HP report: 80 percent of app vulnerabilities are really your fault

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Let's be clear: There is no such thing as an invulnerable application. Some have more critical vulnerabilities than others as we discovered this week with the Heartbleed bug, but any application can be exploited given a dedicated attacker. According to the HP 2013 Cyber Risk Report, though, the application itself is not to blame for most vulnerabilities—you are.

HP compiled data from 2,200 applications scanned by HP Fortify on Demand and reports that 80 percent of the vulnerabilities discovered were not the fault of the application code itself.

“Many vulnerabilities were related to server misconfiguration, improper file settings, sample content, outdated software versions, and other items related to insecure deployment,” the report states.

Let me repeat that for emphasis: 80 percent of the vulnerabilities HP identified were essentially a result of operator error.

HP also investigated 180 iOS and Android apps with Fortify on Demand and found that nearly half leave data and personal information at risk. The iOS and Android platforms have the encryption capabilities, but if app developers don’t integrate them into the apps properly, the encryption can’t protect the data on the device.

I have made the same point in the past regarding security and privacy on social networks like Facebook. There is a negative perception of privacy on social networks, but the reality is that Facebook, Google, Twitter, and others provide ample security controls and put the power in the users’ hands, but most users never take the time to review and configure the privacy settings that are available.

This report is also a different way of illustrating that the user is the weakest link in the security chain—even when that user is the IT admin responsible for configuring the servers. No matter how secure an operating system or application is, it can be undermined by a user setting it up incorrectly and leaving it exposed to risk.

There is more than that to the HP 2013 Cyber Risk Report, though. HP has some good news that seems to suggest that secure development practices are having an impact. Despite increased attention on vulnerability research, the total number of publicly disclosed vulnerabilities in 2013 was flat compared to 2012, and there was a decline in the number of high severity vulnerabilities for the fourth consecutive year.

HP points out that the attack surface available for compromise is broader. Between BYOD, the mobile revolution, and the Internet of Things, attackers have a lot more options available than simply targeting a server or desktop PC. According to the report, addressing the issue of malicious apps on mobile devices is a challenge because there isn’t an agreed upon definition of what qualifies as mobile malware.

For complete details, check out the full HP 2013 Cyber Threat Report.

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