Web APIs and applications are increasingly becoming a target. Gartner predicts that by 2022, the #1 attack vector for enterprise applications will be the API. Not only can end-users upload viruses, but attackers can craft specialized attack malware and upload this content through your public web application. Once uploaded, these threats can move through your systems, being stored in cloud storage or databases, and eventually can get executed.

Consider an example: an insurance company allows its users to upload PDFs as part of the claims process. An attacker creates a custom executable and uploads that into the claims UI. Since it has the right file extension (.PDF), the system accepts it and stores it into its database. Because it is a new, 0-day threat it passes through the minimal virus scanning that the company has in place. Later, a claims manager downloads this file onto their computer and opens it — resulting in an endpoint infected with an Advanced Persistent Threat (APT). From the attacker’s perspective, this was actually easier than phishing because they didn’t even need to send any emails.

So how can we protect our Java web applications from threats like this? Basic anti-virus is not enough — we also need the ability to detect threats and invalid content uploads as well. A complete solution to protect our web application needs to be able to do the following:

  1. Scan for viruses and malware
  2. Detect executables
  3. Detect scripts
  4. Detect encrypted/password-protected files
  5. Validate the input file to ensure it is a real content file
  6. Restrict the upload to only specific file types that we wish to support (e.g. PDF)

Here, we’ll look at a free solution for Java that can scan for viruses, but also protect against all of the spear threats and APTs described above.

First, we will install the library using Maven by adding this repository:

And the Maven package:

Now what we want to do is accept the file into memory in our Java application, but we don’t want to store the file yet. First we need to scan the in-memory file to make sure it is safe. If it is not safe, we should release the memory, log all the details of the threat, and warn the user. If it is safe, we should proceed with our normal storage and processing logic. In this way, a potentially infected file is never stored until it has been first scanned for threats.

It is important that the scanning system be fast and optimized for this type of real-time user interaction scenario because we do not want to keep our users waiting.

First, at the top of our controller we should add these imports:

Next, we will add this code to our controller — after the file is uploaded and received into memory, but before it is actually processed or saved into our application:

Note that here, we want to do the following:

  • Set allowExecutable to false because we do not want our users to be able to upload executable files
  • Set allowInvalidFiles to false because we do not want our users to be able to upload invalid PDF files since this could allow threats masquerading as real content to get through
  • Set allowScripts to false because we do not want Python scripts, Shell scripts, etc. being uploaded
  • Set allowPasswordProtectedFiles to false because we do not want any encrypted or password protected files
  • Set restrictFileTypes to “PDF” because we only want PDF files to be uploadable; in this endpoint we will not accept other file formats. If we wished to, we could also list other file formats and types such as docx, png, jpg and so on. The system will understand and validate the contents of the file to make sure it complies with the formats listed. If we leave this field blank or null, no restrictions will apply.
  • Set our API key — you can get a free forever API key from the Cloudmersive website that can scan 1,000 files/month

That’s it! Now we can test our web application by uploading various types of invalid files, executables, and scripts. You can even try renaming the file extension to make sure the files are fully validated and blocked when they are not within our target parameters.

In conclusion, we can see that 360-degree content verification, not just virus scanning, is actually critical to practical endpoint protection.

360-degree verification

By fully configuring our scanning system to protect against the full range of possible 0-day and custom-made threats, we can fully protect our system.



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