Monday, July 02, 2012


Liferay Portal: Automation (Part Four)

This is part four of a seven part analysis of Liferay Portal and its security model. I previously covered authentication, authorization and services. Today, I will focus on the problem space of automation...

The most popular method of preventing automation attacks in many web sites is to leverage a Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart otherwise known as CAPTCHA. Liferay provides the ability to raise a CAPTCHA challenge at registration time, but doesn't provide any additional configurable opportunities to leverage this mechanism in other parts of the portal lifecycle.

One could envision that at some level, the notion of a CAPTCHA could be incorporated into authorization where it may be useful to know that a given identity is actually controlled by a human and not automation. This is especially useful if the access is via the portal and not the services interface. Another usage scenario would be to require CAPTCHA for all administrative access that occurs from non-trusted IP addresses.

It is important to note that over time CAPTCHA as a mechanism is getting weaker. It's common knowledge that Captchas are fundamentally unable to fully guarantee application security, but they do protect against certain threats. Currently, using tools such as DeCaptcha, attackers can gain anywhere up to 70% automation success in breaking many forms of Captcha so alternative mechanisms are needed.

Insufficient Anti-automation occurs when a web application permits an attacker to automate a process that was originally designed to be performed only in a manual fashion, i.e. by a human web user.

Web application functionality that is often a target for automation attacks may include (comments in Red):
Anyway, I hope that the Liferay community will consider making improvements in this regard. The next topic will be a security analysis of passwords and other misc functionality...

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