Software Development

10 things you can do to make your app secure: #1 Parameterize Database Queries

OWASP’s Top 10 Risk list for web applications is a widely recognized tool for understanding, describing and assessing major application security risks. It is used to categorize problems found by security testing tools, to explain appsec issues in secure software development training, and it is burned into compliance frameworks like PCI DSS.

The OWASP Top 10 for web apps, and the Top 10 risk list for mobile apps, are written by security specialists for other security specialists, pen testers and compliance auditors. They are useful in understanding what is wrong or what could be wrong with an app, but they don’t help developers understand what they need to do to build secure software.

Now OWASP has a Top 10 list written for developers: 10 things that developers can and should do to build secure online apps. This list of “Proactive Controls” covers security issues in requirements, architecture and design, as well as code-level concerns. It provides a checklist to follow when developing a system, pointing to detailed guidance in each area. All available free online.

Let’s start with #1 on the list, the simplest, but one of the most important things that you can do to secure your application: Parameterize Database Queries.

#1 Parameterize Database Queries

One of the most dangerous and most common attacks on online applications is SQL Injection: attackers inserting malicious SQL into a dynamic SQL statement. SQL injection vulnerabilities are easy for an attacker to find using free tools like SQL Map or SQL Ninja or one of the many other hacking tools or even through simple manual testing: try inserting a value like:

1′ or ‘1’ = ‘1

into the user name and password or other text fields and see what happens. Once a SQL injection vulnerability is found, it is easy to exploit.

SQL injection is also one of the easiest problems to solve. You do this by making it clear to the SQL interpreter what parts of a SQL statement make up the command, and what parts are data, by parameterizing your database statements.

OWASP has a cheat sheet that explains how to parameterize queries in Java (using prepared statements or with Hibernate), and in .NET/C#, ASP.NET, Ruby, PHP, Coldfusion and Perl. None of this is hard to understand or hard to do properly. It’s not exciting. But it will stop some of the worst security attacks.

SQL injection is only one type of injection attack. Next we’ll look at how to protect against other kinds of injection attacks by Encoding Data – or you can watch Jim Manico explain encoding and the rest of the Top 10 Proactive Controls on YouTube.

Jim Bird

Jim is an experienced CTO, software development manager and project manager, who has worked on high-performance, high-reliability mission-critical systems for many years, as well as building software development tools. His current interests include scaling Lean and Agile software development methodologies, software security and software assurance.
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