Application Layer Attack Definitions

We define an application layer attack as an effort to subvert an application, an application user, or data managed by an application for purposes other than those sanctioned by the application owner or administrator. Application layer attacks do not usually depend on leveraging techniques at lower layers, although such techniques (such as IP spoofing or TCP session splicing) are sometimes used to change the way application layer attacks are delivered to the target.

Application layer attacks are often made possible because programmers are under pressure to release code under strict deadlines, and not enough time is left over for rooting out bugs that result in security vulnerabilities.

2 Technically we don't need to spawn a UDP server here because data is sent over a UDP socket without having to establish a connection first, so iptables will see the UDP packet that contains the YEN hex codes regardless of whether a server is listening in user space. Note also that we did not need to add an ACCEPT rule to the policy for the log message to be generated (although the data does not make it through our default DROP policy to the server in user space). If you want to see how Netcat represents the data on the server side of the connection, you will need to add an ACCEPT rule for UDP port 5002.

In addition, many programmers do not consider the implications of using certain language constructs that can expose an application to attack in non-obvious ways. Finally, many applications have complex configurations, and security can be reduced by inexperienced users who deploy applications with risky options enabled.

Application layer attacks fall into one of three categories:

Exploits for programming bugs Application development is a complex endeavor, and inevitably programming errors are made. In some cases, these bugs can cause serious vulnerabilities that are remotely accessible over the network. Good examples include a buffer overflow vulnerability derived from the usage of an unsafe C library function, web-centric vulnerabilities such as a webserver that passes unsanitized queries to a backend database (which can result in an SQL injection attack), and sites that post unfiltered content derived from users (which can result in Cross-Site Scripting or XSS attacks).

Exploits for trust relationships Some attacks exploit trust relationships instead of attacking application programming bugs. Such attacks look completely legitimate as far as the interaction with the application itself is concerned, but they target the trust people place on the usage of the application. Phishing attacks are a good example; the target is not a web application or mail server—it is the person interpreting a phishing website or email message.

Resource exhaustion Like network or transport layer DoS attacks, applications can sometimes suffer under mountains of data input. Such attacks render applications unusable for everyone.

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