Are web agencies the new security threats in 2013?

An economical crisis time has been started 4 years ago and this eventually changed how people engage contractors to develop code.

At least in Italy, most of time big companies outsources some services like communication driven website, forgetting about their overall security level is the one of the weakest link.

A month ago Italian BNL bank was attacked and some technical people credentials were disclosed on hackernews. The breach was found in a secondary website that was lying almost forgotten in the cyberspace. Disclosed credentials were eventually still valid since the website was no more update but it was still used.

Clueless manager would say he’s going not to pay someone to update an old crappy code because a full migration project will drive too much money away from real core business. Most of time, real core business is communication those days.

True to be told investing a large percentage of money in communication and marketing it makes sense but not applying a vulnerability management policy even for outsourced, not corporate websites it is a real risky decision.

Let me be clear at this one. Sometimes it’s hard to clearly distinguish a good strategical path to follow, however you must keep in your roadmap all your source code to at least a per year check and bugfix session.

How to engage an outsourcer for a website

Let’s make this assumption. Your organization have a sort of information security team that it is able to make at least a tool driven automatic web application penetration test. No matter the tool you bought.

You need to develop a secondary website eventually with some sort of HTML forms, let’s say for search for website contents and for keep in touch with your business.

In the very beginning of this blog we discuss about the web forms as part of your website attack surface. You hit the point, having a non full static website, makes you vulnerable to web driven attacks.

You google some webagency website, looking fot the one with the compelling portfolio and you ask them for a quote. At this point in most cases, you sign a contract with them giving a sort of impossible to reach deadline and you put your website online a week or two later.

Wrong decision. A development team with no team won’t perform tests so your website will be eventually full of bugs even before spotting for security issues.

A clever approach can be:

  • give your outsourcing IT team internally adopt secure coding guidelines for the language they will use and for operating system, database and web server configuration hardening;
  • ask your contractor to allow your team to make:
    • a vulnerability assessment over the machine that it will host your website;
    • a web application penetration test over the release candidate version. This will make sure you’ll test code that it’s almost ready to go in production buy it will leave some days for the contractor to fix security issues;
    • a codereview over the source code to make sure it will hit security KPIs you give when both parties signed the contract
  • specify in the contract that you own the source code and they have to give you access to their source code repository

If you don’t have an internal security team that it is able to make security checks you have to find a security contractor that makes the tests for you. It’s important that you drive the activity, not giving the task to the web agency.

What to provide to your webagency

So, when you sign the contract you give the following to your webagency:

  • a copy of your internal secure coding guideline for the language the contractor will use. If you don’t have such a guideline, you do need to engage a security contractor to write you one.
  • a copy of hardening guidelines for operating system, database server, application server. You can refer to standard guidelines but eventually it’s a good idea develop something custom in your IT.

What to ask to your webagency

In the contract you have to:

  • ask for KPIs about the security level for the code they will write
  • make sure they will grant the ability to make all the security tests you need accordingly to the laws in use about releasing you of responsibility about the attacking attempts you will conduit

Don’t underestimate the risks you will face if you outsource web development without caring about security. Attackers won’t knock your front door but they sometimes will try to force the service door instead.

Enjoy it!

Image by bananasontoast

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