CERIAS - Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security

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Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security


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The biggest mistake of Myspace


Myspace, the super-popular web site that your kid uses and you don’t, was once again hit by a worm, this time utilizing Macromedia Flash as its primary vector.  This was a reminder for me of just how badly Myspace has screwed up when it comes to input filtering:

  • They use a “blacklist” approach, disallowing customized markup that they know could be an issue.  How confident are you that they covered all their bases, and could anticipate future problems?  I don’t trust my own code that much, let alone theirs.
  • They allow embed HTML tags.  That means letting folks embed arbitrary content that utilizes plugins, like… Flash. While Myspace filters Javascript, they seem to have forgotten that Flash has Javascript interaction and DOM manipulation capabilities.  If you’re a Myspace user, you may have noticed Javascript alert()-style pop-up windows appearing on some profiles—those are generated by embedding an offsite Flash program into a profile, which then generates Javascript code.

Even if they can plug these holes, it’s unlikely that anything short of a full rewrite/refactorization of their profile customization system can ever be considered moderately secure.

So will Myspace get their act together and modify their input filtering approaches? Very unlikely.  A large portion of Myspace’s appeal relies upon the customization techniques that allow users to decorate their pages with all manner of obnoxious flashing, glittery animations and videos.  Millions of users use cobbled-together hacks to twist their profiles into something fancier than the default, and a substantial cottage industry has sprung up around the subject.  Doing proper input filtering means undoing much of that.

Even if relatively secure equivalent techniques are offered, Myspace would certainly find themselves with a disgruntled user base that’s more likely to bail to a competitor.  That’s an incredibly risky move in the social networking market, and will likely lead Myspace to continue plugging holes rather than building a dam that works.

This is why you can’t design web applications with security as an afterthought.  Myspace has, and I think it will prove to be their biggest mistake.

Hacking the MacBook for Biometric Security


Via Infinite Loop, I came across an interesting post from a hawdcore MacBook Pro user who bellied up to the bar and retrofitted a Sony fingerprint scanner into his precious Apple laptop.  No indication that the hardware actually interfaces at all with OS X, but it’s pretty cool, and maybe Apple will get some inspiration from this. 8)

OSCON 2006: PHP Security BOF


So who’s going to OSCON 2006?  I am, and if you are too, drop me a line so we can meet up.  I’m also going to be “moderating” a PHP Security BOF meet, so if you have some interest in PHP Security or secure web dev in general, come by and participate in the chaos.

If you’re planning on going, make sure to check out the official wiki and the OSCamp wiki.

We heart Sun


Our superfriends at Sun were kind enough to bless us with 13 new servers today: 10 Sun Fire X2100s and 3 Sun Fire X4200s:


Sun has been one of CERIAS’ biggest supporters over the years, and their monetary and hardware contributions have been invaluable.  These new machines will be put to good use in experiments, handling our Sun Ray clients, and making our web sites run a zillion times faster.  Wee!

Free End-User Multimedia Training for Teachers


CERIAS is pleased to announce the launch of a new initiative to increase the security of K-12 information systems nationwide.  We’ve developed a comprehensive set of self-paced multimedia training modules for K-12 educators and support staff titled Keeping Information Safe: Practices for K-12 Schools.  The goal of these modules is to increase the security of K-12 school information systems and the privacy of student data by increasing teacher awareness of pertinent threats and vulnerabilities as well as their responsibilities in keeping information safe.

The modules are available for free for K-12 teachers, institutions, and outreach organizations.