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All You Need to Know about Web App Security + a Free Downloadable Web Application Security Checklist

"Web app security is not optional. It's not a feature that can be added on later. It's a fundamental requirement for any web application that stores, processes or transmits sensitive data. Without adequate security measures, businesses risk not only the loss of their data, but also the trust of their customers."

- Jeremiah Grossman, founder of WhiteHat Security.

If you're a CEO or administrator planning to build a web app, or a DevOps or application security beginner, understanding web app security is crucial to protect your data, reputation, and customers from cyber threats.

In this article, we'll cover all the essentials of web app security and provide a free downloadable checklist with all the methods you need to secure your web apps. Don't wait until it's too late; read on to learn how to protect your business from potential security breaches!

What Does Web Application Security Mean, and Why Is It Crucial for Your Business?

A web application is software hosted on a web server with content that can be accessed through a web browser. And it is common knowledge that no matter how diligently software is built, it always has vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities and attack risks multiply when the software has active end-user interaction features.

During the era of Web 1.0, there wasn’t much need for web application security because websites were not designed to be user interactive. The need for web application security arose when Web 2.0 was introduced, and website accessibility from the user end made it possible for hackers to launch malicious attacks on websites.

Therefore, web application security is a process of protecting web applications, services, and servers from attacks to ensure their smooth and fast running. Without a sustainable web application security process, a web app risks losing trust and revenue and might even suffer noncompliance issues and penalties.

Just like you shouldn’t live in a house without windows, doors, and perhaps an alarm system, a web app should not exist without proper security measures to prevent the bad guys from getting in. Here are some of the common attacks that plague web applications.

The Top Web App Security Risks, Including the OWASP Top 10 Attacks

  1. Cryptographic Failures: This results in the exposure of sensitive web app information. It occurs when web applications are not configured to protect data in transit or at rest. Other causes of cryptographic failures include improper cryptographic key management, use of insecure initialized vectors, using passwords without a key derivation function, transmitting sensitive data in plain text, etc.

  2. Insecure Design: This web application risk occurs when you don't follow web application development practices judiciously. This could mean that you didn't follow secure design patterns and architecture, or you didn't plan threat modeling during the app's planning and development stage. Having an insecure design could also mean that you don’t know that your web app is insecure until it has been exploited. This increases the chances for long-term persistent threat actors to sit in the web app and also exposes your web app to several weaknesses like trust boundary violations, error messages that contain useful information, improper entity separation, etc.

  3. Injection: This is one of the oldest web app risks. It ranks number one on OWASP Top 10 as the most dangerous web app attack and is especially difficult for legacy applications to fend off. Here an attacker injects malicious input into a web application using a few commands, causing it to execute some codes and to behave abnormally. When successful, an injection attack can lead to data theft and loss and system compromise. There are different injection attacks, but the most popular ones are SQL injection (SQLi) and cross-site scripting (XSS). In SQLi, these codes are injected into an app's entry field; while in XSS, phishing techniques induce an authorized web app user to click a malicious link. When this is done, depending on the user's access and permissions, a hacker may have access to important information or compromise the system.

  4. Zero-Day Vulnerabilities: This is a type of web app risk that app developers, security vendors, or anyone is unaware of; hence, there's no fix. It is prevalent in newly-developed codes and more dangerous in in-house designed web applications. Once a web app is launched, attackers try to exploit vulnerabilities. Even if it gets patched, they create attack variations to evade the protections built by the app owners/security vendors or lie hidden in the system to gain persistence and strike when they feel it is worthwhile. Attackers look to exploit these vulnerabilities quickly and often follow up by seeking to evade protections put in place by security vendors. There are no guaranteed ways to prevent zero-day vulnerabilities in a web app, except maybe checking your app's source code for vulnerabilities, having a WAF, and other web app security practices that'll be mentioned later in this article.

  5. Security and Attack Surface Misconfiguration: This is a type of web attack that occurs when a part of an organization's attack surface or IT footprint is exploited due to improper configuration of security settings, network protocols, access controls, poor system design, lack of expertise, or negligence. Security and attack surface misconfiguration can result in unauthorized access, data breaches, loss of confidential information, and disruption of services, potentially leading to financial losses, legal penalties, and damage to reputation.

  6. Buffer Overflow: This occurs when a hacker sends more data than a web app can handle, resulting in the excess data overwriting adjacent memory locations and leading to crashes or security vulnerabilities. Poor programming practices, such as lack of input validation, incorrect use of buffer length, and inadequate memory allocation, cause this web application risk. Buffer overflow in web applications can lead to security vulnerabilities such as unauthorized access, data theft, or execution of arbitrary code, potentially compromising the entire system and exposing sensitive information to attackers,

  7. Request Forgery: This type of security vulnerability in web applications is where an attacker sends a forged or unauthorized request to a server, tricking it into performing an unintended action on behalf of an unsuspecting user. It is caused by inadequate security measures, such as a lack of user input validation, session hijacking, and insufficiently random CSRF tokens. Request forgery can result in unauthorized access, data breaches, and financial losses. It is divided into server-side and cross-site request forgery. In cross-site request forgery (or CSRF), an attacker influences a web app user to perform actions they do not intend to, while in server-side request forgery, an attacker abuses the functionality of a server causing it to provide the attacker with sensitive information.

  8. Memory Corruption: This refers to the unintentional modification of a web app's memory contents. It is caused by factors like buffer overflows, format string vulnerabilities, use-after-free errors, integer overflows, etc. In web applications, memory corruptions can lead to system crashes, data loss, and security vulnerabilities that attackers can exploit to execute arbitrary code. It also allows hackers to steal sensitive information or gain unauthorized access to systems.

  9. Shadow APIs and API Abuse: These are unidentified APIs that can potentially expose sensitive data because they were not properly secured. Some include undocumented development, testing APIs that are no longer in use, legacy APIs that are no longer maintained, and third-party APIs that are not fully documented or understood. On the other hand, API abuse refers to the malicious exploitation of legitimate APIs to gain unauthorized access, perform unintended actions, or steal data, such as PII, payment details, or corporate secrets, etc. Vulnerabilities in your APIs can allow attacks to send malicious code to your web app or can pass sensitive data to unauthorized personnel, cause malware injections, loss of service availability, reputation damage, etc. They usually occur due to insufficient authentication and authorization mechanisms, insufficient input validation, lack of rate limiting and throttling, improper management of an API, etc

  10. Third-Party Code Abuse: Using third-party code in your web applications can save time and money, increase functionality, and improve user experience. It can also provide access to specialized expertise, reduce development complexity, and enable better scalability and interoperability. Now, because every pro has a con, the advantage of third-party codes can backfire as hackers can attack your web app if they find and exploit vulnerabilities in these third-party tools, especially if they are open-source or publicly accessible. Third-party code abuse in web applications can occur due to vulnerabilities in the code, lack of security measures, inadequate monitoring, insufficient vetting of third-party vendors, etc. These can lead to data breaches, malware infections, and other security threats.

  11. Credential Stuffing: Here, an attacker uses a list of stolen or leaked usernames and passwords (popularly called a rainbow table) to gain unauthorized access to user accounts on a web application. Attackers use automated tools to try stolen usernames and passwords across different websites, exploiting the fact that many users reuse the same login credentials across multiple online services. When successful, attackers take over user accounts and access sensitive information or perform malicious actions on the user's behalf, causing financial loss, damage to reputation, and other outcomes.

  12. Broken Access Control: This security vulnerability allows unauthorized users to access sensitive data or perform actions they shouldn't have access to due to poor or nonexistent access control mechanisms. This web application risk can also be caused by a lack of proper testing and validation, inadequate user authentication and authorization, incorrect configuration of security settings, etc. Broken access control in web applications can lead to unauthorized access to sensitive data, modification of data by unprivileged users, account takeover attacks, etc.

How Does Web Application Security Work?

You can use different approaches to protect your web app from attacks. One of the most popular of them all is the use of web application firewalls.

Web application firewalls (WAFs) are security solutions designed to protect web applications from attacks by inspecting, filtering, and blocking incoming HTTP and HTTPS traffic. They are placed in front of web servers and analyze the traffic between the web application and the client to detect and prevent malicious requests from reaching the application.

They operate at the application layer of the network stack, which means they can analyze the contents of web requests and responses, as well as the parameters and data being transmitted between the client and server.

WAFs use rules, policies, signature-based detection, behavioral and protocol analysis, machine learning, etc., to analyze web traffic and identify potential security threats. Once a WAF detects a potential security threat, it can take various customized actions to block or mitigate it. This can include blocking the traffic outright, logging the event for further analysis, or notifying a security team to investigate the threat further.

Web application firewalls are not the only way to ensure your web app's security; read on to find other web app security best practices.

How to Secure Your Web App - A Downloadable Web Application Security Checklist

Downloadable Web Application Security Checklist edited
Download PDF • 179KB

How open-appsec Can Block Attacks on Your Web Applications

Are you looking for a way to block web attacks on your web apps before they happen? open-appsec uses two machine learning algorithms to continuously detect and preemptively block threats before they can do any damage. Ourcode has also been published on GitHub, and the effectiveness of our WAF has been successfully proven in numeroustests by third parties. Try open-appsec in thePlayground today.

The open-appsec WAF is a web application security tool that utilizes machine learning to protect your web applications from attacks. Unlike traditional WAFs that rely on rules, policies, and signatures to filter malicious traffic, open-appsec uses an advanced machine learning-based firewall to detect trends and provide insights on protecting your app against zero-day attacks, SQL injections, OWASP Top 10 attacks, XSS, and other web attacks.

One of its unique features is its anti-bot capability. It uses machine learning to continuously update its algorithm in real time, allowing it to detect new and old bots and protect your app without the need for rules or patches.

Another feature of open-appsec is request monitoring using machine learning. Instead of relying on rules and policies to distinguish between legitimate and malicious requests, it uses machine learning to understand how people use your app and differentiates between good and bad traffic. It stores data from malicious requests in its offline machine-learning model for future reference, reducing false positives and eliminating the need for software updates, maintenance, or patches.

Finally, open-appsec also provides API security. It monitors and tracks all API endpoints to protect against malicious API calls that can inject malware or trigger DDoS attacks. It uses machine learning to provide real-time data on the efficiency of your API and blocks malicious API calls using OpenAPI schema. Try open-appsec in the Playground today.


Experiment with open-appsec for Linux, Kubernetes or Kong using a free virtual lab

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