PCI App Security: Who's Guarding the Data Bank?

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PCI DSS Requirement 6.6

While the applications security requirements in PCI DSS section 6.6 comprise a mere 44 words, don't think that application security compliance is either unimportant or a piece of cake. The specifics of requirement 6.6 are:

Ensure that all web-facing applications are protected against known attacks by applying either of the following methods:

-- Having all custom application code reviewed for common vulnerabilities by an organization that specializes in application security

-- Installing an application layer firewall in front of web-facing applications

First off, just what is this thing called an application layer firewall? Also termed a web application firewall, it is a network device that is placed in front of a web application to protect against application attacks. An application layer firewall can view and digest all application traffic, but has the enhanced capability to specifically filter session, presentation, and application layer network traffic (OSI model) in real time. This gives it the advantage of protecting the applications and all associated sensitive data from illegitimate access and unauthorized usage.

The security threats mitigated by an application layer firewall are very real. To give you a feel for things and to truly address business risk, note that the range of software security risks is significant. They can be divided into two distinct types; coding vulnerabilities and design flaws/policy violations. According to a leading software application security firm , they view the hierarchy as:

Coding vulnerabilities:

-- Buffer overflows

-- Format string vulnerabilities

-- Race conditions

-- Resource leaks

-- Input/output validation and encoding errors

o SQL injection

o Cross-site scripting

o Operating system S injection

Design flaws and policy violations

-- Cryptography

-- Network communication vulnerabilities

-- Application configuration vulnerabilities

-- Access control

-- Database and file system use

-- Dynamic code

-- Access control and authentication errors

-- Error handling and logging vulnerabilities

Insecure error handling

Insecure or inadequate logging

Native code loading

Data storage vulnerability

-- Insecure components

Malicious code

Unsafe native methods

Unsupported methods

Custom cookies/ hidden fields

While this one of a number of possible attempts at threat codification, the message should be clear that software security is a multifaceted effort that takes a directed and formalized approach.

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