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What is the OWASP Top 10?

January 12, 2024 By Aaron Linskens

7 minute read time

The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) serves as an invaluable ally for software engineers and application security professionals.

As a non-profit organization, OWASP stays dedicated to bolstering the safety of web applications on a global scale. With a commitment to accessibility, the organization provides freely available materials, including tools, methodologies, and guidelines, allowing users to enhance their web application security.

With an extensive community of contributors along with committees and working groups, OWASP aims to create a more secure web for everyone.

What is the OWASP Top 10?

Central to OWASP's initiatives is the OWASP Top 10, a project of rankings and remediation guidance for critical web application security risks.

The OWASP Top 10 reflects a consensus among global security experts, ranking risks based on defect frequency, vulnerability severity, and potential impact. Its purpose is to empower developers and security professionals with insights to minimize known risks in their applications.

As new threats emerge and older ones diminish, the OWASP updates the list to remain relevant and highly effective as a preventive tool against contemporary security challenges. This list will continue to evolve, reflecting the shifting threat landscape of the digital world.

Incorporating the Top 10 into your software development life cycle (SDLC) not only empowers your developers and security professionals but also underscores a steadfast dedication to industry-leading practices in secure development.

#1 Broken access control

Broken access control sits at the top of the OWASP Top 10 vulnerabilities, and for good reason. In the context of web security, access control ensures only authorized users can perform specific actions or access particular resources. When this control breaks or is poorly implemented, this can lead to unauthorized individuals gaining access to sensitive data or functionalities.

Broken access control stems from misconfiguration or inadequate restrictions on what users can see and do. Attackers can exploit these vulnerabilities, bypassing permissions, carrying out illicit functions, or viewing confidential data. In essence, broken access control means doors are unintentionally left open, granting unintended permissions. Addressing this flaw is paramount to ensuring robust web application security.

#2 Cryptographic failures

As identified within the OWASP framework, cryptographic failures come via improperly implemented encryption mechanisms or outdated and weak encryption algorithms. Cryptography is the science of encoding and decoding information, ensuring that only an intended recipient can access the original data. When cryptographic measures falter, sensitive data becomes vulnerable to unauthorized access and potential breaches.

Types of cryptographic failures identified by OWASP include using default cryptographic keys, neglecting to rotate keys, or implementing weak algorithms that determined attackers can easily crack. These oversights not only endanger data integrity but can also jeopardize an organization’s reputation and trustworthiness. Addressing these failures is essential to upholding the confidentiality and security of user information and system data.

#3 Injection

Injection is a security vulnerability that arises when an attacker can send or "inject" malicious data into an application, resulting in unintended commands or actions. A prominent type is SQL injection, where malevolent SQL statements are inserted into an input field, aiming to breach the application’s database.

Ranked highly by OWASP, SQL injection allows attackers to view, modify, or delete data, bypass authentication, and execute administrative operations on databases. A primary cause for these injections is the application's failure to validate or sanitize its inputs, leading it to treat malicious input as legitimate commands mistakenly. This vulnerability highlights the critical need for developers to ensure that their applications can correctly differentiate between code and data.

#4 Insecure design

Insecure design encompasses vulnerabilities originating from decisions made during the design phase of a software product, unintentionally exposing the software to potential security breaches.

OWASP emphasizes the significance of incorporating security considerations from the design phase, addressing everything from improperly implemented authentication systems to flawed data protection mechanisms.

Adopting a security-centric design philosophy is crucial to mitigate risks, ensuring applications are architected with potential threats in mind. This proactive approach reduces the vulnerabilities attackers can exploit.

#5 Security misconfiguration

Security misconfiguration, a common oversight in web application security, refers to the inappropriate setup of IT systems, databases, or application components, inadvertently exposing sensitive data or functionality.

Arising from default configurations, enabled unnecessary features, or verbose error messages displaying sensitive information, misconfigurations provide attackers with unauthorized access or ways to execute malicious operations.

Regular audits and reviews of application and platform configurations are essential to combat these issues, ensuring only necessary and secure settings are in use, diminishing potential risks.

#6 Vulnerable and outdated components

In web application security, vulnerable and outdated components include third-party libraries, frameworks, or software modules with known security flaws or no longer actively supported. As identified by OWASP, these components introduce significant risks when integrated into an application.

Using compromised third-party tools, even with secure application code, can create a backdoor for potential breaches. Developers must stay informed about updates, patches, and the overall security health of external components incorporated into their projects.

#7 Identification and authentication failures

Identification and authentication processes act as gatekeepers to systems, ensuring only authorized individuals can access particular resources. However, flaws or misconfigurations in these processes lead to identification and authentication failures.

These failures can result in unauthorized access to sensitive data or critical system functionalities, ranging from weak password policies to mishandling password reset functions or misconfigured multi-factor authentication processes. Robust, secure, and regularly audited authentication mechanisms are crucial to safeguard web applications from potential threats.

#8 Software and data integrity failures

Critical to ensuring data accuracy, consistency, and unaltered states during its lifecycle, software and data integrity failures occur when these measures falter. Situated at number 8 in the OWASP Top 10, these failures signify tampering with data, either inadvertently due to bugs or deliberately by malicious entities.

Arising from flawed code, malware infections, or inside threats, the repercussions range from corrupted databases to compromised application functionality. Implementing stringent controls is essential to maintaining trustworthy data, bolstering user confidence and system reliability.

#9 Security logging and monitoring failures

Security logging and monitoring stand as frontline defenses against potential threats, tracking, recording, and analyzing system activities. OWASP highlights security logging and monitoring failures as a critical concern in cybersecurity.

These failures imply lapses or inefficiencies in recording essential system or user activities or the inability to detect and respond to suspicious events. When these security mechanisms underperform or are absent, they can blindside organizations, allowing malicious actors to exploit, maneuver, and even dwell undetected. Addressing these OWASP-identified failures is paramount, as robust logging and proactive monitoring are foundational to effectively understanding and counteracting cyber threats.

#10 Server-side request forgery

Server-side request forgery (SSRF) represents a severe vulnerability wherein an attacker induces the server to make an unwanted request. Often leveraged by cybercriminals to bypass access controls, SSRF can grant unauthorized access to the internal resources of an application, divulging sensitive data.

Completing the list of OWASP's top concerns, SSRF exploits can lead to full server takeovers in specific scenarios, depending on permissions and functionalities exposed. The risk lies in the server making requests on behalf of the attacker, accessing internal resources usually shielded from external actors.

Combating SSRF requires diligent coding practices, tight network configurations, and an unwavering commitment to regular security audits and patching.

OWASP and Sonatype: Building a secure software supply chain

As we unravel the OWASP Top 10, it becomes clear that addressing vulnerabilities in application security is only part of the challenge. Equally critical is the management of software supply chains – a complex task, given the extensive use of open source software used in contemporary application development.

This is where Sonatype's products come into play.

While the OWASP Top 10 sheds light on critical vulnerabilities, Sonatype Lifecycle provides practical tools to identify and address these issues within the open source components of your software supply chain. It efficiently scans and analyzes components, swiftly pinpointing potential risks without the distraction of false positives and negatives. This efficiency is vital in the fast-paced development environment, where speed and accuracy remain paramount.

Simultaneously, Sonatype Repository Firewall acts as a robust defense mechanism, ensuring only approved components enter your software supply chain. By actively monitoring and controlling component usage, it adds an extra layer of security to your development processes.

Moreover, the Sonatype Platform seamlessly integrates these solutions, offering comprehensive software supply chain management. It provides a unified approach to manage open source risks, ensuring that your SDLC remains secure, compliant, and efficient.

By utilizing Sonatype's product suite, teams turn open source software from a potential liability into a strength, bridging the gap between OWASP's framework and practical software development. Sonatype actively transforms awareness of vulnerabilities into efficient management within the software supply chain, ensuring more secure and reliable applications.

Tags: vulnerabilities, Software Supply Chain, OWASP, open source risk management

Written by Aaron Linskens

Aaron is a technical writer on Sonatype's Marketing team. He works at a crossroads of technical writing, developer advocacy, software development, and open source. He aims to get developers and non-technical collaborators to work well together via experimentation, feedback, and iteration so they can build the right software.