Saturday, November 21, 2009

The OWASP Mission

Original document at

OWASP AppSec DC 2009 Conference
Jeff Williams, OWASP Board Chair
The OWASP Mission

First I’d like to introduce the OWASP Board (Tom, Dave, Dinis,
Seba, and myself)
The board runs the OWASP Foundation, the 501c3 nonprofit which
provides support for all the activities that happen at OWASP. Like all
the people involved in OWASP, we volunteer our time to make the
project a success. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank each of
you for all the hard work you do to make OWASP a success.
I’d also like to thank Joe for the thoughtful keynote and for focusing
on the entire software supply chain. His focus on malicious intent is
right on and I’ll be talking about that extensively tomorrow.
If you combine all the materials available through his program and
what’s available at OWASP, we’ve got ALL the right stuff out there.
But we are still losing ground.

For years, we have watched as the software market fails to
produce secure applications.
Increasingly, this situation is worsening and there are two key
factors. First, the reliance that we put on our software infrastructure
increases every day. Application software controls our finances,
healthcare information, legal records, and even our military
defenses. Secondly, application software is growing and
interconnecting at an unprecedented rate. The sheer size and
complexity of our software infrastructure are staggering and
present novel security challenges every day.
While we have made some progress in security over the last decade,
our efforts have been almost completely eclipsed by these factors.
The software market and security experts still struggle to eliminate
even simple well-understood problems. Take cross-site scripting
(XSS) for example. In the last decade, XSS has grown from a
curiousity to a problem to an epidemic. Today, XSS has surpassed
the buffer overflow as the most prevalent security vulnerability of all
time. It’s the same for SQL injection. And CSRF will follow the same
pattern too.
These problems, while technically simple, have proven
extraordinarily difficult to eradicate. We can no longer afford to
tolerate software that contains this kind of easily discovered and
exploited vulnerabilities. Read about the RBS WorldPay attack from
this week – the level of coordination and sophistication required to
pull off this attack are stunning.
In addition to risks like this, we are already seriously limiting
innovation in the development of applications that can improve the

Why doesn’t the software market produce secure software?
It’s possible that the risks we focus on are overblown and that the
market is actually working to produce an optimal level of security in
our applications. But the other possibility is that the software
market is broken. Despite what you might hear in economics class,
markets are not perfect. They have failures like monopolies, pricefixing,
and speculative bubbles.
One classic market problem was detailed in a Nobel Prize winning
paper by George Akerlof called “The Market for Lemons.” Basically
he showed that when sellers have more information than buyers –
like when you’re selling your used car that barely runs – buyers will
discount the price they’re willing to pay. That means people with
good cars can’t get a fair price and so they won’t sell. And that
means you can only buy lemons in the used car market.
Now think about that for software. Buyers really can’t tell the
difference between secure software and insecure software. So
they’re not willing to pay more for security.
We need radical innovative ideas to fix the software market. We are
not going to “hack our way secure” – it’s going to take a culture
The automobile industry made the change over at 30 year period
after Ralph Nader exposed the industry….and today we have cars
that have safety features. The food industry made the change but
only after the FDA started the Nutrition Facts program. Even the
cigarette industry has been dramatically changed through
campaigns like the “Truth…” campaign.
The OWASP mission is to make application security visible. Creating
transparency goes directly to the heart of what is wrong with the
software market and has the potential to actually change the game.

Why is OWASP the right approach?
OWASP is a worldwide free and open community focused on
improving the security of application software. Everyone is free to
participate in OWASP and all of our materials are available under a
free and open software license.
In many ways, we’re like public radio. This allows us to reach a very
broad audience and it makes it possible for us to avoid difficult
commercial relationships that influence our activities. This freedom
from commercial pressures allows us to provide unbiased, practical,
cost-effective information about application security.
I believe this objectivity is absolutely critical. For too long, much of
the appsec information in the market has come from people selling
stuff, and our message has been lost.

What is OWASP doing?
Yesterday, OWASP Leaders from around the world got together to
discuss our progress and set our priorities for 2010. Each of our
Global Committees reviewed their accomplishments and we
discussed the agenda for the future. We just established these
committees last year and they are already making huge progress
establishing the foundation we need to achieve our mission.
Before I ask Tom to review our 2010 agenda,

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