Developing applications has long involved using code snippets found through textbooks or on the Internet. Rather than re-invent the wheel, it makes sense to identify existing code that helps solve a problem. It may also help speed up the development time.
Years ago, maybe 12, I remember a co-worker that had a SQL Injection vulnerability in his application. The culprit, code copied from someone else. At the time, I explained that once you copy code into your application it is now your responsibility.
Here, 12 years later, I still see this type of occurrence. Using code snippets directly from the web in the application. In many of these cases there may be some form of security weakness. How often do we, as developers, really analyze and understand all the details of the code that we copy?
Here are a few tips when working with external code brought into your application.
Understand what it does
If you were looking for code snippets, you should have a good idea of what the code will do. Better yet, you probably have an understanding of what you think that code will do. How vigorously do you inspect it to make sure that is all it does. Maybe the code performs the specific task you were set out to complete, but what happens if there are other functions you weren’t even looking for. This may not be as much a concern with very small snippets. However, with larger sections of code, it could coverup other functionality. This doesn’t mean that the functionality is intentionally malicious. But undocumented, unintended functionality may open up risk to the application.
Change any passwords or secrets
Depending on the code that you are searching, there may be secrets within it. For example, encryption routines are common for being grabbed off the Internet. To be complete, they contain hard-coded IVs and keys. These should be changed when imported into your projects to something unique. This could also be the case for code that has passwords or other hard-coded values that may provide access to the system.
As I was writing this, I noticed a post about the RadAsyncUpload control regarding the defaults within it. While this is not code copy/pasted from the Internet, it highlights the need to understand the default configurations and that some values should be changed to help provide better protections.
Look for potential vulnerabilities
In addition to the above concerns, the code may have vulnerabilities in it. Imagine a snippet of code used to select data from a SQL database. What if that code passed your tests of accurately pulling the queries, but uses inline SQL and is vulnerable to SQL Injection. The same could happen for code vulnerable to Cross-Site Scripting or not checking proper authorization.
We have to do a better job of performing code reviews on these external snippets, just as we should be doing it on our custom written internal code. Finding snippets of code that perform our needed functionality can be a huge benefit, but we can’t just assume it is production ready. If you are using this type of code, take the time to understand it and review it for potential issues. Don’t stop at just verifying the functionality. Take steps to vet the code just as you would any other code within your application.
Jardine Software helps companies get more value from their application security programs. Let’s talk about how we can help you.
James Jardine is the CEO and Principal Consultant at Jardine Software Inc. He has over 15 years of combined development and security experience. If you are interested in learning more about Jardine Software, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @jardinesoftware on twitter.