“Security is not a product, but a process.” — Bruce Schneier
Welcome to the fascinating and ever-evolving world of software security. As technology continues to advance, the importance of securing software systems and applications cannot be overstated.
Whether you are a software developer, a business owner, or an end-user, understanding the common threats and attacks against software security is critical to keeping your systems and data safe.
In this article, we will explore common software security threats and attacks grouped by categories so you can familiarize yourself with the key security issues that software security is up against.
Top 10 Software Security Threats / Attacks
Here is a summary of the top 10 threats and attacks for software security:
- Injection attacks: Malicious code is inserted into a system through forms, queries or other data entry points.
- Cross-site scripting (XSS): Attackers inject malicious code into web pages viewed by other users.
- Broken authentication and session management: Poor management of authentication and session data can result in unauthorized access to user accounts and data.
- Insufficient logging and monitoring: Failing to monitor user activity and application logs makes it difficult to detect attacks or suspicious behavior.
- Insecure direct object references: Poorly designed code allows an attacker to manipulate a URL or other direct object reference to access private data or resources.
- Security misconfiguration: Weak configuration of system components or applications creates vulnerabilities.
- Insecure cryptographic storage: Sensitive data such as passwords, keys or other confidential information is not properly encrypted, leading to theft or exposure.
- Insufficient transport layer protection: Weak or nonexistent encryption during data transmission leaves it vulnerable to interception or tampering.
- Using components with known vulnerabilities: Using third-party or open-source software components without proper testing or updating can create security risks.
- Spoofing and phishing: Attackers use email or other communication methods to impersonate trusted sources and trick users into divulging sensitive information or downloading malicious software.
Software Security Threats / Attacks by Category
Here is a simple list of software security threats by category.
Note: This is not an exhaustive list, as new threats and attacks are constantly being discovered and developed.
- Access control bypass
- Broken authentication and session management
- Cross-site request forgery (CSRF)
- Insufficient authentication
- Insufficient authorization
- Session fixation
- Token vulnerabilities
Application-Level Attacks / Application-layer DDoS attacks
- Code injection
- Command injection
- Cryptographic failures
- Cross-site scripting (XSS)
- File inclusion vulnerabilities
- HTTP response splitting
- Insecure coding practices
- Insufficient input validation
- Insufficient output encoding
- Insufficient session expiration
- Insufficient transport layer protection
- Malicious file execution
- Memory safety vulnerabilities
- Misconfigured security settings
- Server-side request forgery (SSRF)
- SQL injection
- Timing attacks
- XML external entity (XXE) attacks
Business Logic / Business Logic Flaws
- Business email compromise (BEC)
- Click fraud
- Data tampering
- Denial-of-service (DoS) attacks
- DNS spoofing
- Financial fraud
- Logic bombs
- Man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks
- Password attacks
- Payment fraud
- Physical tampering
- Social engineering
- Supply chain attacks
- Trojan horses
- Watering hole attacks
- Web scraping
Cryptographic Attacks / Cryptanalysis attacks
- Cryptographic weaknesses
- Key management failures
- Side-channel attacks
Infrastructure Attacks / Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks
- DNS rebinding
- DNS tunneling
- Network eavesdropping
- Network spoofing
- Rogue devices
- Server misconfiguration
- Zero-day attacks
Mobile App Security / App-level vulnerabilities
- Malicious apps
- Network attacks
- Physical attacks
Operating System Attacks / Driver vulnerabilities
- Kernel vulnerabilities
- Operating system misconfiguration
- OS command injection
- Privilege escalation
Social Engineering Attacks / Baiting
- Spear phishing
Third-Party Code / Insecure software dependencies
- Library vulnerabilities
- Malicious third-party code
Vulnerabilities / Authentication bypass
- Buffer overflows
- Information leaks
- Integer overflows
- Memory corruption
- Race conditions
- Resource exhaustion
- Return-oriented programming (ROP) attacks
- Runtime vulnerabilities
- Security misconfiguration
- Stack overflows
- Timing attacks
- Use-after-free vulnerabilities
- Web application vulnerabilities
Wireless Attacks / Bluetooth Vulnerabilities
- RFID vulnerabilities
- Wi-Fi vulnerabilities
STRIDE Categories of Threats (Plus a Few More)
STRIDE is a threat modeling framework used to identify and categorize threats to software systems.
The acronym stands for:
- Information disclosure
- Denial of service
- Elevation of privilege
By considering each of these categories, software developers can proactively identify potential security threats and implement measures to mitigate them.
In the book, “Threats: What Every Engineer Should Learn from Star Wars”, Adam Shostack walks us through the STRIDE categories in a storyteller way, and then walks 3 additional categories of threats: Predictability, Parsing, and Kill Chain.
Here is an overview of each threat category:
Spoofing threats refer to attacks where an attacker tries to impersonate or masquerade as another entity, such as a person or a device, to gain unauthorized access to a system or data.
Examples of spoofing threats include IP address spoofing, email spoofing, website spoofing, and caller ID spoofing.
These types of attacks can be used to steal sensitive information, gain access to systems, or spread malware or viruses.
Spoofing threats can be prevented or mitigated through various security measures, such as multi-factor authentication, network monitoring, and encryption.
Tampering threats are security attacks that involve unauthorized modification, alteration or manipulation of software, data, or configuration settings.
Tampering attacks can be conducted at different stages of the software development cycle, including during design, coding, testing, or deployment.
Attackers can modify the behavior of the software to achieve unauthorized access, data leakage, privilege escalation, or other malicious activities.
Tampering can also occur in the form of physical tampering, where attackers manipulate hardware components or systems to bypass security controls and gain unauthorized access.
To prevent tampering attacks, software developers and security teams must implement strong access controls, encryption, integrity checks, and continuous monitoring of the software environment.
Repudiation threats refer to the risk that a party involved in a transaction can deny the fact that the transaction ever occurred or deny responsibility for actions that were taken.
In software security, repudiation threats can occur when an attacker gains unauthorized access to a system or application and carries out actions that can be attributed to a legitimate user, making it difficult to trace back the source of the attack.
Such attacks can have serious consequences, particularly in industries such as finance or healthcare, where data integrity is crucial.
Information Disclosure Threats
Information disclosure threats are a type of software security threat where an attacker gains access to sensitive or confidential information that is not intended to be disclosed to unauthorized parties.
This can include personally identifiable information, financial data, trade secrets, intellectual property, or other confidential information.
Information disclosure threats can occur through vulnerabilities in software, systems, or networks, and can lead to serious consequences for individuals and organizations, including identity theft, financial loss, or reputational damage.
Denial of Service Threats
Denial of service (DoS) threats aim to disrupt a system or network’s normal functioning by overwhelming it with traffic, requests, or data.
Attackers launch these types of attacks by sending a large volume of requests or data packets to a system, causing it to crash or become unresponsive.
The goal of a DoS attack is to render a system or network unusable for its intended users.
Elevation of Privilege Threats
Elevation of privilege threats refer to a type of security threat where an attacker gains unauthorized access to system resources or permissions.
This type of attack allows an attacker to elevate their level of access and gain control over the targeted system, which can lead to data theft, system damage, or further exploitation.
Elevation of privilege attacks often involve exploiting vulnerabilities in software or operating systems to gain higher levels of access or control.
Predictability and randomness go hand in hand. Randomness threats are a type of software security threat that exploit weaknesses in random number generation.
These threats can enable attackers to predict or control the output of a random number generator, compromising the security of encryption keys, session tokens, and other sensitive data. Randomness threats can be particularly dangerous for cryptographic applications, as they can undermine the security of encryption algorithms and enable attackers to decrypt encrypted data.
To mitigate randomness threats, developers should use robust and well-designed random number generation algorithms and ensure that random number generation is truly random and not predictable.
Parser threats refer to security vulnerabilities that arise due to the flawed design, implementation, or configuration of the parser used by an application to interpret and process data.
Attackers can exploit these vulnerabilities to inject malicious code, bypass input validation checks, or cause a denial of service (DoS) by triggering infinite loops or resource depletion.
Common parser threats include buffer overflow, injection attacks, format string vulnerabilities, and denial of service attacks.
It is important for software developers to follow secure coding practices, conduct regular security testing, and promptly patch any identified vulnerabilities to prevent parser threats.
Kill Chain Threats
“Kill chain” is a term used in cybersecurity to describe the different stages of a cyber-attack, from initial reconnaissance to the ultimate objective of the attacker.
Kill chain threats refer to the various tactics and techniques used by attackers at each stage of the kill chain to compromise systems and achieve their objectives.
These threats may include social engineering, phishing, malware, exploit kits, command and control servers, and more.
By understanding and mitigating kill chain threats, organizations can better protect themselves against cyber-attacks.
See STRIDE Explained for more information, including countermeasures.
Security Threats and Countermeasures Framework
During my time working on software security guidance at Microsoft, I developed a framework known I call the Security Threats and Countermeasures Framework, which proved to be a valuable tool for organizing and prioritizing software security issues.
The Security Threats and Countermeasures Framework is a comprehensive and organized approach to software security, utilizing Security Hot Spots to address common vulnerabilities and promote best practices.
I was inspired by how the Project Management Institute used Knowledge Categories to build out their Project Management Body of Knowledge. I had also learned a lot about knowledge management from working on multiple large-scale knowledge bases and knowledge management systems at Microsoft.
Here are example threats/attacks organized by the Security Threats and Countermeasures Framework. To see how you can organize vulnerabilities and countermeasures into helpful categories, see the Security Threats and Countermeasures Framework.
|Auditing and Logging||
|Input and Data Validation||
MITRE ATT&CK Framework for Cybersecurity Threats
Mitre is a not-for-profit organization that works to advance cybersecurity by developing and sharing threat intelligence, creating tools and methodologies, and providing training and education. Mitre maintains several frameworks for organizing and analyzing cybersecurity threats, including the Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) and the ATT&CK Framework.
The MITRE ATT&CK Framework is a comprehensive knowledge base of tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs) used by attackers to compromise systems and networks. It is designed to help organizations understand the various stages of an attack and develop effective defenses against them.
The ATT&CK Framework is organized into several categories, including initial access, execution, persistence, privilege escalation, defense evasion, credential access, discovery, lateral movement, collection, exfiltration, and command and control. Within each category, there are specific techniques that attackers use to achieve their goals.
Some examples of MITRE’s threats include:
- Phishing: This technique involves sending fraudulent emails that appear to come from a legitimate source, with the goal of tricking the recipient into revealing sensitive information or installing malware on their computer.
- Remote Access Trojans (RATs): RATs are a type of malware that allow attackers to take control of a victim’s computer from a remote location.
- Malware: Malware is any type of software that is designed to harm or exploit computer systems. This can include viruses, worms, Trojans, and other types of malicious code.
- Exploits: Exploits are vulnerabilities in software that can be used by attackers to gain unauthorized access to systems or networks.
- Social engineering: Social engineering is the use of psychological manipulation to trick people into divulging sensitive information or performing actions that benefit the attacker.
Overall, the MITRE ATT&CK Framework provides a valuable resource for organizations to better understand the tactics and techniques used by attackers and to develop effective strategies for defending against them.
Secure Your Software
In today’s digital landscape, software security is a critical concern for businesses and organizations of all sizes. Threats and attacks on software systems can have far-reaching consequences, from data breaches and financial loss to reputational damage and legal liability.
As such, it is important for developers and stakeholders to understand the different types of threats and attacks that exist and to take appropriate measures to prevent them.
By following best practices and utilizing the latest security tools, software development teams can help protect their systems and their users, while also ensuring the continued success of their business.
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