Panel #4: Securing Web 2.0 (Panel Summary)


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Panel Members:

  • Gerhard Eschelbeck, Webroot
  • Lorraine Kisselburgh, Purdue
  • Ryan Olson, Verisign
  • Tim Roddy, McAfee
  • Mihaela Vorvoreanu, Purdue

Panel Summary by Preeti Rao

The panel was moderated by Keith Watson, Research Engineer, CERIAS, Purdue University

Keith kick-started the panel with an interesting introduction to the term Web 2.0. He talked about how he framed its definition, gathering facts from Wikipedia, Google searches, comments and likes from Facebook, tweets from Twitter while playing Farmville, Poker on the Android phone!

All the panelists gave short presentations on Web 2.0 security challenges and solutions. These presentations introduced the panel topic from different perspectives - marketing, customer demands, industry/market analysis, technological solutions, academic research and user education.

Mihaela Vorvoreanu from Purdue University, who gave the first presentation, chose to use Andrew McAfee’s definition of Enterprise 2.0: a set of emerging social software collaborative platforms. She noted that the emphasis is on the word “platform” as opposed to “communication channels” because platforms are public and they support one-to-one communication which is public to all others, thus making it many-to-many communication.

She talked about the global study on Web 2.0 use in organizations which was commissioned by McAfee Inc, and reported by faculty at Purdue University. This study defined Web 2.0 to include consumer social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Enterprise 2.0 platforms. The study was based on a survey of over 1000 CIOs and CEOs in 17 countries, sample balanced by country, organization size, industry sector. The survey results were complimented with in-depth interviews with industry experts, analysts, academicians to get a comprehensive view of Web 2.0 adoption in organizations globally, its benefits and security concerns. While overall organizations reported great benefits and importance to using Web 2.0 in several business operations, the major concern was security - reported by almost 50% of the respondents. In terms of security vulnerabilities, social networking tools were reported to be the top threat followed by Webmail, content sharing sites, streaming media sites and collaborative platforms. Specific threats that organizations perceive from employee use of Web 2.0 included malware, virus, information over-exposure, spyware, data leaks. 70% of the respondents had security incidents in the past year and about 2 million USD were lost due to security incidents. The security measures reported by organizations included firewall protection, web filtering, gateway filtering, authentication and social media policies.

She presented a broad, global view of organizational uses, benefits and security concerns of Web 2.0.

Lorraine Kisselburgh from Purdue University continued to present the results from McAfee’s report. She discussed an interesting paradox that the study found.

Overall, there is a positive trend with significant adoption rate (75%) of Web 2.0 tools world-wide. There are also significant concerns among those who haven’t adopted the technology. 50% of non adopters report security concerns, followed by productivity, brand and reputation concerns. Not all tools have the same perceived value or even same concerns/risks/threats. Social networking tools and streaming media sites are considered most risky. Nearly half of the organizations banned Facebook. 42% banned IM, 38% banned YouTube. Collaborative platforms and content sharing tools are considered as less risky and their perceived value/usefulness is high when compared to social tools. But survey of those organizations who have adopted report the real value of social tools to be quite high - helpful in increasing communication, improving brand marketing etc. In fact social tools realized greater value than webmail etc.

So, the paradox is: social tools (social networking and streaming media sites) are mostly considered highly risky from a security standpoint, perceived least valuable to organizations, but yet they realize great value among adopters.

This reflects the continuing tensions between how the value of social media tools is perceived vs realized by organizations. This is also in-line with some historical trends in adopting new/unknown, emerging technologies. Example: email. The tensions are also because of where the technology is located and where to address risk: internal tools vs external on the cloud. It also has to do with recognizing organizational tools vs people tools.

Tim Roddy from McAfee addressed his comments on Web 2.0 security from a buying organization standpoint, giving it a product marketing perspective, about selling web security solutions. He commented that initially people were concerned about malware coming in to the organizations through email. Now the model and dynamics have changed and it has an influence on how we investigate our products and how we see our customers using security solutions from a business standpoint. His comments focussed on two areas: 1) stopping malicious software from coming in 2) having customizable controls for people using social media tools.

He pointed out that about 3 years ago, his customers were using their products to block access to sites like Twitter, Facebook because they saw no value in using them in businesses. But periodic McAfee surveys show a dramatic change in this trend. Organizations are allowing access to these tools; this trend is also driven by the younger generation of employees in the organizations demanding access. While it was a URL filtering solution that was used 3 years back to just block for eg, social networking sites category, now it is changed because they allow access to those websites.

So, how do we allow safe productive access?

There is a dramatic increase/acceleration in malware; they are automated, targeted and smarter now. Therefore web security efforts need to be proactive. By proactive security, it means not only to stop malware with signature analysis but include effective behavioral analysis to break the chains/patterns of attacks. McAfee’s Gateway Anti-Malware strategies focus on these.

Secondly, organizations allow access to social media tools now; but no one filters the apps in those tools to make sure they are legitimate. For eg: are the game apps on Facebook legitimate and secure? Such apps are one of the most common ways of attacks. The solution is to customize controls. Industries, especially finance and healthcare, are worried about leakage of data. Say, an employee sends his SSN through a LinkedIn message. Can it be blocked/filtered? Security solution efforts are now bi-directional – to proactively monitor and filter what is coming in as malware and what is going out as data leakage.

Lastly, the security concerns for use of mobile/handheld devices are growing. There is a great need to secure these devices, especially if corporately owned. It needs to have the same level of regulations and be compliant to corporate network standards.

Gerhard Eschelbeck from Webroot talked about why securing Web 2.0 a big deal and how we got there.

First gen of web apps were designed for static content to be displayed by browser. All execution processing was on server side and mostly trusted content. There were no issues about client/side browser side execution so the number of attacks happening was significantly less. The only worry then was to protect the servers. Now, the security concerns are mainly because of interactive content in Web 2.0. Fundamentally the model changes from 1-way-data from server to client to 2-way interactive model. Browser has become part of this execution environment. Billions of users’ browsers that are a part of this big ecosystem are exposed to attacks.

There is a major shift from code execution purely on server-side to distributed model of code execution using ajax and interactive, dynamic client side web page executions. While useful in many ways, it introduces new vulnerabilitie and this is the root cause for Web 2.0 security concerns.

He highlighted four areas of concerns:

  1. User created, user defined content which is not trusted content
  2. To bring desktop look and feel to the Web 2.0 applications, interactive features like mouse rollovers, popups have caused significant amount of interaction between server and client and this causes more vulnerabilities
  3. Syndication of content and mashups of various sites
  4. Offline capabilities of some applications now lead to storage of information on one of those billions of desktops

All these have led to increased security exposure points in turn leading to vulnerabilities.

Ryan Olson from Verisign talked about malware issues with Web 2.0.People are sharing a lot of their personal information online which they weren’t doing earlier. Access to personal information of people has become easy now, and is available to friends on social networks, or even anyone who has access to that friend’s account. A lot of organizations now have started using a security question/answer as a form of authentication after login/password. Answers to questions like user’s mother’s maiden name or high school name can be easily found on social networking sites. Most of such questions can be answered by looking at the user’s personal data that is available online, often without much authentication. This way Web 2.0 offers more vectors for malware. It offers many ways of communicating with people hence opening up to a lot of new entry points that we now need to monitor. Earlier it was mostly email and IM but now each of these social networks allow an attacker to send message, befriend and build trust. There are additional avenues provided by these tools to social-engineer the user into revealing some information about self, by exploiting the trust between user and his friends. A lot of malware are successful purely through social engineering attacks, by befriending them or enticing them and then extracting information. Primary solution to this problem is to educate people about the consequences of revealing personal information and the value of trust.

Questions from audience and discussions with the panel:

Keith Watson: How much responsibility should be held with the Web 2.0 providers (organizations like Facebook, Twitter) in providing secure applications? How much responsibility should be held with the users and educating them about safe usage? Is there a balance between user education and application provider responsibility?


TR: Just like any application provider, the companies do have a lot of responsibility; but educating the users is also equally important. Users are putting so much information out on the Web (for eg: Oh, I am in the airport). People should be made to realize how much and what to share.

RO: It should be a shared responsibility. It is the market that drives Web 2.0 to become more secure. For example, the competition between social network providers to provide a malware-free, secure application drives everything. If one social network is not as secure then users will just migrate to the next one. This way market will help and continue to put pressure on people in turn the providers to make secure applications.

LK: While it has to be a shared responsibility, it also has to do with recognizing the value of social media tools and encouraging its participation in businesses. Regarding user education, what we have found in some privacy research is that understanding the audience of these tools - who has access, what are they accessing, to whom are you disclosing, and being able to visualize who is listening helps the users in deciding what and how much information to disclose. Framing this through technology, system design would be helpful from an educational standpoint.

MV noted that there could be unintended, secondary audience always listening. She took a cultural approach to explain/understand social media tools. Each tool may be viewed as a different country – Facebook is a country, Twitter is another country. Just like how people from one country aren’t familiar with another country’s culture, and they may use travel guidebooks, travel information for help, users of social media tools need to be educated about the different social media tools and their inherent cultures.

GE: While the tourism and travel industry comparison is good, it doesn’t quite work always in the cyberworld because it is different. There is no differentiation anymore between dark and bright corners; even a site which “looks” safe might be a target of an awful attack Educational element is important but the technological safety belt is much needed. Securing is also hard for the fact that server-side component is usually from provider but client-side/browsers are with the people. It is important how we provide browser protection to users and reduce Web 2.0 attacks.

Brent Roth: What are your thoughts on organizations adopting mechanisms/models like the “no script add- on in Firefox”?


RO: This model would work really well for people who have some security knowledge/background, but doesn’t work for a common man. We need to look at smarter models for general public that make decisions about good and bad by putting the user in the safety belt.

TR: Websites get feeds and ads. While some may be malicious, they also drive the revenue. McAfee’s solutions block parts of the sites/pages which could be malicious. Behavioral analysis techniques help. It has to be a granular design solution.

RO: If all scripts are blocked then what about the advertisers? If we block all advertisers, the Internet falls because they drive the revenue. Yes, a lot of malware comes from ads and scripts but you cannot just completely block everything.

Malicious script analytics, risk profiling need to be done. The last line of defense is always at the browser end. User education is as important as having a technology safety belt to secure Web 2.0.


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