Web Content Lockbox

By Jim Rapoza  |  Posted 2001-10-15

Web Content Lockbox

With the current onslaught of worms that take over Windows systems to attack other systems, a little Web page graffiti may seem to be the least of IT security concerns. However, Web site vandalism—whether its obvious defacement or small but insidious changes to company information—can be a big problem for many businesses.

AppLock/Web 1.01, released last month by WatchGuard Technologies Inc., is the latest product to attempt to protect company Web sites from being defaced by automated worms, malicious hackers or disgruntled employees. Unlike competing products such as Lockstep Systems Inc.s WebAgain, which refresh Web content from a protected directory, App-Lock/Web simply makes it impossible to change or rename protected files on the Web site.

eWeek Labs found AppLock/Web to be effective at protecting content from being changed, but we also found some weaknesses in the design of the product that limit its effectiveness. The most obvious weakness is that AppLock/Web can protect only Web sites running on Microsoft Corp. servers and using the IIS (Internet Information Services) Web server. Competitors such as WebAgain can protect Web sites running on any server. Also, although competing products can easily protect several mirrored servers, AppLock/Web would need to be individually installed on each in order to provide protection.

Its also relatively easy for businesses to build home-grown solutions that provide similar protection against site vandalism. For example, many sites have created automated scripts that periodically refresh Web site directories using content in a protected directory. However, like WebAgain, AppLock/ Web is priced low enough, at $595, that businesses might find it worth purchasing simply for the time and effort saved.

Not Foolproof

Not Foolproof

Although Applock/Web keeps vandals from changing Web pages and content, it doesnt stop them from adding new pages. This makes it possible for attackers to add their own Web page and then direct users to it from a chat room or newsgroup. Anyone visiting this page would probably think it was legitimate, because it was being served from the companys Web server. If the added page has the same look and feel of the real Web pages on the site, this type of hack can be very successful.

Also, for a sites contributors to legitimately change the content, they need to first turn off AppLock/ Webs protection capabilities. This could be a needless bother for companies that change content regularly. It could also be a problem for sites that use a dynamic content management system but then serve the pages as static HTML.

Forcing an administrator to manually shut down AppLock/Web on a Web server before any change can be made effectively negates the benefits of a content management system. This means AppLock/Web is probably best suited for Web sites whose content remains fairly static.

However, when it comes to protecting content within the scope of its design, AppLock/Web does a very good job. In tests, the program looked for content on our Web server and locked it against unauthorized changes.

Once we entered our password (and the program enforces very strict password protocols), we could view all files on our servers and choose which ones to protect from changes.

It was impossible for us to change any content on the server, and we couldnt even access Microsoft Management Console for IIS while AppLock/Web was in lockdown mode. In addition, we tried several methods to disable AppLock/Web by shutting down services and processes but were unable to stop its protection of the server content.


/Web 1.01">

Applock/Web 1.01


WatchGuards AppLock/Web does what it tries to do—mainly, protect current Web site content from being defaced—but we wish it did more to stop other attacks that can affect a companys Web site. Also, if youre not running a Windows IIS Web server, AppLock/Web isnt for you.

SHORT-TERM BUSINESS IMPACT // Sites running IIS should find their content to be much safer from defacement with AppLock/Web. However, site content contributors might find it much harder to add content on a regular basis.

LONG-TERM BUSINESS IMPACT // If attackers can get into a server to make changes to Web pages, then youve got much bigger problems than a defaced page on your hands. The best long-term solution is to build a much more secure Web server infrastructure, which may mean moving away from a Microsoft server platform.

PROS: Makes changes to locked Web site content impossible; program is impossible to disable.

CONS: Doesnt stop attackers from adding content to servers; not suited for sites with constant content changes; protects only IIS servers.

WatchGuard Technologies Inc., Seattle; (206) 521-8340; www.watchguard.com

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