Web applications are a critical part of any organization’s IT infrastructure. They allow employees to access critical business data and processes while interacting with customers and partners. However, web applications pose unique security risks that make them more vulnerable to attacks than other types of software. To mitigate these risks, organizations must ensure their web applications are thoroughly tested for vulnerabilities before launch and protected with appropriate security controls after launch.
Web Application Development – Security Risks
Web application development has grown in popularity, but it comes with risks. Some of the most common security-related issues are:
- Insufficient logging and monitoring
- Insecure code
- Poorly managed data access control lists (DACLs)
- Unauthorized software installation or activation on a trusted machine (adware)
These are just a few examples of why web app security is a big business issue today. The risks are real, but thankfully there are ways you can mitigate them using modern practices like DevSecOps and SCA tools.
According to Stack Overflow, a “SQL Injection is a code injection technique used to attack data-driven applications in which malicious SQL statements are inserted into an entry field for execution.” The resulting actions performed on the back-end database server depend on the attacker’s intent; if this is to gain access or control of a web application, it may result in information disclosure, data modification, or remote code execution.
SQL Injection attacks can be mitigated by:
- Use parameterized queries – Instead of passing user input directly into a dynamic SQL query, pass parameters and execute them separately. This will prevent an attacker from modifying your queries and breaking into your database server via an SQL injection attack. Also, carefully validate all user input before storing it in tables at run time or during the design phase.
- Use stored procedures – You should use stored procedures rather than dynamic statements whenever possible because stored procedures have less probability of being vulnerable to SQL injection attacks.
Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)
Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) attacks occur when an attacker injects malicious code into a website. The code is executed in the victim’s browser and can be used to steal cookies, hijack sessions and perform other attacks. XSS attacks are often used in phishing or drive-by download attacks, two of the most common attacks on web applications today.
XSS vulnerabilities allow malware to be injected into vulnerable web applications and executed by unsuspecting users. If you want to ensure that your web application does not fall prey to XSS vulnerabilities, follow these tips:
- Use robust input validation techniques so that you can prevent any characters from being entered into text fields that could compromise security;
- Use output encoding techniques so that any outputted data is encoded correctly before being sent across a network or stored on disk;
- Ensure that all input data is properly escaped before being rendered as HTML, and
- Use a code review process that includes manual testing of any application-side scripts.
Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF)
CSRF is a cross-site scripting attack that allows an attacker to take actions on your site without authorization. It’s often used by malicious hackers who want to compromise your site and steal personal data.
The basic principle behind CSRF is that a malicious hacker creates a link or form which, when clicked, acts as the victim’s browser without their knowledge — such as changing their password or making an expensive purchase. The hacker can then send this link/form via email or social media and wait for people to click it; once someone does, they’ve been hacked!
There are two main ways you can mitigate this risk:
- Use tokens in forms – This will allow you to verify if a user has already completed an action (such as logging into another website). If they haven’t completed it yet, any attempts at completing it will fail because the necessary token won’t be present.
Broken Authentication and Session Management
Broken authentication and session management are two of the most common vulnerabilities in web applications. It occurs when an attacker can access a user’s account without the correct credentials. This can happen when an application doesn’t verify that a user has provided valid credentials for accessing their account or when it does not invalidate inactive sessions that are still valid.
This risk could lead to a data breach if an attacker exploits this vulnerability to access sensitive information from your web application.
To mitigate this risk, you should:
- Use passwords that are difficult to guess or crack
- Configure your server to automatically expire inactive sessions on users’ browsers (and servers) after some amount of time (30 minutes is often recommended)
- Implement two-factor authentication (2FA) for users who have administrative privileges to prevent attackers from compromising their accounts. You should also ensure that your application’s code is tested and well-documented.
Sensitive Data Exposure
Sensitive data exposure is a significant risk for any organization. Sensitive data includes personal information such as names, addresses, and social security numbers. It can also include intellectual property such as source code or trade secrets.
The following techniques can help you mitigate the risk of sensitive data exposure:
- Encrypting Data In Transit – Use TLS/SSL to encrypt all communications with the application.
- Encrypting Data At Rest – Use robust encryption algorithms to store sensitive information in the database, like the AES-256 encryption algorithm instead of the MD5 hashing algorithm, considered weak by today’s standards, to protect your user’s passwords and other authentication credentials. In contrast, they are stored in your database server or cache memory.
- Using Identity And Access Management Controls To Manage User Accounts And Privileges – Create a separate user account just for testing purposes and disable it after testing is done so that no one else can log in to this account in the production environment accidentally; Disable unnecessary rights (e.g., delete) from test accounts which may lead to accidental deletion of important files if used by mistake during the testing phase; Give developer role only those permissions which are required for development work like writing code into the source control system, etc.
Web applications are vulnerable to a wide range of attacks that can compromise sensitive data and disrupt operations. To mitigate these risks, organizations must prioritize security when developing new web applications or migrating existing ones. Web application security testing is an integral part of the overall risk management strategy because it helps identify many vulnerabilities before they become problems.