Ruby on Rails cheatsheet: the review

Jim Manico is a friend and a rinomated security professional. He announced in Owasp mailing list that a Ruby on Rails cheatsheet is available.

I asked Jim to introduce himself.

Jim Manico is the VP of Security Architecture for WhiteHat Security, a web security firm. He authors and delivers developer security awareness training for WhiteHat Security and has a background as a software developer and architect. Jim is also a global board member for the OWASP foundation. He manages and participates in several OWASP projects, including the OWASP cheat sheet series and the OWASP podcast series.

This is a critical review about the cheatsheet. My concern, as well other venerable Owasp leaders, is to provide content that it can be consumed by developers rathern than only by security researchers with some coding skills.

The cheatsheet is authored by:

  • Matt Konda - mkonda [at]
  • Neil Matatall neil [at]
  • Ken Johnson cktricky [at]
  • Justin Collins justin [at]
  • Jon Rose - jrose400 [at]
  • Lance Vaughn - lance [at]
  • Jon Claudius - jonathan.claudius [at]
  • Aaron Bedra aaron [at]

Kudos for all those guys for their work and commitment.

The review

First of all, let me say one thing: the document Jim and other guys wrote is:

  • clear
  • with security in mind
  • almost practical

This cheatsheet has very valuable content in it and you can use it, right now, to improve your Ruby on Rails secure coding workflow.

The KISS paradigm is applied to this document and every item is shortly described giving the reader the opportunity of going deeper with further investigations.

The first thing I found it would be better in terms of approach is that there is no a logical organization for the item described in the cheatsheet. It would better having them grouped by web application macro areas like authentication & authorization, input validation, error handling and stuff like that.

Command injection wrote this way it’s not a Rails specific issue. Of course the important bit is not to bind user controlled inputs to strings passed to the operating system as commands to be executed.

The part about authentication suggests about using Devise (and this is good) but in a cheatsheet there is no enough space to cover how to create an autentication mechanism using Devise. True to be told the code snippets provided are not enough for an early reader knowing nothing about implementing a good authentication mechanism. You may want to read a blog post I wrote in November about implementing an authentication mechanism for Padrino and omniauth It would be a better approach to grab a list of authentication frameworks, with pointers and blog posts, and give the reader some security tips for each of them.

For the forceful browsing section, an example about how to use cancan to enforce some authorization controls.

Finding business logic bugs is a tricky task, the most difficult in a web application penetration test. As a security tester one of your task is trying to subvert application business logic in order to have the target application to do whatever you would do. And the penetration test is missing from the key ways to protect your application from business logic flaws.

We love

  • Upcoming Rails 4 is cited
  • Rails is growing up as web framework and it’s great having security material to create awareness

We love less

  • The overall document is for sure intented to be consumed by developers but it’s clear it has been written by security researchers
  • Pointers to Owasp attack detailed description must be placed in order to create awareness about risks. My experience is that a developer is not trained to see security risk so he couldn’t understand at first glance why he should change his working code.
  • Covers only ActiveRecord as ORM

Off by one

Of course, the authors work is valuable and it’s pretty easy to use this cheatsheet in everyday workflow as a reference. I’d like to see it improved with other Ruby powered web frameworks like Sinatra or Padrino and for other ORMs like Datamapper.

This cheatsheet it’s a draft as authors say in the web page, so I can’t wait to see any great improvements, hopefully more about upcoming Rails 4.

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