OWASP Top 10 Series – Insecure Design

In these series, I will try to explain each one of the security risks in the OWASP Top 10 (2021) list in the simplest way possible. Hopefully this can help myself and other’s to recall these concepts quickly.

Understanding OWASP Insecure Design

OWASP insecure design refers to the incorporation of flawed architectural choices during the development phase that inadvertently create vulnerabilities. These design flaws often lead to security vulnerabilities that can be exploited by attackers to gain unauthorized access, manipulate data, or execute malicious code. Addressing insecure design is essential as it can be challenging to rectify these issues later in the development lifecycle.

Examples and Risks of Insecure Design

  1. Inadequate Authentication and Authorization: Poorly implemented authentication and authorization mechanisms can lead to unauthorized access. If an application lacks proper user role management, an attacker might escalate privileges and access sensitive areas.
  2. Excessive Data Exposure: When an application exposes more data than necessary, attackers can exploit this to gather information that aids in their nefarious activities. For instance, publicly displaying user email addresses could lead to phishing attacks.
  3. Lack of Input Validation: Failing to validate and sanitize user inputs at the design level can result in vulnerabilities like injection attacks. Attackers might manipulate inputs to execute arbitrary code or perform unauthorized actions.

Real-world Example: Exploiting Insecure Design

Imagine an e-commerce platform with a customer review feature. The design choice is made to display reviews without any filtering or moderation. An attacker exploits this by posting reviews containing malicious scripts. When other users visit the product page and read these reviews, the scripts execute within their browsers, potentially leading to cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks and data theft.

Mitigation Strategies and Best Practices

  1. Secure Design Patterns: Incorporate secure design patterns that follow industry best practices. Implement proper authentication, authorization, and data protection mechanisms.
  2. Principle of Least Privilege: Assign the least privileges required for each user or component to operate. This minimizes potential damage if a breach occurs.
  3. Threat Modeling: Conduct threat modeling during the design phase to identify potential vulnerabilities and address them before they become ingrained in the architecture.
  4. Input Validation: Implement strict input validation and sanitation measures. Treat all user inputs as untrusted and validate them before processing.
  5. Security Training: Educate developers about secure coding practices and the implications of insecure design choices.