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What is Web Security, Threats, Vulnerabilities and Measures

What is Web Application Security?
Web Security Threats and Vulnerabilities

Changing passwords frequently, locking devices, and keeping software updated are common security practices. However, application security can often be an overlooked and vulnerable element.

Web applications have a high likelihood of facing threats triggered by various factors: system failures due to incorrect coding, misconfigured servers, and application design issues.

Vulnerabilities in the application code or the operating system can be exploited by cybercriminals to access databases, servers, and other sensitive data. By exposing sensitive data, hackers proceed to launch ransomware attacks or other forms of online fraud.

Considering that 43% of data breaches are caused by application vulnerabilities, adopting best practices and the right tools is essential to mitigate risks and strengthen web application security.

In this guide, we will cover what web application security is, how it works, and what tools you can use to secure your web application.

What is Web Application Security?

As part of cybersecurity, web application security focuses on safeguarding websites, web-based applications, and online services from various malicious attacks, ensuring their proper functioning and performance.

Web Security Threats and Vulnerabilities

Web application vulnerabilities allow criminals to gain unauthorized control of the source code, manipulate private information, or disrupt the normal functioning of the application.

The international non-profit organization dedicated to web application security, OWASP, has revealed the top 10 security risks of web application layer. Let's look at some of the most common attacks on web applications.

SQL Injection

This type of flaw allows an attacker to manipulate the database queries of an application by injecting code. In most attacks, hackers can retrieve data belonging to other users or related to the application itself, such as passwords, credit card data, and cookies.

When an SQL injection attack goes wrong, the attacker may attempt a denial of service attack or compromise the underlying server or other back-end infrastructure.

Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)

This is a technique widely used to execute code, usually JavaScript, on the target website or application. A successful cross-site scripting attack gives attackers access to the entire application.

An example of an XSS attack is when a hacker exploits the vulnerability of an input field and uses it to inject malicious code into another website.

Hackers have full control over what happens once their targets click on the infected link. The main reason XSS is considered a high-risk security flaw is that it allows the attacker to see the data stored in LocalStorage, SessionStorage, or cookies on the target system. Therefore, no personal data should be stored in these systems.

Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF)

A CSRF attack uses social engineering techniques to trick a user into modifying application data, such as username or password. A CSRF attack requires an application to use session cookies only to identify the user making a request. These cookies are then used to track or validate the user's requests.

Depending on the action the user is forced to complete, the attacker can steal money, accounts, or carry out other attacks on the web application.

Credential Stuffing

Hackers use usernames, emails, and passwords from publicly available data dumps on the dark web to take over user accounts. The illegal data may contain millions of username and password combinations due to years of data breaches on numerous sites. This demonstrates that even old data can be valuable to attackers.

Credential theft is very dangerous, especially in finance. Financial credential stuffing provides cybercriminals with clear access to all your banking account and transaction information, allowing them to apply for loans, use your credit cards, or make bank transfers.

Fake Account Creation

Typically, many businesses promote account creation to track customer behavior and share the latest offers. This makes quick and easy registration an important element, but security can be overlooked. Therefore, it can be as easy for criminals to create fake accounts as any other legitimate customer.

Hackers can create a significant number of user accounts that are not linked to a real person or are made using stolen personal information. These fake accounts can be used to cover credential stuffing practices, take advantage of customer offers, or authenticate stolen credit cards.

Fake account creation attacks are increasingly difficult to detect and prevent, as hackers constantly seek new ways to forge or steal identities.

Security Misconfiguration

Another high-risk vulnerability of web applications is security misconfiguration, which allows attackers to easily take control of websites. Malicious attackers can take advantage of a wide range of weaknesses and configuration errors, including unused pages, unpatched vulnerabilities, unsecured files and directories, and default configurations.

Elements such as web and application servers, databases, or network services can leave you exposed to data breaches. Hackers can manipulate any private information and take control of user and administrator accounts.

Authorization Failure

Visitors to a website or application can only access certain parts of it if they have the appropriate permissions: this is due to access controls. If, for example, you run a website that allows different vendors to list their products, you need to give them access to add new products and manage their sales.

Thus, there are certain limitations for customers who are not vendors that hackers can exploit. They can find ways to compromise access control and release unauthorized data as a result of modifying user access permissions and files.

Local File Inclusion (LFI)

LFI is a frequently discovered vulnerability in poorly built web applications. It allows an attacker to include or expose files on a server.

If the web application runs the file, it can expose sensitive data or even execute malicious code.

Web Security Measures

How Does Web Application Security Work?

In addition to preserving the technology and features used in application development, web application security also establishes a high level of protection for servers and processes. It also protects web services, such as APIs, against online threats.

The critical aspect of web application security is ensuring that applications operate securely and smoothly at all times. To achieve this goal, you can start with in-depth security testing.

Security testing involves discovering and fixing all vulnerabilities before hackers reach them. Therefore, it is highly recommended to perform security testing on web applications during the SDLC (Software Development Life Cycle) stages, and not after the web application has been launched.

Below are some effective security measures that can help protect your web application.

Conduct a Comprehensive Security Audit

Regular security audits are an excellent method to ensure that best security practices are followed in your web application and to quickly find any potential flaws in your systems. A security audit can not only help you stay aware of potential vulnerabilities but also protect your business.

To ensure a complete and objective perspective in your security audit process, it is best to hire a professional. With their extensive experience and knowledge, they will be a valuable asset in identifying and mitigating vulnerabilities that require patch management or other fixes. After completing a security assessment, the next step is to address all discovered flaws. A good approach is to prioritize based on the impact level of each type of vulnerability.

Make sure to perform consistent vulnerability scans and updates. To make things more efficient, perform your web application security tests using your vulnerability scanners to look for major injection attacks like SQL injection, cross-site scripting, and DDoS attacks instead of scanning for all types of vulnerabilities. Also, don't forget to ensure that all servers hosting your web applications are updated with the latest security patches.

Encrypt All Data

When someone uses your web application, they may reveal sensitive information. This information should not be accessible to any unauthorized party. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that your web application provides data encryption both in transit and at rest. This is where SSL/TLS encryption plays a vital role.

When you use SSL/TLS encryption, you use a more secure version of the HTTP protocol, HTTPS, and protect all communications with your visitors. Without encrypted connections with SSL, both websites and applications have weak encryption that can compromise session management and the overall security system. Check the comparison between HTTP and HTTPS and how having an SSL can benefit your site. By implementing security measures like the HTTPS protocol, you are building a better online presence and improving SEO performance.

Monitor Web Application Security in Real-Time

To ensure that your web application is protected 24/7, you need more than a security audit to identify and correct all its vulnerabilities. This is where Web Application Firewalls (WAF) are necessary.

Essentially, a WAF manages all aspects of real-time monitoring of your web application's security aspects, such as session management. This means it blocks potential application layer attacks in real-time, such as DDoS attacks, SQL injection, XSS, and CSRF attacks.

Implement Proper Logging Practices

Web application scanners and firewalls may not be able to detect all security flaws from the start. Therefore, one approach to take is the practice of proper logging. Logging tools like Retrace, Logstash, or Graylog can help collect information about error incidents that occur in your web applications. Logs help identify the source of a breach and, potentially, the threat actor.