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Security appliances are riddled with serious vulnerabilities, researcher says

Companies should not assume that security products are implicitly secure, the researcher said

By Lucian Constantin
March 14, 2013 08:16 PM ET

IDG News Service - The majority of email and Web gateways, firewalls, remote access servers, UTM (united threat management) systems and other security appliances have serious vulnerabilities, according to a security researcher who analyzed products from multiple vendors.

Most security appliances are poorly maintained Linux systems with insecure Web applications installed on them, according to Ben Williams, a penetration tester at NCC Group, who presented his findings Thursday at the Black Hat Europe 2013 security conference in Amsterdam. His talk was entitled, "Ironic Exploitation of Security Products."

Williams investigated products from some of the leading security vendors, including Symantec, Sophos, Trend Micro, Cisco, Barracuda, McAfee and Citrix. Some were analyzed as part of penetration tests, some as part of product evaluations for customers, and others in his spare time.

More than 80 percent of the tested products had serious vulnerabilities that were relatively easy to find, at least for an experienced researcher, Williams said. Many of these vulnerabilities were in the Web-based user interfaces of the products, he said.

The interfaces of almost all tested security appliances had no protection against brute-force password cracking and had cross-site scripting flaws that allowed session hijacking. Most of them also exposed information about the product model and version to unauthenticated users, which would have made it easier for attackers to discover appliances that are known to be vulnerable.

Another common type of vulnerability found in such interfaces was cross-site request forgery. Such flaws allow attackers to access administration functions by tricking authenticated administrators into visiting malicious websites. Many interfaces also had vulnerabilities that allowed command injection and privilege escalation.

Flaws that Williams found less frequently included direct-authentication bypasses, out-of-band cross-site scripting, on-site request forgery, denial of service and SSH misconfiguration. There were a lot of other, more obscure issues as well, he said.

During his presentation, Williams presented several examples of flaws he found last year in appliances from Sophos, Symantec and Trend Micro that could be used to gain full control over the products. A white paper with more details about his findings and recommendations for vendors and users was published on the NCC Group website.

Often at trade shows, vendors claim that their products run on "hardened" Linux, according to Williams. "I disagree," he said.

Most tested appliances were actually poorly maintained Linux systems with outdated kernel versions, old and unnecessary packages installed, and other poor configurations, Williams said. Their file systems were not "hardened" either, as there was no integrity checking, no SELinux or AppArmour kernel security features, and it was rare to find non-writeable or non-executable file systems.

A big problem is that companies often believe that because these appliances are security products created by security vendors, they are inherently secure, which is definitely a mistake, Williams said.

Reprinted with permission from IDG.net. Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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