INSIGHTS | October 23, 2017

Embedding Defense in Server-side Applications

Applications always contain security flaws, which is why we rely on multiple layers of defense. Applications are still struggling with their defenses, even though we go through exhaustive measures of testing and defense layers. Perhaps we should rethink our approach to application defense, with the goal of introducing defensive methods that cause attackers to cease, or induce them to take incorrect actions based on false premises.


There are a variety of products that provide valuable resources when basic, off-the-shelf protection is required or the application source code is not available. However, implementations in native code provide a greater degree of defense that cannot be achieved using third-party solutions. This document aims to:
  • Enumerate a comprehensive list of current and new defensive techniques.
    Multiple defensive techniques have been disclosed in books, papers and tools. This specification collects those techniques and presents new defensive options to fill the opportunity gap that remains open to attackers.


  • Enumerate methods to identify attack tools before they can access functionalities.
    The tools used by attackers identify themselves in several ways. Multiple features of a request can disclose that it is not from a normal user; a tool may abuse security flaws in ways that can help to detect the type of tool an attacker is using, and developers can prepare diversions and traps in advance that the specific tool would trigger automatically.


  • Disclose how to detect attacker techniques within code.
    Certain techniques can identify attacks within the code. Developers may know in advance that certain conditions will only be triggered by attackers, and they can also be prepared for certain unexpected scenarios.


  • Provide a new defensive approach.
    Server-side defense is normally about blocking malicious IP addresses associated to attackers; however, an attacker’s focus can be diverted or modified. Sometimes certain functionalities may be presented to attackers only to better prosecute them if those functionalities are triggered.


  • Provide these protections for multiple programming languages.
    This document will use pseudo code to explain functionalities that can reduce the effectiveness of attackers and expose their actions, and working proof-of-concept code will be released for four programming languages: Java, Python, .NET, and PHP.
Fernando Arnaboldi appeared at Ruxcon to present defensive techniques that can be embedded in server-side applications. The techniques described are included in a specification, along with sample implementations for multiple programming languages.