Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Your hosted application is a virus vector

We are all used to seeing SaaS as an acronym for Software as a Service. It also doubles as another acronym for the non-functional features of a SaaS architecture. When you're providing a hosted service there are a number of non-functional features that need to be considered such as Scalability, Availability, Agility and Security. I'll flesh out these concepts at a later date as they are all quite broad and encompass a lot of features. Security, for example, includes, but is not limited to ensuring the integrity of the system and the systems that connect to it.

One threat to system integrity is a computer virus. If your hosted application becomes a vector for the dissemination of viruses to your clients system it becomes a threat to your business, not just your systems. So, how do you test you hosted application to make sure infected files are handled properly?

At the beginning of this year I started working on Oracle CRM Sales Library OnDemand, which permits the uploading of documents to be shared with others in your organisation. It provides a rich set of social networking features that enables users to share, rate, review, and tag PowerPoint presentations an MS Word documents so that everyone in your organization can leverage the most effective sales materials. To share a document, or it's contents, it must be uploaded to Sales Library and of course, the upload process involves virus scanning. In fact, virus scanning is the first step. Irrespective of the file type, before any logical validation takes place, such as supported formats, the file is interrogated by an anti-virus system. When a file fails the virus scan, the user has to be informed with meaningful message. So, while your hosted application does not have to be coded with anti-virus logic, it does need to be able to handle and report effectively, when a virus is found.

Once you have this logic in place, you have to be able to test that the behaviour of your application is correct. Now, you don't want your development or testing environment to be using files with viruses to test with. In fact, your organisations anti-malware system would probably prevent you from storing the files anyway. Thankfully, the European Institute for Computer Antivirus Research has a solution. For testing the anti-virus error handling logic in our application we attempt to upload a file with just the EICAR test string as content.


The above is not a virus, but is a test string for anti-malware systems. In unit tests, this can be used as the only content of an InputStream. You should provide a dummy implementation of your virus scan system when unit testing too. Remember, you're not trying to test the anti-virus software. You want to test the behaviour of your application when the anti-virus software reports a virus is found. When testing the deployed Sales Library application, the text file can be saved with a .ppt or .doc extension and then uploaded. The only content of the file should be the test string.

I have yet to find an anti-virus system that does not comply with this EICAR anti-virus test string. A simple test in your own environment will reveal if your anti-virus software does or not. I suspect that it will, and you can proceed with confidence that your hosted application is handling contaminated files properly for the protection of yours and your customers business.

1 comment:

Jayalal Gopi said...

A very interesting and informative article Peter.