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Attacks against vulnerabilities in web-based and other application software have been a top priority for criminal organisations in recent years. Application software that does not properly check the size of user input, fails to sanitise user input by filtering out unneeded but potentially malicious character sequences, or does not initialise and clear variables properly could be vulnerable to remote compromise.

Attackers can inject specific exploits, including buffer overflows, SQL injection attacks, cross-site scripting, cross-site request forgery, and click-jacking of code to gain control over vulnerable machines.

To avoid such attacks, both internally developed and third-party application software must be carefully tested to find security flaws. For third-party application software, enterprises should verify that vendors have conducted detailed security testing of their products. For in-house developed applications, enterprises must conduct such testing themselves or engage an outside firm to conduct it.

Computer attackers deploy systems that continuously scan address spaces of target organizations looking for vulnerable versions of software that can be remotely exploited. Some attackers also distribute hostile web pages, document files, media files, and other content via their own web pages or otherwise trustworthy third-party sites.

When unsuspecting victims access this content with a vulnerable browser or other client-side program, attackers compromise their machines, often installing backdoor programs and bots that give the attacker long-term control of the system. Some sophisticated attackers may use zero-day exploits, which take advantage of previously unknown vulnerabilities for which no patch has yet been released by the software vendor. Without proper knowledge or control of the software deployed in an organisation, defenders cannot properly secure their assets.

Without the ability to inventory and control which programs are installed and allowed to run on their machines, enterprises make their systems more vulnerable. Such poorly controlled machines are more likely to be either running software that is unneeded for business purposes, introducing potential security flaws, or running malware introduced by a computer attacker after a system is compromised.

Once a single machine has been exploited, attackers often use it as a staging point for collecting sensitive information from the compromised system and from other systems connected to it.

In addition, compromised machines are used as a launching point for movement throughout the network and partnering networks. In this way, attackers may quickly turn one compromised machine into many. Organisations that do not have complete software inventories are unable to find systems running vulnerable or malicious software to mitigate problems or root out attackers.