Lori MacVittie, Senior Technical Marketing Manager at F5 Networks (http://www.f5.com/), says:

Were you involved in any of the DDoS attacks that occurred over the past twelve months? Was your mom? Sister? Brother? Grandfather?

Can you even answer that question with any degree of certainty?

Reality is that the reason for attack on the web is subtly shifting to theft not necessarily of data, but of resources. While the goal may still be to obtain personal credentials for monetary gain, it is far more profitable to rip hundreds or thousands of credentials from a single source than merely getting one at a time. From a miscreant’s point of view, the return on investment is simply much higher targeting a site than it is targeting you, directly.
But that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. In fact, quite the opposite. For there are other just as nefarious purposes to which your resources can be directed, including inadvertently participating in a grand-scale DDoS attack for what is now-a-days called “hactivism.”

In both cases, you are still a victim, but you may not be aware of it as the goal is to stealth-install the means by which your compute resources can be harnessed to perpetrate an attack and it may not be caught by the security you have in place (you do have some in place, right?). You can’t necessarily count on immunity from infection because you only visit “safe sites”.

That’s because one of the ways in which attackers leverage your compute resources is not through installation of adware or other malware, but directly through JavaScript loaded via infected sites. At issue is the possible collision between web application and browser security.

Consider the number of serious vulnerabilities reported by WhiteHat Security during the Fall of 2010. Consider the rate across Social Networking sites. Assume an attacker managed to exploit one of those vulnerabilities and plant the DDoS JavaScript tool such that unsuspecting visitors end up playing a role in a DDoS attack.

It gets worse, as far as the potential impact goes. The recent revelation of a new SSL/TLS vulnerability (BEAST) includes a pre-condition that JavaScript be injected into the browser. CSRF (Cross-Site Request Forgery) is a fairly common method of managing such a trick, and is listed by WhiteHat in the aforementioned report as having increased to 24% of all vulnerabilities. So, too, is XSS (Cross-Site Scripting) which ranks even higher in WhiteHat’s list, tying “information leakage” for the number one spot at 64%.

“In order to execute their attack, Rizzo and Duong use BEAST (Browser Exploit Against SSL/TLS) against a victim who is on a network on which they have a man-in-the-middle position. Once a victim visits a high-value site, such as PayPal, that uses TLS 1.0, and logs in and receives a cookie, they inject the client-side BEAST code into the victim’s browser. This can be done through the use of an iframe ad or just loading the BEAST JavaScript into the victim’s browser.” –New Attack Breaks Confidentiality Model of SSL, Allows Theft of Encrypted Cookies.

Such an attack is designed to steal high-value data such as might be stored in an encrypted cookie used to conduct transactions with Paypal or an online banking service.

Depending on the level of protection at the web application layer, the delivery of such JavaScript may go completely unnoticed. Most web application security focuses on verifying user input, not application responses, are free from infection. And too many consumers believe running anti-virus scanning solutions are enough to detect and prevent infection in general, not realizing that a dynamically injected JavaScript (something many sites do all the time for monitoring performance and to enable real-time interaction) may, in fact, be “malicious” or at the very least an attempt at resource theft.

How do you stop a browser that essentially stabs you in the back by accepting, without question, questionable content?

Without layering additional security on the browser that parses through each and every piece of content delivered, there isn’t a whole lot you can do – other than turn off the ability to execute JavaScript which, today, essentially renders the Internet useless.

GO to the SOURCE If we look at the source of browser infections we invariably find the only viable, reasonable, effective answer is to eliminate the source. When you have a pandemic you figure out what’s causing it and you go to the source. Yes, you treat the symptoms of the victims if possible, but what you want to really do is locate and whack the source so it stops spreading.

In “Perceptions about Network Security” (Ponemon Institute, June 2011) surveys show that the top three sources of a breach were insider abuse (52%), malicious software download (48%), and malware from a website (43%). Interestingly, 29% indicated the breach resulted from malicious content coming from a “social networking site”, which would – when added to the malware from a website (of which social networking sites are certainly a type) that source tops the chart with 72% of all causes of breaches being a direct result of the failure of a website to secure itself, and essentially allow itself to become a carrier of an outbreak.

Certainly if you have control over the desktops, laptops, and mobile devices from which a client will interact with your web site or network and you have the capability to deploy policies on those clients that can aid in securing and protecting that client, you should. But that capability is rapidly dwindling with the introduction of a vast host of clients with wildly different OS footprints and the incompatibility of client-side, OS specific agents and apps capable of supporting a holistic client-side security strategy.

Enforcing policies regarding interaction with corporate resources is really your best and most complete option. Like a DDoS attack, you are unlikely to be able to stop the infection of a client. You can, however, stop the spread and possible infection of your corporate resources as a carrier. The more organizations that attend to their own house’s security and protection, the better off end-users will likely be. Reducing the sources of the pandemic of client-side infections will reduce the risk not only to your own organization and users, but to others. And if we can all reduce the potential sources down to sites relying on user’s specifically visiting an infected site, the client-side mechanisms in place to protect users against known malware distribution sites will get us further to a safer and more enjoyable Internet.