Web Application Security
Web application security has become extremely important in today’s connected world. As more and more companies rely on web apps to conduct business, store sensitive data, and interact with customers, securing these applications is crucial. In this comprehensive guide, we will cover everything you need to know about locking down your web apps and reducing risk.
Why Web Application Security Matters
Web apps connect the world. We use them for email, shopping, banking, social media – you name it. There’s an app for everything these days. However, with great convenience comes great risk if these apps are not properly secured. Some sobering stats:
- Over 4 billion web app records were breached in 2019 alone
- Web app attacks account for over 40% of all breaches
- Unsecured web apps cost companies an average of $5.9 million per breach
From small startups to Fortune 500 companies, no one is immune from web app threats. Making security a priority now will save you headaches (and money) down the road.
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Top Web Application Security Risks
What exactly makes web apps so risky? Here are some of the top vulnerabilities hackers look to exploit:
This covers a range of attack methods that inject malicious code into web apps by taking advantage of improper coding or lack of input validation. SQL injection and cross-site scripting (XSS) are two common examples.
When authentication mechanisms like login forms are not properly implemented, attackers can exploit these weaknesses to access accounts and sensitive data. Enforcing password complexity rules and lockout policies after failed attempts can help mitigate risk.
Sensitive Data Exposure
Web apps frequently must handle sensitive data like credit cards, SSNs, health records, etc. If this data is not properly encrypted both in transit and at rest, it can easily fall into the wrong hands.
XML External Entities (XXE)
This attack targets XML data processing by tricking vulnerable XML parsers into accessing local or external resources. Attackers can then steal files, perform denial of service attacks, or otherwise compromise security.
Broken Access Control
Restricting access to certain web resources and functionality is crucial. If these access controls can be bypassed, then attackers may be able to access unauthorized data and actions.
Improperly configured web servers, frameworks, databases, and cloud storage buckets can provide opportunities for attackers to exploit. Default accounts/passwords, unnecessary ports left open, and unpatched systems are common pitfalls.
Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF)
CSRF tricks users into unknowingly executing actions that they’re currently authenticated for. Attackers can change data, steal credentials, and more. Common with state changing requests like payments or email changes.
This covers some of the OWASP Top 10 Web Application Security Risks, but many more threats exist. Conducting frequent audits and testing for vulnerabilities is key to getting ahead of possible attacks. Prioritizing protection for your most sensitive data and mission critical apps is a good place to start.
Implementing Web Application Security Best Practices
Now that you know the most significant risks facing web apps, let’s explore some best practices for locking things down across the full web app security lifecycle.
Secure Coding Practices
The most effective place to start securing web apps is during initial coding and development. Following secure coding guidelines from the start makes preventing vulnerabilities much easier than trying to remediate them later. Some top tips include:
- Validating and sanitizing all user input to prevent injection attacks
- Using prepared SQL statements and stored procedures
- Implementing CSRF tokens and captchas to prevent automated attacks
- Only exposing necessary ports and services
- Encrypting sensitive data both in transit and at rest
- Using third-party web app firewalls to monitor and block threats
Adhering to established web development guidelines like the OWASP Secure Coding Practices standard will help avoid many common pitfalls. Fostering a culture of security amongst your development team through training and accountability will translate these best practices into application code.
Identity and Access Management
Governing who has access to what within your web apps should be the cornerstone of your protection strategy. Steps you can take include:
- Enforcing principle of least privilege – only allownecessary access
- Implementing strong password policies – complexity, rotation, lockouts
- Using multi-factor authentication for accounts and sensitive transactions
- Building authorization inside apps for role-based access control
- Monitoring user accounts for anomalous behavior
Getting identity and access management right goes a long way in limiting damage from compromised credentials or malicious insiders with excessive rights.
Application Security Testing
Although prevention via secure coding is important, you also need to verify your applications’ security postures. Conducting frequent scans and tests will reveal cracks in your protection. Key types of security testing to conduct include:
SAST – Static Application Security Testing
SAST analyzes application code for security flaws without executing programs. Useful during development for rapid feedback. Checks for injection threats, auth issues, misconfigurations, etc.
DAST – Dynamic Application Security Testing
Involves actively scanning and attacking a running web app much like an attacker would. Attempts to actually exploit vulnerabilities vs just identify possible flaws.
IAST – Interactive Application Security Testing
Instrumenting applications and observing code execution to detect vulnerabilities in runtime. Provides view of apps in production use.
Manual Pen Testing
Human led security testing including custom attacks against applications. Avoids blindspots of automated scans. Useful for testing business logic flaws or exploit chains.
Utilizing a combination of automated and manual testing throughout development and production deployment ensures you identify the maximum number of security gaps. Dedicated application security testing tools provide streamlined workflows for managing scanning and reporting.
Web Application Firewalls (WAFs)
Hardening web apps through secure coding and testing alone isn’t always enough. Web application firewalls provide deep inspection of HTTP traffic flowing in both directions. A WAF can detect and block common injection threats, account takeovers, bot attacks, and zero days through techniques like:
- Input validation based on allowlists
- Signature based detection of known attacks
- Anomaly detection and behavioral analysis
- Custom policy enforcement
Cloud WAF services like [CLOUDFLARE] and [AKAMAI] make deployment fast and frictionless directly in front of web apps. On-premise hardware and virtual appliance WAFs also available for restricted networks.
The Importance of Monitoring and Logging
The ability to monitor access and changes within web apps is critical for incident investigation and forensics. Logs provide vital data points to determine root cause of any breach. Ensuring the following information is logged helps aid response activities:
- All authentication events – successes and failures
- Session data – Source IPs, user agents details
- Detailed audit trails of sensitive transactions
- System changes – Code deployments, config changes
- Capture raw HTTP requests and responses when possible
Centralizing web app logging into cloud-based SIEM platforms provides real-time alerting and detection of suspicious access patterns. Maintaining and monitoring quality logs is invaluable when responding to intrusions.
Top Web App Security Certifications
Specialized training and certifications in securing web applications are a great way for developers, testers and IT/ Infosec pros to stand out. Some of the most highly respected certs in this domain include: Certified Secure Software Lifecycle Professional (CSSLP)
Offered by (ISC)^2, the CSSLP covers the full spectrum of web app security from design, coding, testing to deployment and management.
Offensive Security Web Expert (OSWE)
Considered one of most hands-on technical certs for penetration testing web apps. Involves developing actual exploits. Offered by Offensive Security.
GIAC Web Application Penetration Tester (GWAPT)
Unique cert from SANS Institute involves creating a comprehensive web app pen test report to demonstrate mastery.
CompTIA Application Security
Vendor neutral exam covering critical concepts like injection prevention, access control, securing data and testing.
Other vendor specific certifications like CertNexus CyberSec First Responder and Fortinet NSE 4 also cover securing web apps along with general cybersecurity topics.
As web applications continue to serve as the digital face and connectivity hubs for modern businesses, prioritizing their security directly translates into lower risk. By making app sec part of the entire software lifecycle, companies set themselves up for success against constantly evolving threats. Leveraging layers of preventative and detective controls minimizes opportunities for attackers.
With comprehensive protection powered by new technologies like cloud WAFs and advanced testing, organizations can confidently rollout innovative web apps that their users and customers trust. The strategies covered here are a blueprint for balancing both speed and protection when delivering new software capabilities. Paying attention to web app security now ultimately pays major dividends through avoided breaches down the road.
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Web Application Security
- What is web application security?Web application security refers to protecting all web-based software from external cyber threats and internal misuse. This covers securing customer-facing apps, employee web portals, online databases, API backends, and more. Core components include access controls, data security, infrastructure hardening, and threat protection.
- What are some common web application security vulnerabilities?The most prevalent web app vulnerabilities include injection attacks like SQLi and XSS, broken authentication, sensitive data exposure, misconfigurations, cross-site request forgery (CSRF), and lack of access controls. These flaws allow attackers to steal data, takeover accounts, deface sites, perform denial of service, and more.
- How can I secure my web application?Start by conducting application security testing to uncover vulnerabilities, then fix these gaps through secure coding practices. Harden web servers and infrastructure, implement strong access controls, and encrypt sensitive data. Deploy a web application firewall for deep traffic inspection against attacks. Foster a culture focused on app sec across the full development lifecycle from design through run time. Monitor access and behavior closely via centralized logging.