First off - I will come clean and admit that this review is biased on several levels. Since the public facing web application security community is small, any published work or presentation will draw the attention of others in the field and often conversations/reviews/blog comments will ensue. Why mention this? Well, Dafydd reviewed XSS Attacks on his blog - a book I co-authored along with other much bigger players in the field. I also have a bit of admiration for Burp, a program Dafydd wrote and is highlighted in most any valuable web app book. So, to say I have no connections to the authors would be misleading - to say the least.
Now, for the book - just buy it, you won't be disappointed. As I read through the book (scanning some of the familiar parts), I was overwhelmed with the fact that a full time web application penetration tester has to known A LOT - all of which this book touches on in one way or another. I really can't think of any other book that can compete...
For those new to the field, either as security professionals or as web developers, this book will most likely leave you a bit reeling. It does a good job illustrating and demonstrating the many facets of secure web app development. For the more seasoned professional, this book will no doubt serve as a resource to refresh your memory on a trick or technique you forgot about. I know it has already served this purpose for me...
So, where do I start with a more detailed expose on the book? Personally, I would start by reading chapter 20 - A Web Application Hackers Methodology. By doing this, you will get a look into the minds of the authors who spend a significant part of their lives breaking web apps. You will also gain an understanding as to why the book is laid out the way it is - simply because it is how an attack/penetration test is performed. Don't expect to understand everything in detail as this will come later. However, you should quickly get the feeling that this book is going to be an interesting read that you can quickly turn into practical coding/attack techniques.
The book is broken down in to several big parts. The first section will acclimate you to the terms, concepts, and environment that the rest of the book builds upon. This includes a brief look at each of the main sections of the server technology, how a web application functions, and an overview of the attack surface you are about to be exposed to.
The second section starts to take a look at the web application from an attacker's point of view by illustrating numerous ways that an application can be mapped for later analysis. If you are a web developer, chances are you will find that one or more of the techniques discussed will cause a bit of a concern as to how information is stored on your site - you can never assume anything on your web server is safe.
The big section of the book is where you find the fun stuff. Basically, the authors walk through the following stages of a web application attacks - authentication, session management, access control, code injection, web server bugs, logic errors, and compiled application reverse-engineering. In each section, you get a really in depth and comprehensive look at most every attack vector and technique that web application hackers (both good and bad) use to meet their goals.
One of the nice things about this book is that it is not just all theory. They include practical and pointed examples that illustrate the problem, but don't waste your time with pages and pages of source code that serve no purpose but to fill space. At 736 pages, the book doesn't need filler.
In addition to the exploit examples, the authors also provide the much needed `protection' aspect so web developers know how they can shore up their applications against the specific attacks. In my experience, knowing how to secure a web application is often harder than knowing how to break it - so seeing this in the book is a indication of the insight of the authors.
There were three sections that I paid close attention to - partly because I have a vested interest in the subject, and also because it is how I like to present concepts. The first was chapter 11, which covers Attacking Application Logic. In this chapter, the authors used a Function - Assumption - Attack process to outline the problem and how it was exploited. Since logic errors are 100% based on human error, it is very hard to categorize and illustrate without a good example. So, not only did I get to see how others failed, and how this failure resulted in an attack, but it read like a story.
The next section was chapter 12 - Attacking Other Users. This section dove into subjects like XSS, XSRF, and the like - all of which I enjoy as indicated by my work on XSS Attacks book.
And last, but not least, I really liked that the book discussed one aspect of web application security that is often overlooked - reverse-engineering of client side `thick client'. Whether this is a Flash, Java, ActiveX or C++ coded program, it is possible to reverse-engineer the client side code to inject unexpected content into a web based application. So, kudos to the authors for presenting this attack vector.
So, is there anything wrong with the book? Well, except for the fact that it could be bigger - no. This book is an excellent way to understand most every attack out there and it will be a valuable resource for any web developer/security professional. If you want more specific details on a subject, you can find that material elsewhere - Cross Site Scripting Attacks: XSS Exploits and Defense, The Database Hacker's Handbook: Defending Database Servers, and Exploiting Online Games: Cheating Massively Distributed Systems (Addison-Wesley Software Security Series) are a few examples.
Let's sum this up. The Web Application Hackers Handbook is a worth while investment, so go buy it.