Thursday, October 23, 2008

OWASP Top Ten

Back in August, James McGovern asked me to provide some OWASP coverage. Someone called Jennifer (Bayuk perhaps?) added a comment

OWASP is not dominated by commercial interests, and so the message is different than from product vendors (and service vendors too, to a lesser extent). When an automated tool vendor claims to "address" the OWASP Top Ten, they should be ashamed of themselves. And you should be ashamed if you're buying that hype and promoting automated tools as anything much more than an interesting distraction. Covering OWASP would allow people to get a far less biased opinion of what's going on in application security.


Okay, let me start from that point. The OWASP Top Ten Project periodically publishes a "Top Ten" list of the most common web application security vulnerabilities. The official purpose of this list is to educate people about the consequences of these vulnerabilities.

But of course the inevitable effect of publishing a Top Ten list is pretty obvious - it causes people to pay particular attention to the items in the top ten, and considerably less attention to the items that don't quite make the top ten. If I was a niche security vendor, I'd be lobbying extremely hard to make sure that the particular vulnerability addressed by my product got into the top ten. Conversely, if I were running a criminal scam, I know exactly which vulnerabilities I'd be targeting.

This kind of thing clearly distracts people from a proper holistic view of application security. In my view it is the Top Ten List itself that is the "interesting distraction" Jennifer talks about, and I think OWASP should quietly drop this kind of cheap journalism and concentrate on educating people to do security properly. There is a lot of more intelligent stuff on the OWASP website explaining where to go from here, but I wonder how many people get that far?


Never let it be said that I am just a passive critic, however. Back in August, I registed onto the OWASP wiki and posted a couple of helpful questions about the OWASP principles. Haven't had a response yet, but I live in hope.

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