at 51 percent.

Some popular Web sites inadvertently hosting malicious code during the last half include CNET.com, MSNBC.com and News.com, Chenette says. "We've seen malicious code on Yahoo.com, Excite.com and Pearl.com, which is popular with developers. We've seen banner ads, which can be purchased on Yahoo, used for malicious code."

Blog sites, such as Google blogspot, have become popular spots to post malware, and social-networking sites Facebook, MySpace and YouTube have been tarnished by postings of malicious content as well. This first half of 2008 saw spammers develop tools for beating the CAPTCHA Web security mechanism to prevent automated posting of content, Websense states in its report.

Another disturbing trend, according to IBM ISS, is that exploit code for vulnerable software is being publicly disclosed more frequently than it was in the past.

According to IBM, 95 percent of all browser-related online exploits occurred within 24 hours of official vulnerability disclosure. Though some researchers differ on the matter, IBM ISS says it does not favor publishing exploit code for discovered vulnerabilities because it can accelerate criminal activity.

Perhaps the only good news to be found in security in the first half of this year, according to both IBM and Websense, is that image spam, a huge problem last year, has declined significantly and the size of spam e-mail has gone down.

"It appears the filters are working," Cross says, noting that about 90 percent of spam is now URL spam, forcing spammers "to go back to basics."

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