Chapter 1. Introduction

Table of Contents

Foreword
About OWASP
Purpose Of This Document
Intended Audience
How to Use This Document
What This Document Is Not
How to Contribute
Future Content

Foreword

We all use web applications everyday whether we consciously know it or not. That is, all of us who browse the web. That is all of us, right? The ubiquity of web applications is not always apparent to the everyday web user. When you go to cnn.com and the site automagically knows you are a US resident and serves you US news and local weather it's all because of a web application. When you need to transfer money, search for a flight, check out arrival times or even the latest sports scores during work, you probably do it using a web application. Web Applications and Web Services (web applications that describe what they do to other web applications) are the major force behind the next generation Internet. Sun and Microsoft with their Sun One and .NET strategies respectively, are gambling their entire business on them being a key infrastructure component of the Internet.

The last two years have seen a significant surge in the amount of web application specific vulnerabilities that are disclosed to the public. With the increasing concern around security in the wake of Sept 11th, 2001, questions continue to be raised about whether there is adequate protection for the ever-increasing array of sensitive data migrating its way to the web. To this day, not one web application technology has shown itself invulnerable to the inevitable discovery of vulnerabilities that affect its owners' and users' security and privacy.

Most security professionals have traditionally focused on network and operating system security. Assessment services have typically relied heavily on automated tools to help find holes in those layers. Those tools were developed by a few skilled technical people who only needed to have detailed knowledge and do research on a few operating systems. They often grew up with a copy of Windows NT at home or a Unix variant as a hobbyist and knew its workings inside and out. But today's needs are different. While the curious hobbyist going on security software developer can have a copy of Windows NT server and Microsoft's Internet Information Server running in his bedroom on his home PC, he can't have an online bookstore to play with and figure out what works and what doesn't.

While this document doesn't provide a silver bullet to cure all the ills, we hope it goes a long way in taking the first step towards helping people understand the inherent problems in web applications and build more secure web applications and Web Services in the future.

Kind Regards,

The OWASP Team

About OWASP

The Open Web Application Security Project (or OWASP--pronounced OH' WASP) was started in September of 2001. At the time there was no central place where developers and security professionals could learn how to build secure web applications or test the security of their products. At the same time the commercial marketplace for web applications started to evolve. Certain vendors were peddling some significant marketing claims around products that really only tested a small portion of the problems web applications were facing; and service companies were marketing application security testing that really left companies with a false sense of security.

OWASP is an open source reference point for system architects, developers, vendors, consumers and security professionals involved in Designing, Developing, Deploying and Testing the security of web applications and Web Services. In short, the Open Web Application Security Project aims to help everyone and anyone build more secure web applications and Web Services.

Purpose Of This Document

While several good documents are available to help developers write secure code, at the time of this project's conception there were no open source documents that described the wider technical picture of building appropriate security into web applications. This document sets out to describe technical components, and certain people, process, and management issues that are needed to design, build and maintain a secure web application. This document will be maintained as an ongoing exercise and expanded as time permits and the need arises.

Intended Audience

Any document about building secure web applications clearly will have a large degree of technical content and address a technically oriented audience. We have deliberately not omitted technical detail that may scare some readers. However, throughout this document we have sought to refrain from "technical speak for the sake of technical speak" wherever possible.

How to Use This Document

This document is a designed to be used by as many people and in as many inventive ways as possible. While sections are logically arranged in a specific order, they can also be used alone or in conjunction with other discrete sections.

Here are just a few of the ways we envisage it being used:

Designing Systems

When designing a system the system architect can use the document as a template to ensure he or she has thought about the implications that each of the sections described could have on his or her system.

Evaluating Vendors of Services

When engaging professional services companies for web application security design or testing, it is extremely difficult to accurately gauge whether the company or its staff are qualified and if they intend to cover all of the items necessary to ensure an application (a) meets the security requirements specified or (b) will be tested adequately. We envisage companies being able to use this document to evaluate proposals from security consulting companies to determine whether they will provide adequate coverage in their work. Companies may also request services based on the sections specified in this document.

Testing Systems

We anticipate security professionals and systems owners using this document as a template for testing. By a template we refer to using the sections outlined as a checklist or as the basis of a testing plan. Sections are split into a logical order for this purpose. Testing without requirements is of course an oxymoron. What do you test against? What are you testing for? If this document is used in this way, we anticipate a functional questionnaire of system requirements to drive the process. As a complement to this document, the OWASP Testing Framework group is working on a comprehensive web application methodology that covers both "white box" (source code analysis) and "black box" (penetration test) analysis.

What This Document Is Not

This document is most definitely not a silver bullet! Web applications are almost all unique in their design and in their implementation. By covering all items in this document it may still be possible that you will have significant security vulnerabilities that have not been addressed. In short, this document is no guarantee of security. In its early iterations it may also not cover items that are important to you and your application environment. However, we do think it will go a long way toward helping the audience achieve their desired state.

How to Contribute

If you are a subject matter expert, feel there is a section you would like included and are volunteering to author or are able to edit this document in any way, we want to hear from you. Please email owasp@owasp.org .

Future Content

This document will be organic. As well as expanding the initial content, we hope to include other types of content in future releases. Currently the following topics are being considered:

  • Language Security

  • Java

  • C CGI

  • C#

  • PHP

  • Choosing Platforms

  • .NET

  • J2EE

  • Federated Authentication

  • MS Passport

  • Project Liberty

  • SAML

  • Error Handling

If you would like to see specific content or indeed would like to volunteer to write specific content we would love to hear from you. Please email <owasp@owasp.org>.