HTML Examination & Web Server Examination | Web Application Vulnerability Assessments

One of the most attractive business frontiers is E-commerce. For the first time in history, a business can have its doors open to the entire world where users can make purchases with nothing more than their credit cards in hand. Businesses are drawn to E-commerce to disseminate company information, sell products and services, provide customer service, and gain a competitive advantage. Most organizations with a presence on the World Wide Web have installed preventive and detection controls in the form of installing DMZs, firewalls, and intrusion detection equipment, and hiring competent employees. Senior managers are surprised at what an attacker can do with a Web-browser and a little creativity.

Auditors must be aware there are logical steps in reducing risks, but the majority of vulnerabilities are found in faulty programming, misconfiguration, and absent systems monitoring.

Auditors must be aware that risks are controlled by:

  • Knowing the organization's critical assets

  • Knowing threats and vulnerabilities

  • Implementation and compliance with policies, procedures, and standards; primary concerns include but are not limited to:

  • Change control management

  • Code development and maintenance

  • Quality assurance testing

  • User acceptance testing

  • Effective and continuous audits

  • Continuing risk management

    HTML Examination
    As a logical first step, auditors should carefully examine the HTML, HyperText Markup Language, composition of the organization's Web site. Attackers examine the Web page coding as one of their first steps to gaining as much knowledge as possible about their targets. Basically, auditors should download all the pages comprising the organization's Web site and examine the HTML coding. Often there are valuable programmer comments, passwords, telephone numbers, names, contractor's information, and business addresses, commonly placed within the HTML. For example:

    Welcome to the XYZ Corporation HomePage
    BGCOLOR = "#0000FF" TEXT = #FFFFF">

    San Diego, CA, XXX-555-1234 or e-mail me at alicedoe@ABCWebDe- — >
    An examination of this Web page HTML reveals the XYZ Corporation is using an outsource Web design firm, and the page designer has listed her name and contact information. This information could be very useful to an attacker who was interested in doing a bit of social engineering with Alice Doe or her employer.

    Testing for Indexed Directories
    Auditors should obtain a list of the indexed Web page directories. The manual process is a slow one, where the browser is used to request specific directories. For this reason, it is more expeditious for the auditor to obtain a list of indexed directories from the Web page administrator. However, if a true outside view is sought, the auditor can deploy her browser in this fashion (

    If the browser returns the images directory, it is important for the auditor to examine each and every file related to the Web site. More than once, auditors have discovered files that were not innocent files.

    Experience Note While conducting an audit of a client's Web site, the auditor began to survey the files accessible from the URL address line of the browser, using the format of After downloading the files, it was discovered that one of them contained personally identifiable employee information.

    Web Server Examination
    Auditors may frequently access a company's Web site and determine the presence of specific Web servers. In UNIX and Windows environments, auditors may use the telnet client. By requesting a bogus file, the server file returns an error message and often the Web server will be correctly named. With this knowledge, an attacker merely researches the Internet for known vulnerabilities and executes them. For example:

    # telnet 80
    Connected to
    Escape character is ^
    GET/no-such-page.html HTTP/1.0 (At this time the auditor presses
    the Enter key twice)
    HTTP/1.0 error 404 Not Found
    Server: IIS-1.0 (This is the Internet Information Server version
    Content-Type: text/html
    Content-Length: 295
    Another useful tool for auditors is found at the Web site This tool is useful whether Web sites are SSL, Secure Sockets Layer, enabled. By completing a few entries, the netcraft tool will display information about the particular Web site of interest including the Web server and operating system.

    Experience Note It is possible that savvy administrators have changed the banners in their server responses, so it is beneficial to verify the information before listing it as a possible finding.

    Although this is not considered a high-risk vulnerability, but there are many advantages in concealing system information from attackers. Attackers using techniques to identify the Web server and its version will browse the Internet in an effort to obtain vulnerability information that can be used to exploit the server. So, if they do not have accurate information, they must resort to another means to identify the Web server. It is not a perfect remedy. Efforts to conceal information will often discourage the casual attacker but probably will not dissuade the more-motivated ones.

    In a Window's environment, the HTTP server field may be edited via a hex editor in the W3SVC.DLL file and in a UNIX environment, the TCP/IP stack may be changed following the instructions at It is suggested that the Web server response should be changed to reflect something nonsensical such as Vital O/S 2003.

    There are many advantages in the practice of security through obscurity. Auditors have a variety of tools available when mirroring a Web site. The advantage of mirroring a Web site is that auditors can view it at their leisure and conduct an in-depth review of the HTML as well as its construction. There are Web site mirroring tools at,, and

    Web site mirroring software will generally follow all links on a Web site and copy discovered files to the auditor's hard drive. In configuring them, rules can be set limiting the software to specific domains or preventing downloading certain file types.

    Experience Note WGET is a UNIX tool to mirror Web sites and may be found at

    Once a Web site has been downloaded, the auditor can open the pages in a simple text editor application, such as Notepad or Vi, and review the HTML content. Auditors should review coding for e-mail addresses, names, addresses, passwords, and other information useful to an attacker.
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