A Complete Guide to Web Application Security

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Today, businesses rely upon web applications more than ever. However, while online accessibility undeniably offers many benefits to employees, customers, and companies, the increase in the use of web-based applications has attracted the attention of malicious hackers, making web application security a crucial countermeasure to combat cyber threats. 

What Is Web Application Security?

Web application security refers to practices associated with preventing malicious attacks against online apps. Free vulnerability scans provide a starting point; however, sophisticated online criminals have learned to stay ahead of the databases on which these free tools rely.

Some paid scanning software relies on a frequently updated database of known attacks and artificial intelligence that can send alerts based on suspicious behaviors. However, a full penetration test can uncover web app vulnerabilities by combining high-tech vulnerability scans and the insights of trained security professionals who will mimic today’s hackers’ actions and strategies. These insights reveal hidden vulnerabilities, providing an action plan to remediate your web app security weaknesses before digital criminals can exploit them.

Common Types Of Web Application Vulnerabilities

As the name implies, web application vulnerabilities refer to security flaws in online applications. Web applications may be prone to security weaknesses because they provide sensitive data and are developed for multiple users across various platforms. Also, even though web apps may require login credentials to access, hackers can typically find the login pages and information about the app on the open internet.

According to recent research from Verizon, attacks on web applications made up 39% of all breaches, making it a top attack pattern for organizations operating their business functions in the cloud. With the rise of remote work and the increased popularity of conducting business online, malicious users’ number of opportunities to breach digital apps also increased. Some common examples of web application security threats include: 

  • Cross-site Scripting: Cross-site scripting, often called XSS, accounted for over fourteen percent of web app security issues. For example, attackers can use XSS vulnerabilities to forge cookies on their own devices that will let them impersonate credentialed users. It’s often particularly problematic because of the time it takes to address these issues and how difficult some organizations find it to impose standards that prevent common repeating mistakes.
  • SQL Injection: Hackers have used various methods to inject their SQL instructions into insecure code for years. This CVE accounts for almost six percent of web app vulnerabilities. Even worse, the report found that it took an average of over 70 days to uncover and remediate these problems.
  • Server Misconfigurations and Outdated/Unpatched Software: Server misconfigurations and, even more commonly, outdated or unpatched versions of server software accounted for the largest share of vulnerabilities.

Defending Against Web Application Attacks

Penetration testing uses application-specific vulnerability scans and highly trained people who can emulate the actions of hackers. These tests will uncover existing security issues and provide an action plan to address them, allowing organizations to remediate existing problems and develop policies to prevent new ones.

Web application security testing particularly matters in light of Edgescan categorizing almost thirty-five percent of all internet-facing security vulnerabilities as high risk. Internal, intranet applications fared even worse. Over 40 percent of security issues for internal software earned a high-risk classification. If a malicious hacker can exploit these vulnerabilities, they can steal sensitive data, take down critical systems and, almost always, damage a company’s reputation.

Besides choosing methods and tools for testing web app security, organizations should consider including these suggestions in their testing plans:

  • Establish Testing Schedules: Businesses should plan to test all apps periodically. Prioritize the most sensitive and critical apps for frequent testing. Test new apps as early as possible: The earlier in their lifecycle that businesses can run tests, the less likely they’ll need to backtrack or, in the worst case, risk-sensitive data and systems.
  • Prioritize Security Remediation: In addition to having developers fix security gaps, ensure that somebody takes ownership over applying security patches and updating software with new releases.

Types Of Web Application Security Testing

Secure organizations use these kinds of web application security testing to uncover vulnerabilities:

Dynamic Application Security Testing

Often called DAST, dynamic application security testing looks for security weaknesses that attackers might exploit. Because DAST tools don’t need to examine source code, this method offers a good solution for frequent, fast testing.

Static Application Security Testing

SAST methods and tools must comb through source code to take longer than DAST methods. On the other hand, SAST can pinpoint security issues down to the exact lines of code. As a result, organizations might use SAST with new development on systems that have never been scanned before and after modifying existing apps. However, no tool is perfect, and manual review is always recommended.

Web Application Penetration Testing

Although some scanning software utilizes machine intelligence to pick up on novel threats, these tools rely on a database of known threats and typical attack behavior. With web application penetration testing, a skilled security professional will approach an application the same way a sophisticated hacker would. These pen testers can uncover potential exploits that scanners miss. They can also provide action plans to remediate problems.

Learn more about RedTeam Security’s Web Application Penetration Testing services

Developing A Security Testing Program For Web Applications

According to a recent Forrester Research survey, 42 percent of organizations blamed discovered security holes on insecure applications. Of these, hackers most commonly targeted web applications. The survey respondents said that flawed environments or buggy source code accounted for more external security problems than any other single issue.

To protect themselves from these threats, organizations develop application security testing programs. These programs provide a process that businesses can use to assess and address threats continually. They also help companies acquire the necessary information to balance risk levels against resources and prioritize tasks to remediate problems.

Why Develop A Security Testing Program For Applications?

Security teams must work with user departments and third-party providers to develop, implement, and maintain their security testing program. Everybody involved needs to prioritize security as a non-negotiable functional requirement at the start of a project. Just as important, stakeholders must ensure they maintain vigilance throughout the project’s lifetime. A business that has already relied upon an application for years doesn’t offer assurance against new security threats.

Key Features Of Application Security Testing Programs

An effective testing program will help spot security weaknesses and provide the information needed to reduce the risk of exposure to threats before they occur. A practical application security testing program should:

  1. Address Security Vulnerabilities Early in the Development or Procurement Phase: Security is a functional requirement to develop custom applications or use open-source apps or APIs.
  2. Encourage Collaboration Between Security and Other Stakeholders: Security departments should work with development teams or procuring departments to develop plans and checklists to ensure built-in protection against current and future threats. They can select tools and establish policies to ensure proper maintenance of secure software and the best practices to keep it safe.
  3. Choose the Best Security Tools and Monitors: Good security vulnerability scans may partially rely upon a database of known exploits. Because not all vulnerabilities are known, better tools also use machine intelligence to monitor suspicious behavior. Take advantage of demos and trials to ensure that the selected tools work well in the company’s unique environment.
  4. Consider the “Human” Factor: Don’t neglect developing solid policies to ensure immediate application of updates and security patches. For example, a recent Flexera report found that over 80 percent of all application security issues already had patches on the day of their public announcement. Simultaneously, a Barracuda study reported that 13 percent of respondents hadn’t patched their applications in over a year, and an additional 21 percent did so less than once a month. Swift action will reduce the chance that hackers can exploit any issues.
  5. Include Ongoing Web Application Penetration Testing: An in-depth security program may include human-led penetration testing. Pen tests consist of highly skilled security experts who try to breach systems by using the same methods that even the most advanced hackers rely upon. These tests will further assure that an organization’s security can stay ahead of online criminals, provide an action plan, and help assess various risk levels to prioritize addressing them.

The many benefits of web apps have attracted businesses’ attention; however, these apps’ vulnerabilities have also gained hackers’ eyes. No company wants to take unreasonable risks with their business security. Attackers can exploit security issues to steal valuable information, take over essential systems, and cause irreparable, reputational damage. By testing web applications, organizations can significantly reduce risks and preserve the value of their online assets. RedTeam Security’s certified cybersecurity professionals are ready to discuss your unique project needs. Schedule a meeting or call us at (952) 836-2770 to get started today.

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