Aspect Security Researchers Discover Remote Code Vulnerability in the Spring Framework

Aspect Security Researchers Discover Remote Code Vulnerability in the Spring Framework

Aspect Security, a pioneer in application security, today announced that its researchers have Discovered a significant security vulnerability in the Spring Framework. Exclusive data from Sonatype, the operator of the Central Repository, the industry's primary source for open-source components, shows that more than 1.3 million vulnerable instances of the Spring Framework has been downloaded by more than 22,000 organizations worldwide.

Spring is an open-source framework used by Java developers to build business-critical applications. The Expression Language (EL) vulnerability enables an attacker to use a remote code execution to invoke functionality and take over a machine or the organization's entire network. Once an attacker exploits this weakness, the enterprise loses control of the business systems built on the Spring Framework.

Dubbed Remote Code with Expression Language Injection by Arshan Dabirsiaghi, Director of Research, Aspect Security and Stefano DiPaola, CTO of Minded Security, this flaw was Discovered nearly 20 months ago and resulted in a fix by VMware in the latest version of the Spring Framework. Further research conducted by Aspect Security engineer Dan Amodio has uncovered additional issues that elevate the severity of the flaw, and Aspect cautions that additional steps need to be taken in order to protect organizations from Expression Language Injection vulnerabilities.

"It's difficult to quantify the depth and breadth of this problem since not every application is vulnerable, but any organization using Spring 3.0.5 or earlier is still at risk as these versions do not support disabling the double EL resolution," said Amodio. "The vulnerability leads to remote code execution, which can be devastating to an entire infrastructure. Many organizations are still using outdated components, which don't provide added protections by disabling this functionality. Even more alarming is that these flawed components are still being used to build applications which can present long-term security risks if gone unmanaged."

To keep applications free from third-party attacks and performance issues, Aspect Security recommends IT managers and developers using Spring update their libraries and opt-out of enabling double EL resolution. To avoid similar security instances in the future, organizations should consider Component Lifecycle Management (CLM) products that ensure the integrity of component-based software by analyzing usage, enforcing policy during development and delivering fixes for flawed components.

The widespread use of insecure libraries and frameworks is not a new dilemma for the open source software community. In March 2012, Aspect Security in conjunction with Sonatype, released a study entitled, "The Unfortunate Reality of Insecure Libraries." The report documented 113 million downloads from the Central Repository of the 31 most popular Java frameworks and security libraries. Used by developers around the world, the Central Repository (operated by Sonatype) contains more than 400,000 components and receives eight billion requests per year. The report concluded that modern software relies heavily on open source, but users are not update aware - with one in three of the most popular components having older, vulnerable versions still being commonly downloaded, even when a newer version, with the security fix, was available. Other key findings from the report include:

  • 29.8 million (26 percent) of library downloads have known vulnerabilities
  • The most downloaded vulnerable libraries were GWT, Xerces, Spring MVC, and Struts 1.x
  • Security libraries are slightly more likely to have a known vulnerability than frameworks
  • Based on typical vulnerability rates, the vast majority of library flaws remain undiscovered
  • Neither presence nor absence of historical vulnerabilities is a useful security indicator
  • Typical Java applications are likely to include at least one vulnerable library

"The Remote Code with Expression Language Injection Discovered by Aspect Security illustrates the importance of understanding how software vulnerabilities affect the downstream development ecosystem," said Ryan Berg, CSO of Sonatype, the world leader in Component Lifecycle Management products. "Development teams need flexible, proactive solutions that help manage these risks throughout the development lifecycle, so that organizations can trust that the components being used to build mission-critical applications are up-to-date and free from security vulnerabilities."