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Protecting your Intellectual Property: Are Binaries Safe?

Organizations have been steadily maturing their application testing strategies and in the next several weeks we will be releasing the WhiteHat Website Security Statistics report that explores the outcomes of that maturation.

As part of that research we explored some of the activities being undertaken as part of application security programs and we were impressed to see that 87% of the respondents perform static analysis. 32% of them perform it with each major release and 13% are performing it daily.

This adoption of testing earlier in the software lifecycle is a welcome move. It is not a simple task for many companies to build out the policies that are essential for driving the maturity of an application security program.

We wanted to explore a policy that seems to have been conflated with the need to gain visibly into third-party software service providers and commercial off-the-shelf software (COTS) vendors’ products.

There seems to be a significant amount of confusion and perhaps intentional fear uncertainty and doubt (FUD) in this area. The way you go about testing third party software should mirror the way you go about testing your own software. Binary analysis of software for the purpose of not exposing your Intellectual Property (IP) is where the question of measurable security lies.

Binaries can easily be decompiled, revealing nearly 100% of the source code. If your organization is distributing the binaries that make up your web application to a third party, you have effectively given them all the source code as well. This conflation of testing policies leads to a false sense of Intellectual Property protection.

Reverse engineering, while requiring some effort is no problem. Tools such as ILSpy and Show My Code are freely and widely available.Sharing your binaries in an attempt to protect your Intellectual Property actually end up exposing 100% of your IP.

Source and Binary

This video illustrates this point.

Educational Series: How lost or stolen binary applications expose all your intellectual property. from WhiteHat Security on Vimeo.

While customers are often required by policy to protect their source code, the only way to do that is to protect your binaries. That means being careful never to turn on the compilation options that allow for binary review that other vendors require. Or at a very minimum it requires that those same binaries never get uploaded to production where they may be exposed via vulnerabilities. Either way, if your requirement is to protect your IP you need to make certain your binaries don’t fall into the wrong hands, because inside of those binaries could be the keys to the castle.

For more information, click here to see the infographic on the two testing methodologies.

Tags: web application security, web application vulnerabilities, WhiteHat Security Statistics Report