Welcome!

Machine Learning Authors: Elizabeth White, Liz McMillan, Yeshim Deniz, Pat Romanski, Rene Buest

Related Topics: Machine Learning , Cloud Security

Machine Learning : Article

Application Security in AJAX

Mind the Gap

If you have evaluated AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) for your next Web application development project, then you probably have read or heard a great deal about AJAX security concerns and the claim that AJAX increases the attack surface for hackers. If you are a skilled security developer, you might wonder whether the AJAX security problem originates in the technologies involved or whether lack of security in AJAX is a misconception. Security threats like SQL injection, cross-site scripting (XSS), message spoofing, and failed input validation existed before in Web applications and have been solved many times since then.

At first glance, it seems that the AJAX security discussion is a retelling of the tale of the emperor's new clothes. At second glance, however, it is obvious that there is a new component in AJAX security - the rich and interactive client. If this smart client really introduces a new security threat to Web applications, then the following questions arise: What can be done today, and what needs to be done in the future, to avoid ÒkillerÓ applications built with AJAX?

The Security Dilemma
Technology alone seldom is the problem. Lack of security in an application arises because of what developers do with the underlying technologies. To build secure Web applications - and this hasn't changed since traditional Web applications - there are two aspects of equal importance to be considered: humans and technology.

The most prevalent philosophy in application security is that security should not be added as an after thought, but should be included by design and default. The latter, however, never seems to happen in this feature-driven Internet technology industry, where new technologies are continuously being born. Two schools of thought exist in security: those who know everything and those who know next to nothing. It appears that because those who know everything are accustomed to handling the shortcomings of a given technology themselves, by devising workarounds or by using third-party security frameworks, it is up to those who know next to nothing to standardize security, making it a reachable goal for everyone.

AJAX is another example of putting security last and features first. AJAX is not a new technology. Instead, it consists of existing technologies such as JavaScript, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), and Extensible Markup Language (XML) to implement Web 2.0 user interfaces. The technology used for dynamics in AJAX Web-user interfaces is JavaScript. This means, however, that the available Java security features, like the JavaScript sandbox and the same origin policy, are the main security features available in AJAX.

•  Same Origin Policy: The same origin policy prevents scripts that are downloaded from a Website to access properties on a page that is downloaded from another Website. The security of the same origin policy, which ensures that malicious scripts do not hijack other loaded documents or spy on user cookies or key inputs, conflicts with another Web 2.0 wanted functionality: mashup. A mashup is an application page that consumes mixed services to build a composite Web-user interface. This type of application may need to interoperate between page fragments, even if it is downloaded from different servers and domains. Within the AJAX community and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), a desire exists to loosen the same origin policy limitation for XMLHttpRequest object (XHR) requests, which, from a security perspective, would require trusted clients that do not exist today.
•  JavaScript Sandbox: JavaScript is contained in the browser execution environment and is not allowed to access either the client file system or the network, except through Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) requests. All that JavaScript has access to is the memory representation of the displayed browser document, called the document object model (DOM).

In JavaScript, little can be hidden from would-be hackers because all facets within a page are accessible and modifiable in the DOM tree. Exposing JavaScript source on the client, where it can be read or stolen, is not a security problem. If it were, open source software, which does not hide its implementation from viewers, would pose a huge security threat.

Client-side sources are problematic because everything is accessible in the DOM, which means that nothing can be protected on the client. Any security policy that is downloaded and enforced on the client can be read and manipulated. Obscurity is not a substitute for security. In fact, obfuscated JavaScript only helps to lock out wannabe hackers and is otherwise primarily used to increase JavaScript performance through reduced content lengths.

Where AJAX Fits in an MVC Architecture
Modern Web applications that implement the model view controller (MVC) pattern demand a separation of the application presentation from its life cycle and model. AJAX is a presentation layer technology that is used to render interactive Web-user interfaces in rich Internet applications (RIA). As an application developer, you don't write end-to-end business applications in AJAX. Instead, you use a server-side technology to handle the business logic. One of the niceties of AJAX is that it is independent of the server technology business layer. Therefore, AJAX works the same with Java, C, Perl, PLSQL, and .NET back ends. This clean separation between the presentation and business layers is a choice that every application developer should consider. Security should be implemented end-to-end, which means that all parts of the application should follow the same policy and share the same user security context. This also includes database security if databases are involved.

Security in AJAX
Unlike traditional Web applications that have a more or less static user interface, AJAX applications have an active client that uses the browser's native XHR to fetch data from a server. There are two major risks to the browser regarding client-side JavaScript: browser bombing and cross-site scripting attacks:
•  Browser bombing is the client version of a denial of service (DoS) attack. During this type of attack, the client is kept busy with JavaScript processing, such as running endless loops that fill up an array with content. When the client consumes all computing resources, the desktop hangs.
•  Cross-site scripting has two facets. The first one, which was already mentioned, is where a script downloaded from one domain tries to access properties of a page downloaded from another domain. The second facet is where developers fail to validate user input, resulting in a JavaScript that is executed when the user-added input is rendered on a Web page. Imagine a discussion forum that does not encode JavaScript content or check for SQL keywords. A hacker could, for instance, add JavaScript that performs a runtime attachment of an image tag to the page in which the src attribute references a uniform resource locator (URL) on the hacker's server. The script could, for example, append the client's cookies as a request parameter. The application user does not recognize these changes because the HTML does not flag a missing image as an error.

While client-side security protects the end user from the application, application security protects the application from the user. Protection includes enforcement of authentication, authorization, and data privacy.

Though XSS and SQL injection attacks can be handled in AJAX on the client, you should not miss the opportunity to enforce the same policy on the back end in an additional layer of defense. In traditional Web applications, request filters implemented on the HTTP server (or in the application configuration) performed pattern searches using such things as Regular Expressions on the incoming request to detect technology keywords of JavaScript and SQL. In addition, filters were used to replace special characters with their encoded equivalent, such as when replacing < with <. AJAX applications are like traditional Web applications, so the same security design patterns apply to them.

Security design patterns are recommendations of best practices to mitigate the risk of an identified threat. Patterns that exist for Web applications include defense in depth, limited view, least privileged access, checkpoint, and roles.

In addition to best security practices, there exists a sensitive balance between usability, performance, and security that needs to be considered when building AJAX applications. It is easy to risk vulnerabilities simply by annoying end users with too many security-related interruptions when they are working in an application. Such users soon turn into hackers on their mission to find a more convenient way to work with an application. AJAX applications are based on client-side JavaScript and only provide a minimum capability to maintain client-state in cookies and page variables. Unless the AJAX application is built on top of a server-side framework that manages the application state, AJAX applications risk losing state upon page reload and navigation, adding a need to re-request user security credentials.


More Stories By Frank Nimphius

Frank Nimphius is a principal product manager for application development tools at Oracle Corporation. As a conference speaker, Frank represents the Oracle J2EE development team at J2EE conferences world wide, including various Oracle user groups and the Oracle Open World conference.

Comments (1) View Comments

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


Most Recent Comments
navot 10/08/07 04:14:59 AM EDT

I would like to draw your attention to another alternative which is a paradigm shift for AJAX front ends. One should be aware that I am not, and do not pretend to be objective, never the less I believe that one can judge for himself. Visual WebGui is an AJAX frame work that doesn’t expose logic, data or open services on client requests and therefore is not as vulnerable as common AJAX solution. Worth a look at www.visualwebgui.com.

@CloudExpo Stories
Join us at Cloud Expo June 6-8 to find out how to securely connect your cloud app to any cloud or on-premises data source – without complex firewall changes. More users are demanding access to on-premises data from their cloud applications. It’s no longer a “nice-to-have” but an important differentiator that drives competitive advantages. It’s the new “must have” in the hybrid era. Users want capabilities that give them a unified view of the data to get closer to customers and grow business. The...
21st International Cloud Expo, taking place October 31 - November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy. Me...
DevOps at Cloud Expo, taking place October 31 - November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 21st Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is no time to w...
The current age of digital transformation means that IT organizations must adapt their toolset to cover all digital experiences, beyond just the end users’. Today’s businesses can no longer focus solely on the digital interactions they manage with employees or customers; they must now contend with non-traditional factors. Whether it's the power of brand to make or break a company, the need to monitor across all locations 24/7, or the ability to proactively resolve issues, companies must adapt to...
In this presentation, Striim CTO and founder Steve Wilkes will discuss practical strategies for counteracting fraud and cyberattacks by leveraging real-time streaming analytics. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Steve Wilkes, Founder and Chief Technology Officer at Striim, will provide a detailed look into leveraging streaming data management to correlate events in real time, and identify potential breaches across IoT and non-IoT systems throughout the enterprise. Strategies for processing massive ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Cloud Academy named "Bronze Sponsor" of 21st International Cloud Expo which will take place October 31 - November 2, 2017 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Cloud Academy is the industry’s most innovative, vendor-neutral cloud technology training platform. Cloud Academy provides continuous learning solutions for individuals and enterprise teams for Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, and the most popular cloud com...
Cloud Expo, Inc. has announced today that Andi Mann and Aruna Ravichandran have been named Co-Chairs of @DevOpsSummit at Cloud Expo Silicon Valley which will take place Oct. 31-Nov. 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. "DevOps is at the intersection of technology and business-optimizing tools, organizations and processes to bring measurable improvements in productivity and profitability," said Aruna Ravichandran, vice president, DevOps product and solutions marketing...
In his session at Cloud Expo, Alan Winters, an entertainment executive/TV producer turned serial entrepreneur, presented a success story of an entrepreneur who has both suffered through and benefited from offshore development across multiple businesses: The smart choice, or how to select the right offshore development partner Warning signs, or how to minimize chances of making the wrong choice Collaboration, or how to establish the most effective work processes Budget control, or how to ma...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Enzu will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st Int\ernational Cloud Expo®, which will take place October 31-November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Enzu’s mission is to be the leading provider of enterprise cloud solutions worldwide. Enzu enables online businesses to use its IT infrastructure to their competitive advantage. By offering a suite of proven hosting and management services, Enzu wants companies to focus on the core of their ...
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing Cloud strategies, now is the perfect time to attend 21st Cloud Expo October 31 - November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center, CA, and June 12-14, 2018, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is on the right path to Digital Transformation.
SYS-CON Events announced today that IBM has been named “Diamond Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st Cloud Expo, which will take place on October 31 through November 2nd 2017 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, California.
We build IoT infrastructure products - when you have to integrate different devices, different systems and cloud you have to build an application to do that but we eliminate the need to build an application. Our products can integrate any device, any system, any cloud regardless of protocol," explained Peter Jung, Chief Product Officer at Pulzze Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA
SYS-CON Events announced today that CA Technologies has been named "Platinum Sponsor" of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place October 31-November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. CA Technologies helps customers succeed in a future where every business - from apparel to energy - is being rewritten by software. From planning to development to management to security, CA creates software that fuels transformation for companies in the applic...
Amazon started as an online bookseller 20 years ago. Since then, it has evolved into a technology juggernaut that has disrupted multiple markets and industries and touches many aspects of our lives. It is a relentless technology and business model innovator driving disruption throughout numerous ecosystems. Amazon’s AWS revenues alone are approaching $16B a year making it one of the largest IT companies in the world. With dominant offerings in Cloud, IoT, eCommerce, Big Data, AI, Digital Assista...
Multiple data types are pouring into IoT deployments. Data is coming in small packages as well as enormous files and data streams of many sizes. Widespread use of mobile devices adds to the total. In this power panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists looked at the tools and environments that are being put to use in IoT deployments, as well as the team skills a modern enterprise IT shop needs to keep things running, get a handle on all this data, and deliver...
In his session at @ThingsExpo, Eric Lachapelle, CEO of the Professional Evaluation and Certification Board (PECB), provided an overview of various initiatives to certify the security of connected devices and future trends in ensuring public trust of IoT. Eric Lachapelle is the Chief Executive Officer of the Professional Evaluation and Certification Board (PECB), an international certification body. His role is to help companies and individuals to achieve professional, accredited and worldwide re...
Both SaaS vendors and SaaS buyers are going “all-in” to hyperscale IaaS platforms such as AWS, which is disrupting the SaaS value proposition. Why should the enterprise SaaS consumer pay for the SaaS service if their data is resident in adjacent AWS S3 buckets? If both SaaS sellers and buyers are using the same cloud tools, automation and pay-per-transaction model offered by IaaS platforms, then why not host the “shrink-wrapped” software in the customers’ cloud? Further, serverless computing, cl...
You know you need the cloud, but you’re hesitant to simply dump everything at Amazon since you know that not all workloads are suitable for cloud. You know that you want the kind of ease of use and scalability that you get with public cloud, but your applications are architected in a way that makes the public cloud a non-starter. You’re looking at private cloud solutions based on hyperconverged infrastructure, but you’re concerned with the limits inherent in those technologies.
The taxi industry never saw Uber coming. Startups are a threat to incumbents like never before, and a major enabler for startups is that they are instantly “cloud ready.” If innovation moves at the pace of IT, then your company is in trouble. Why? Because your data center will not keep up with frenetic pace AWS, Microsoft and Google are rolling out new capabilities. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Don Browning, VP of Cloud Architecture at Turner, posited that disruption is inevitable for comp...
Wooed by the promise of faster innovation, lower TCO, and greater agility, businesses of every shape and size have embraced the cloud at every layer of the IT stack – from apps to file sharing to infrastructure. The typical organization currently uses more than a dozen sanctioned cloud apps and will shift more than half of all workloads to the cloud by 2018. Such cloud investments have delivered measurable benefits. But they’ve also resulted in some unintended side-effects: complexity and risk. ...