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Security Vulnerabilities of Web Applications
By: Barzan 'Tony' Antal
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    Table of Contents:
  • Security Vulnerabilities of Web Applications
  • The Unfortunate Part
  • What Can We Do?
  • Dangers Lurking in Your Mailbox

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    Security Vulnerabilities of Web Applications - The Unfortunate Part

    (Page 2 of 4 )

    On the previous page we presented tidbits of stories where the ethical hacker compromised the security of various top companies specializing in antivirus and other software solutions to offer the best security. Most people wouldn't even dare to imagine that those could ever be broken into, while for the hacker, they were pretty easy targets. 

    The moral of the story is quite simple. It may even shock some of you, but this is the unfortunate reality once we get into the virtual world of the Internet. While you may do your best to secure your network and have become even a little paranoid about security, it may happen that a company you trusted has been compromised, and their entire database is stolen, including your sensitive information. Now what happens?

    Let me quote something from the Casino Royale, James Bond 007 movie.

    "Mr. White: Money isn't as valuable to our organization as knowing who to trust."

    It is critically important to know who to trust with your sensitive information. Sure, we can't predict which websites are safe; the only thing we can do is hope that these top-level professional companies are doing their best to keep our sensitive data safe. Excluding these top companies, the others tend to be "easy targets," so we should always think of the possible consequences when filling out those registration pages.

    Now that we've made you aware of the possible consequences, let's talk a little bit about how these vulnerabilities are exploited and how the attacker can gain access to your sensitive data and tens of thousands of other people's. In order to fully understand this, we need to introduce the concept of RDBMS.

    Relational Database Management Systems (RDBMS) are software solutions that offer database management capabilities. They are used practically everywhere on the Internet where a specific kind of information must be stored that is categorized. Basically, every forum, blog, online shop, and so forth is based on a database.

    These are almost always on the back-end, meaning you aren't working with them directly on the visible part of a web site. They are used mostly for storage purposes. They work like this: data gets stored in these databases, which later can be retrieved by querying the database. This is the basic methodology. It's that simple. 

    The size of these databases varies from really tiny up to literally so huge that you could not even comprehend it. Popular websites with millions of registered users (think about social sites like MySpace, Hi5, Orkut, or online shopping like Amazon or eBay) all store the information their supply them with. In the case of online shopping you can easily guess that this also includes credit/debit card information.

    It is quite understandable that the web pages can address queries to the database server(s) to retrieve information; for example, John Smith logs into Amazon. His information is retrieved and can be accessed within the My Account panel. A potential attacker, if he or she is able to compromise the database of an online shopping site, has access to the financial information of every past and present customer of the shop.

    All right, so now you can realize how serious the situation can become. One might question who the heck is responsible for those hazards or possible dangers. Tackling these subjects is beyond our article's purpose. The bottom line is that via specific techniques, which are gaining exposure as of late within communities practicing these kinds of sports, if the database is vulnerable, it can be broken into.

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