OWASP Helsinki chapter meeting 34: Secure API

OWASP Helsinki Chapter held a meeting number 34 last week at Eficode with topics of
“Perfectly secure API” and “Best friends: API security & API management”. The event gave good overview to the topics covered and was quite packed with people. Eficode’s premises were modern and there was snacks and beverages. And also a sauna. Here is a short recap of the talks.

OWASP Helsinki Chapter Meeting 34

Perfectly secure API

Matti Suominen from Nixu talked about perfectly secure API and things related to get there. Can API be secure? On gut feeling APIs seems to be rubbish and have problems. He covered the topic from three view points: security, risks and defense. Good starting point is to read OWASP resources like ASVS, Top 10 and Security cheat sheet. Also implement security centrally, involve business in design and DIY never works out.

Best friends: API security & API management

Antti Virtanen from Solita talked about API security and API management and how we’ve traveled from dark ages to modern times. You can do API security with tools like Amazon AWS API Gateway but the main point was to step further with API management. Use some already made products like Apigee and open source alternative Tyk.io. Slides are available in Slideshare.

Snacks and beverages

Refreshments were basic and different

Keeping data secured with iStorage datAshur Personal2 USB flash drive

Knowledge is power and keeping it secured from unauthorised eyes is important, be it inside of a computer, on external hard drive or on USB flash drive. Especially small external devices are easy to lose and can leave your data vulnerable if not encrypted. Fortunately there are solutions like iStorage datAshur Personal2 which is an USB flash drive with combination of hardware encryption, physical keypad and tamper-proofing. I got 8 GB version of Personal2 for testing (for free) and here’s a quick review how the device works.

datAshur Personal2 secures data with hardware encryption and on-board keypad

iStorage datAshur Personal2 is an USB 3.0 flash drive designed to keep your data protected from unauthorised access even if it’s lost or stolen. It’s operating system and platform-independent and available up to 64 GB. The beef about the flash drive is that user needs to enter 7-15 digit PIN code onto the rechargeable battery powered on-board keypad before connecting the drive to the USB port and accessing the data. All data transferred to the datAshur Personal2 is encrypted in real-time with built-in XTS-AES 256-bit hardware encryption. The device automatically locks when unplugged from the computer or power to the USB port is turned off and it can be set to lock after a certain amount of time. And what’s good about hardware encryption is that it (in theory) shouldn’t slow the drive down when writing or reading files to or from the drive. The device has protection against brute forcing and it’s aluminium housing is dust- and water- resistant.

Personal2 differs from most flash drives in length, being a little longer to accommodate the keypad. Buttons are quite small so large fingers may have some difficulty finding the right key. Overall build quality looks good although the removable USB plug cover is cumbersome and easily lost. The keypad is powered with rechargeable battery and even if the battery goes dead you can just recharge it from the USB port. The keypad on the iStorage datAshur is critical for security as it means the device works independently from a computer and prevents a keylogger from recording a code entered via keyboard. It also makes it operating system and platform-independent and doesn’t require any specific software or drivers.

The datAshur Personal2 can be configured with two different PINs: user and admin PINs, making it perfect for corporate and government deployment. If the user forgets their PIN, the drive can be unlocked using the Admin PIN which will then clear the old User PIN and allow the User to set a new PIN. It also ensures that the corporate data can be retrieved from the device when an employee leaves the company.

The device also has a reset feature which clears both User and Admin PINs, deletes all data, creates a new randomly generated encryption key and allows the drive to be reused. To prevent brute-force attacks, if both admin and user PINs have been created and incorrect user PIN is entered ten consecutive times, the brute force mechanism will trigger and the user PIN will be deleted. If the admin PIN is entered incorrectly ten consecutive times, then both the user and admin PINs, the encryption key and all data will be deleted and lost forever. The device will revert back to factory default settings and needs to be formatted before it can be reused.

The device comes with quick start guide which tells you how to unlock the drive and how to change the user PIN. I tested the Personal2 with macOS Sierra and getting started with it was easy. The drive worked just like any other normal USB flash drive and after unlocking it was recognised as usual. I didn’t measure the read or write speeds but they seemed fine for that size of a drive. They say that it’s up to 116MB/s read and 43MB/s write which is typical for small USB 3 flash drives. Of course decent performance is required but transfer speeds are not the reason why you buy encrypted USB flash drives.

The datAshur Personal2 isn’t the first or last encrypted USB flash drive with hardware keypad but it seems to work nicely. It costs somewhat more than a normal USB flash drive (8GB is £39, 64GB is £79) but that’s what you pay for keeping sensitive data secured. And what comes to performance, it’s always a compromise between security and speed.

Build secure Web applications by reading Iron-Clad Java

Building secure Web applications isn’t easy and contains many aspects that the development team has to consider and take into account. “Iron-Clad Java: Building Secure Web Applications” book is good starting point to learn concepts, tactics, patterns and anti-patterns to develop, deploy and maintain secure Java applications. With 304 pages the book is more about getting an overview and pointers for further reading and research but works quite nicely in that regard.

“Iron-Clad Java: Building secure Web applications”

As the name suggests, “Iron-Clad Java: Building Secure Web Applications” by Jim Manico and August Detlefsen, is targeted for Java developers and is suitable reading also for less technical people in the team like project managers and managers as it doesn’t go too deeply to technical aspects or code. After reading the book even the managers should get an appreciation and the vocabulary to discuss security with their staff. The reader should get a solid understanding of what is wrong with many web apps in general and what corrective measures to take to mitigate the issues. The book was published September 2014 and has 304 pages (ISBN-13: 978-0071835886).

The book covers topics like secure authentication and session management processes, access control design, defending against cross-site scripting (XSS) and cross-site request forgery (CSRF), protecting sensitive data while stored or in transit, preventing SQL injection, ensuring safe file I/O and upload, using effective logging, error handling, and intrusion detection methods and also guide for secure software development lifecycle (secure-SDLC). The topics are written with theory and practice and so that they are approachable for developers new to security, for those that might be a little inexperienced but still providing useful nuggets for experienced developers.

In good and bad the book gives somewhat opinionated answers what technics and tools you can use to address security issues but overall the advice is solid and un-biased and more or less framework agnostic. So, the lessons learned should apply to any project. For me, writing examples with e.g. JSP and Struts makes me question if also the other tools the book suggest (which I wasn’t familiar with) are suitable for modern Java EE application development. Something to look into after reading the book. Also OWASP seemed to have answer to almost every security aspect.

Anyways, the book’s advice isn’t about using certain technologies but giving you something to think about and educating about security aspects in your Java Web application. What matters is that the book gives explanations of why you need to implement a specific control for a given issue, how you could do it and what the impacts are. This is what many security professionals miss when speaking to developers. The book tells you what the security problem is and then why and how you should fix that so it makes sense for developers.

Taking care for Web application security isn’t just for architects and developers but it’s also a topic which importance whole team should know and understand. The “Iron-Clad Java: Building secure Web applications” gives good overview to security and is suitable for the whole development team to read.