Securing Web Services

SPI Dynamics, forum ready tools that scan web apps for vulnerabilities.

While many of the security concerns IT managers have about Web services have centered on access and identity management, another issue is becoming just as common: Web services vulnerability.

To address the issue, two startups, SPI Dynamics Inc. and Forum Systems Inc., this week will introduce products that monitor and filter XML Web services traffic and ferret out vulnerabilities in Web applications.

SPIs WebInspect 2.5 comprises several sets of agents that perform various tasks and then report to the main console with results.

Assessment Agents, for example, spread out on the network and take inventory of all Web applications, including custom applications, and then return that list to the console. Threat Agents, which are designed specifically for each Web application, such as WebSphere or ColdFusion, then make several passes over the applications, looking for vulnerabilities.

In addition, Threat Agents assess the severity of any vulnerability they find and recommend solutions for each one.

WebInspect 2.5 also includes technology that enables customers to write their own agents for custom Web applications. A Smart Update function delivers new vulnerability data or discovery methods to the customer on demand.

"It absolutely gives us a feeling of confidence about the Web apps we produce," said Scott Angelo, president of SecureState, a software developer and SPI Dynamics customer based in Cleveland.

"Weve used it against production Web applications. We develop code for health care clients and have to make sure its very secure."

The agent-based technology also cuts the amount of time a full scan takes, said Brian Cohen, CEO of SPI Dynamics, in Atlanta. "Its not out there trying to scan applications that you dont have because it already knows whats on your network."

In addition to the systems functionality, customers can run Web-Inspect on production servers without taking them offline.

Forum Systems, meanwhile, is taking a hardware approach to the problem of Web services security. The companys new Sentry XML security appliances resides in front of a Web server on the network and acts as a router/firewall for all inbound and outbound XML traffic.

The Sentry looks at the XML data at the tag level and encrypts only the sensitive data in the document. This means that documents can contain encrypted and plain-text data, which enables customers to send documents with sensitive information to other users who dont have authorization to see the sensitive data but need to see the plain-text fields.

Analysts say solutions such as WebInspect and Sentry should eliminate the common complaint that theres no way to secure Web services.

"The fact that the appliance can get granular on signing and encrypting is important," said Pete Lindstrom, an analyst with Hurwitz Group, in Framingham, Mass.

"Security is on the top of the list for people in Web services," said Lindstrom. "But security folks have to be nimble and quick, and as technology gains some business focus, you cant just say no. You have to deploy a solution. Thats where security is enabling."

The encryption in the Sentry is performed on a dedicated chip, which is far faster than software encryption and enables the appliance to perform about 670 digital signatures per second, company officials said.

The appliance uses Triple-Data Encryption Standard encryption and performs symmetric encryption on outbound traffic and asymmetric encryption on incoming traffic. In addition, it is compliant with all the World Wide Web Consortiums XML standards, giving it a broad reach in terms of compatibility.

"Were dealing with the lowest common denominator, which is the XML traffic itself, and we only inspect the traffic we need to," said Wes Swenson, CEO of Forum Systems, based in Wellesley, Mass.

The Sentry time-stamps documents as they come through to aid in nonrepudiation disputes.

The new line comprises two appliances: the Sentry 1500, which is 1.75 inches high and sells for $34,995, and the Sentry 2500, which is 3.5 inches high and is priced at $50,000.

Related stories:

  • AmberPoint Monitors Web Services
  • Review: Web Services Security: A Political Battlefield