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54F3 Ads on Unmask Parasites Site

   09 Sep 09   Filed in Unmask Parasites

As you know, Unmask Parasites is a free independent service. And I hope it will always be free. However, to be able to pay my bills, I placed Google’s contextual ads on this site.

I think, Google AdSense worked well for me (not great though). I didn’t have to search for sponsors – Google picked the most relevant ads from their vast advertizing network for me. The ads are almost guaranteed to be safe (you know, some ad networks fail to detect banners that contain malicious code). And the earnings were enough to pay for the site hosting and domain names (these are the only direct expenses I have).

This month, as an experiment, I decided to accept Jason Remillard‘s offer and replaced AdSense block at the top of Unmask Parasites report pages with a banner of his 54f3.com service.

Why did I do it?

I think this is beneficial for all parties. I get more money to maintain and improve Unmask Parasites. 54f3.com gets a chance to reach a highly targeted audience of webmasters and site owners concerned with security issues. And, finally, Unmask Parasites users will see ads more relevant to their needs than contextual AdSense blocks (that usually advertise enterprise network security solutions that cost thousands of dollars while my site is used mainly by owners of small and medium websites).

What is 54f3.com?

54F3 stands for ‘SAFE’ in L33t language. 54f3.com is a service that regularly scans websites for thousands of known security vulnerabilities and lets you shut them down before hackers have a chance to exploit them. They also provide a web seal that indicates the date of the last scan. You can place this seal on your site to increase your customers’ confidence.

Review.

Unmask Parasites is not affiliated with 54f3.com. They just pay for their banner placement on my site. However I feel responsibility for the content of my site and before placing the banner, I gave 54f3 service a try (they have a free 5 day trial) to make sure they really do what they claim on their site.

It very easy to get started. You need to register with 54f3.com and submit the address of your site. That’s it. Nothing to install.

Every day during the trial I received email notifications that contained results of the latest scan and offered to download the detailed report from the client area.

Example of scan results:

High Severity Issues: 1
Medium Severity Issues: 3
Low Severity Issues: 5

The detailed report is a PDF document (16 pages in my case) that contains a lot of useful information about your web site (i.e. opened ports, detected services, etc.) and a list of found security issues.

Information about every issue comprises of four main sections: Description, Impact, Affected Items and Recommendations.

Example:

Description
A possible sensitive directory has been found. This directory is not directly linked from the website. This check looks for known sensitive directories like: backup directories, database dumps, administration pages, temporary directories. Each ofthose directories may help an attacker to learn more about his target.
Impact
This directory may expose sensitive information that may help an malicious user to prepare more advanced attacks.
Recommendation
Restrict access to this directory or remove it from the website.
Affected items
a list of affected directories and sample HTTP responses that reveal those directories here.

In my web server logs I found a lot of requests from 54f3 scanners that tried to find XSS vulnerabilities.

The detailed reports with relevant information and my server logs prove that the service description on their site is correct.

Issues

At the same time the trial revealed some issues that I can’t keep silent about. These issues are actually the other side of the strengths of 54f3′s service.

As one of their banners says, “20,000+ vulnerabilities tested”. This may significantly load your web server. For example, during one 10-minute session their scanners produced about 4,500 requests (almost 8 requests/second). Six hours later, during the next 10-minute session, they generated 8,000 more requests (13 requsts/second). These two 10-minute sessions produced 2 MBytes of server logs. So make sure that your server (or your hosting plan) can handle such a load.

They also check for vulnerabilities of contact forms. And if you have a contact form without a captcha be prepared to receive hundreds of emails from addresses like this one cat /etc/passwd <111-222-1933email@address.tst> every day.

Users with sites on shared hosting plans should be aware that 54f3 scans the whole server and may report problems that are out of your conrol (like open ports) and some of them may be not relevant to you (i.e. depricated SSL protocols if your site doesn’t use secure connections). This problems may still characterize the overall web server’s security and you might want to pass them on to your hosting provider.

I should also mention that I don’t know how good this service is at detecting malicious content since the site I checked wasn’t hacked.

Summary

So, if any of the above issues are serious for you, 54F3 is probably not what you need. For small static sites on cheap shared hosting plans it is overkill. But if you operate a business website on a dedicated server (or VPS) and store sensitive data online, you definitely need something like 54F3. Everything in between might be also interested in a thorough vulnerability scan.

Here is a good quote from their FAQ:

? What type of site is 54F3 suitable for?
54F3 works with any site really, but it’s primarily aimed for sites handling data and money that must comply with regulations.

In the conclusion, I should say that their pricing starts at $30/month.

Want to work with Unmask Parasites?

If you are interested in sponsoring Unmask Parasites or in any other sort of cooperation, feel free to contact me. I’m open to any offers.

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