14 April 2013

ConTest (meetup) - Security Testing

What is ConTest?
ConTest (link in Swedish) is a local test meetup in Malmö, Sweden started by Henrik Andersson (please correct me if I'm lying). Each meetup they have a theme and participants provide content by sharing short presentations/lightnings talks (approx 5 mins) that are followed by a facilitated discussion.

First Talk: Martin Thulin: Learning Security Testing
Martin, just like me, started exploring the world of security testing quite recently. In his talk he went through his top three resources for self-education in security testing:
  • Google security blog
    General information about online security
    Great cheat sheets, basic security information, list of security testing tools and much much more.
  • Hack this site
    Step by step hacking challenges used for practice/learning.
But maybe most importantly he shared the message:
"Anyone can become a hacker"

Great topic and great presentation!

In the discussion that followed tons of resources came up. I won't list them all here, instead I urge you to check out the #foocontest hashtag in Twitter..

Second Talk: Me: Quick Tests in Security Testing
Quick tests are cheap (quick, simple, low resource), general tests that usually indicate the existence, or potential existence, of a common problem or group or problems. Even though rarely proving the absence of a certain problem they can often be a good start to help you highlight common problems early (disclaimer: this definition/description of quick tests might not match with James Bach's and Michael Bolton's that is used e.g. in RST).

I spoke about two quick tests (for web) I've used:
  • Refresh
  • Cocktail string
Refresh means whenever I find a page that seems to make a lot of database calls, heavy calculations or connect to external servers (like an email or SMS server) I simply press and hold F5 (refresh) for a short while. What I'm looking for doing this is database errors, any changes in content/design, error messages in general and a finally fully context dependent stuff like received mails when the page is calling an email server or alarming patterns in logs.

In practice I've used this to take down a couple of databases (or rather connection to the databases). Simple and effective. Credits to Joel Rydén by the way who taught me this.

The idea with the Cocktail String is described in a separate post.

As a bonus I can provide you with a few other:

  • Scramble cookies
    Just quickly change the contents of cookies a page creates. Try both to generate errors by e.g. use strings where a number is set, use other plausible values (0 is always interesting, negative values as well) and combine with the cocktail string.
  • Back button
    When viewing sensitive data, log out and try pressing back. Is the data visible? Common and scary bug in some systems (systems expected to be used on any shared computer/handling very sensitive data), irrelevant in others (remember browsers deal with caching differently).
  • Bob
    When creating an account first try password "bob". It's so insecure very few systems should allow it (but does).
Final Talk: Sigurdur Birgisson: Security, Usability... huh?
I was a bit disappointed about Sigge's talk, not that it was bad (it was actually awesome) but because I was hoping he would share something really smart about how to deal with the often conflicting wishes of security and usability (like captcha). It also had very little to do with security testing, but who cares...

So what was it about? Sigge talked about how he thought the quality characteristics (CRUSSPIC STMPL mnemonic) were often interpreted as too abstract when talking to stakeholders. Instead he used the Software Quality Characteristics published on the Test Eye. What he did was he printed a card for each "sub characteristic" and, for best effect, tried to add matching examples from the product examined. The goals were both to get the cards (characteristics) prioritized to aid the testing focus, to support a healthier discussion of what the product needed to do as well as to make stakeholders care for them (it's not just about new features).

- It must be quick, quick is above everything else!
- What about data integrity?
When I said that, the customer started to hesitate
// Sigge

Henrik Andersson also shared an interesting story related to this presentation where he had gotten the top managers in a company to prioritize the original 8 quality characteristics (CRUSSPIC) in the context of a product and used this both when testing and when reporting status. Brilliant as well!

There are a lot more to say about this presentation and I might get back to it in the future. For now, just check out Sigges blog. Finally it made me think of ways to improve my own ongoing prioritization job with my product owner, for that I'm really grateful!

Summary of ConTest
Great people, great mix of people, great discussions, great presentations, great facility, great to meet Sigge before his Australia adventure, great to meet Henrik Andersson for the first time, great to try ConTest's format and great to get new insights about security testing. ConTest was a blast! Thank you Malmö, Foo Café and all the ConTest participants!


  1. Erik,
    Can u give me the link - u tried to show "Refresh Quick test" ?

    1. Not following. .. There is no link involved? Simply go to any page you want to stress test and press and hold refresh.?

    2. Many say, You should not do press F5 during any order transactions in
      testing. Is it correct?

  2. Erik,
    Can u give us a example: How to use "Bob" ?

    1. Any registration form, if you have some kind of user login in the product you're testing that user has some kind of credentials (like a password), try setting this to bob

  3. Thanks for sharing the post.

    Spell check: Ste by step - "Step by Step"

    Srinivas Kadiyala

  4. It's so insecure very few systems should allow it (but does).

    Is this: shouldnt allow it (but does) ?

    Srinivas Kadiyala