Security in web services: an evolving threat model

Tuesday, 21 May 2002, 7:02 AM EST

Udi Manber, chief scientist at Yahoo!, apprised security researchers at the IEEE's Symposium on Security and Privacy about attacks likely to become commonplace in the emerging era of large-scale, distributed web services. "The kind of attacks that we're seeing are not a traditional security attack," he warned. The threat to web services is not about something like root access; it's more about repeated violations and exploitations of the service - small cheats and hacks that are individually insignificant, but a huge problem in the aggregate.

Spam is an example of this kind of hack. A web-based e-mail service does not suffer if one of its accounts is used for mass-mailing. When tens of thousands of accounts are abused in this way, the service can be brought to its knees. Manber calls this the "penny jar" effect, likening it to a thief who comes to a cash register and empties the penny dish every five minutes. The pennies are meant to be given away, and each instance of the loss is trivial; but if the theft continues unchecked, the service will be destroyed.

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