Web 2.0 Threats and Risks for Financial Services
by Shreeraj Shah - net square - Monday, 30 April 2007.
Web 2.0 technologies are gaining momentum worldwide, penetrating in all industries as enterprise 2.0 applications. Financial services are no exception to this trend. One of the key driving factors behind penetration of Web 2.0 into the financial services sector is the “timely availability of information”. Wells Fargo, Merill Lynch and JP Morgan are developing their next generation technologies using Web 2.0 components; components that will be used in banking software, trading portals and other peripheral services. The true advantage of RSS components is to push information to the end user rather than pull it from the Internet. The financial industry estimates that 95% of information exists in non-RSS formats and could become a key strategic advantage if it can be converted into RSS format. Wells Fargo has already implemented systems on the ground and these have started to yield benefits. Financial services are tuning into Web 2.0 but are simultaneously exposing their systems to next generation threats such as Cross site Scripting (XSS), Cross Site Request Forgery (CSRF) and Application interconnection issues due to SOA.

With regard to security, two dimensions are very critical for financial systems – Identity and Data privacy. Adopting the Web 2.0 framework may involve risks and threats against these two dimensions along with other security concerns. Ajax, Flash (RIA) and Web Services deployment is critical for Web 2.0 applications. Financial services are putting these technologies in place; most without adequate threat assessment exercises. Let’s look at threats to financial services applications using Web 2.0.

Cross site scripting with Ajax

In the last few months, several cross-site scripting attacks have been observed, where malicious JavaScript code from a particular Web site gets executed on the victim’s browser thereby compromising information on the victim’s system. Poorly written Ajax routines can be exploited in financial systems. Ajax uses DOM manipulation and JavaScript to leverage a browser’s interface. It is possible to exploit document.write and eval() calls to execute malicious code in the current browser context. This can lead to identity theft by compromising cookies. Browser session exploitation is becoming popular with worms and viruses too. Infected sessions in financial services can be a major threat. The attacker is only required to craft a malicious link to coax unsuspecting users to visit a certain page from their Web browsers. This vulnerability existed in traditional applications as well but AJAX has added a new dimension to it.

RSS injection

RSS feeds exist in Web 2.0 data format. This format can be pushed to the web application to trigger an event. RSS feeds are a common means of sharing information on portals and Web applications. These feeds are consumed by Web applications and sent to the browser on the client-side. Literal JavaScripts can be injected into RSS feeds to generate attacks on the client browser. An end user visits a particular Web site that loads a page with an RSS feed. A malicious script – a script that can install software or steal cookies – embedded in the RSS feed gets executed. Financial services that use RSS feeds aggressively can pose a potential threat to resource integrity and confidentiality. RSS readers bundled with applications run by end clients can cause identity thefts if they fail to sanitize incoming information.

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