The Digital Battleground: Web Application Security in 2024

The digital realm is a battlefield, with cybercriminals launching relentless attacks on web applications, aiming to snatch precious data. Cybersecurity incidents have skyrocketed by 600%, and by 2025, the cost to businesses is projected to reach a staggering $10.5 trillion. The gravity of cybersecurity's impact is escalating, making the need for robust website solutions more critical than ever.

The Digital Battleground Web Application Security

Unravelling the Web of Application Security

The burning question in today's cybersecurity landscape is, "What is web application security?" In layman's terms, it's the arsenal of cybersecurity techniques you employ to shield your web applications from online threats.

Given that hackers often target specific web applications, fortifying web app security is non-negotiable. The spectrum of web security is broad, encompassing elements like web application firewalls (WAFs), cookies, multi-factor authentication (MFAs), and more.

The External Shield: Website Security

You might be pondering the distinction between external and internal security. In essence, external web security is the shield that protects a website from cyberattacks originating outside an organization's internal system. This could include threats like SQL and various other types of injections.

In our digital age, almost every aspect of our lives has an online component. Cyberattacks are a global menace, occurring every 39 seconds, with 560,000 new malware threats emerging daily. This necessitates robust external web security to safeguard your web application and your customers' data.

The Enterprise Security Blueprint: A Necessity

No matter your industry, a solid enterprise security plan is your safety net, ensuring your business and web app are secure. But what exactly is an enterprise security plan? It's a tailored blueprint designed to bolster your business's cybersecurity. Crafting an enterprise security plan should be one of your initial steps to minimize breaches and mitigate their potential impact.

Enterprise security plans offer more than just prevention. They equip you with a contingency plan should a damaging breach occur.

The Web Security Minefield: Common Threats

With most businesses leveraging web apps in some form, security is paramount. However, web security risks come in a myriad of forms. Here are some of the most prevalent threats you need to be on the lookout for.

Credential Stuffing

Credential stuffing is a tactic where attackers use credentials obtained from data breaches on one web app to gain access to another. By banking on users employing the same account name and password across multiple web apps, they initiate large-scale logins to crash the site.

Brute Force Attacks

Brute force attacks are akin to credential stuffing. However, instead of using discovered passwords and usernames, cybercriminals guess a multitude of password and username combinations to overwhelm the web application.

SQL Injection

SQL injection, or SQLI, is an attack where hackers manipulate the database's backend using SQL code, gaining access to private information. This could range from sensitive business data to private customer emails and more.

Moreover, an attack could grant access to the administrative rights of the web application's database. All in all, SQL injections pose a significant threat to web applications when successful.

Cross-Site Scripting

Cross-site scripting (also known as XSS) is an injection attack, akin to SQLI attacks, where malicious scripts are inserted into trusted and secure websites, compromising the users of these apps.

How do they pull it off? They manipulate the web app to execute malicious scripts in a victim's browser, gaining access to the user's private data.

Cookie Poisoning

Cookies are used by millions of websites to store information on your web browser. Cookie poisoning is when an attacker locates the cookies used for a specific web application and alters them to steal all the data that the user trusts the application to keep safe. Given that millions of users rely on cookies to store their data and simplify their lives, this can escalate into a significant issue.

Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) Attack

An MITM attack is when a hacker positions themselves between the web application and the user. They then impersonate the user or the web application to steal personal information from these two parties.

Sensitive Data Disclosure

Sensitive data disclosure occurs when a web application unwittingly exposes sensitive information. This typically happens when an application lacks sufficient cybersecurity web development protection.

Insecure Deserialization

This fundamental web security threat involves cyber attackers inserting malicious scripts into web apps, enabling them to launch denial of service (DoS) attacks, SQL injections, and other threats that harm these web apps and their customers. It was recently ranked as the eighth most significant threat facing web applications in terms of cybersecurity in web app development.

Secure Web Development: Best Practices

As illustrated above, web apps face a plethora of potential security threats. To counter and prevent these issues, you need to adopt the right application server security best practices. There are numerous methods for secure web development, but some are more effective than others.

Here are some top tips for enhancing your web development security best practices.

Conduct Security Threat Assessment

Each web application offers unique business benefits, meaning cyber threats will impact each business differently. Before developing the actual product, you need to analyze the threats against their impact and likelihood of occurrence. Based on the analysis results, prioritize and implement appropriate security controls before launch.

Remember, no applications are 100% secure, so some risk acceptance is inevitable when it comes to cybersecurity. By applying web application security best practices, you can significantly reduce the probability of threats compromising your systems.

Harden Configuration

Secure web applications require an infrastructure to run, and some software components need configurations to be functional. Infrastructure and software component providers document all web security settings and best practices. Cloud providers publish reference architecture, covering security-oriented architecture designs on their sites.

There are also independent white papers and manuals on the security configuration of software services. Perhaps the most known are CIS Benchmarks. Adhering to these guidelines can prevent a multitude of issues caused by security misconfiguration.

Document Software Changes

Building software that brings value to a business is a process. The source code may undergo numerous changes, even in parts connected with crucial functionalities. Most of the software’s functionalities will likely have security protecting them.

However, it varies by functionality. You should always analyze each change in terms of its influence on the security of the data. Model the different cyber threats that may affect each functionality and make suitable changes according to the risk analysis.

All these actions should be documented and approved by the risk owner, who is usually the same person as the business product owner. This documentation is a valuable tracking tool for regulatory requirements, especially if an external audit is needed.

Implement Input Data Validation

One of the most common web security issues in web applications is injections. A malicious user may craft special data and pass it within channels used for interactions with the applications (user data inputs). These users may then execute the code either on the server side or in the clients’ browsers, causing a security breach.

Modern secure web frameworks used in web applications’ software development implement input data validation to prevent such web application threats and attacks.

Sometimes, however, this protection mechanism is disabled or altered by developers. You must create any custom code with input data validation in mind if you want the application to be resilient against injection attacks.

Use Encryption for Confidential Information

Properly implemented encryption is a crucial protection mechanism for confidential information. It’s a must-have for all data transferred via public networks. TLS (Transport Layer Security) encryption is the expected standard for encryption in transit. However, it’s crucial to set up this TLS properly: use only certificates signed by a trusted third party and cypher suites considered strong by the industry.

Only dedicated, strong key derivation functions should be used to store passwords in the application. The purpose of utilizing dedicated solutions is to make offline password cracking as hard as possible without compromising the application’s performance too much.

For the data at rest, we recommend using encryption. If implemented correctly, with encryption key management in place, such an approach can minimize the impact of some data breaches, such as stealing or extracting a whole database.

Data encryption may also be useful when external service providers need temporary access to the production environment. There are also hard requirements for encryption in the rest, which is necessary when the IT system stores credit card data.

The downside of encryption is performance issues, especially in search operations, where each record must be decrypted before the comparison can be made. That’s why it’s better to always perform the risk analysis instead of just going for the “encrypt everything” approach.

Update Dependencies in Your Web App Regularly

All components used in the web app may contain security vulnerabilities. It’s essential to regularly check and look out for security issues on your web app by creating a web application vulnerabilities list. The rule of thumb is to apply web security fixes as soon as you’ve tested them unless the fixing poses a bigger threat to the business than the vulnerability itself.

In these cases, compensatory controls may be applied, for example, in the form of another security layer (network isolation, web application firewall, etc.). It’s all about conducting proper risk and cost assessments before making changes.

Implement Logging

Once launched, your application may be a target of various malicious actors who will try to breach your security controls. Because of this, the visibility of such trials is a must.

You should log all security-related events, which will allow you to trace back all actions taken by malicious actors. Those logs must be kept securely for a specific time to allow for forensic analysis. The logged time across all components should be the same to ensure accuracy.

Therefore, you should synchronize all systems clocks with a reliable, external time source. Logs should be secured against unauthorized access, especially to protect them from being altered.

Prepare a Backup and Recovery Plan

When creating the application, especially if it will be a core business tool, you should consider the downtimes. Having a cloud solution with High Availability (HA) won’t protect against all situations, such as data corruption. In these cases, backups come in handy.

You must plan how often you will perform these backups and what technology you will use. You should regularly test the backup recovery to ensure that data is usable. Remember that making data available for users is also a GDPR requirement.

Educate Employees

No matter how secure the application is, humans, particularly your employees, will use it. They should be educated on how to handle data securely and be able to create strong, not guessable passwords.

General security standards awareness training will help your employees recognize phishing attempts and react promptly to other security threats to web applications.

Manage Your Permissions

Giving full access to everything in any IT system is a very bad idea. The application’s users should have the minimum required permissions needed to perform their daily business activities (principle of least privilege). Emergency, elevated permissions should be temporarily granted and revoked immediately when no longer needed.

If the person is inactive for a specific time, for example, on long-term leave, the account should be suspended. When they leave the company, disable the account. It’s essential to ensure the web application is well protected from malicious agents acting as an employee and having access to all the data.

Implement Web App Security Best Practices for Users’ Authentication

Having strong passwords for IT systems was mentioned already, but sometimes strong passwords are not enough. It’s worth considering implementing multi-factor authentication.

This is where the application’s user or system administrator provides an additional factor, which proves either possession of something (hardware token, mobile device) or who they are (fingerprint, vein pattern, face pattern).

Monitor for Anomalies

For every running IT system, you must apply an alerting system to detect potential breaches and notify the person responsible for application maintenance. In case the alert is raised, you should investigate the incident and, if needed, alter the security controls to protect against the newly discovered threat. Many businesses often overlook this requirement, which may lead to high regulatory fines under the GDPR.

Utilize Security Audits and Penetration Testing

Cybersecurity threats are constantly evolving, with new vulnerabilities being discovered in software components. That’s why businesses should always measure the security of data processing. Security audits are a great tool to serve that purpose. These audits ensure that all processes related to data processing security are in place and working.

Penetration tests are a great solution for measuring application security. Their purpose is to simulate attacks on systems by using vulnerability chaining, which shows web application security issues threatening the business. Regular measuring of data processing security is one of the GDPR requirements, so you should utilize both security audits and penetration testing.

Apply Vulnerabilities Management

You should always manage and take the correct steps when discovering web security issues during the security measurement process. It’s done by analyzing the web application security risk they pose and planning mitigation actions based on the results. These actions are usually connected with system patching and upgrading, web application firewall rule adjustments, technology deprecation, changes of service providers, and more.

Have a Plan for a Potential Data Breach

Despite all that effort, a breach can still happen. There is no such thing as 100% security. In case that happens, it’s better to be ready. Prepare a crisis response cybersecurity team, and be sure that you have a general web application security checklist with up-to-date assets lists, business functions, owners, and recovery procedures.

Make sure to prepare internal and external communication and designate personnel for cooperation with law enforcement and regulations as well.

Improve Security in Web Development as Soon as Possible

With the possibility of many different web app cyberattacks occurring, you need to be prepared and have a quality web app security strategy to counter these threats from massively impacting your business and its web apps.

However, by taking on board some of these critical security measures for your web application, you can ensure you are safe from the majority of cyberattacks harming your web app and its customers. But if you need to check if a website is legit or a scam, the Web Paranoid extension is a tool that can help you.
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Hi, I’m Ghanendra Yadav, SEO Expert, Professional Blogger, Programmer, and UI Developer. Get a Solution of More Than 500+ Programming Problems, and Practice All Programs in C, C++, and Java Languages. Get a Competitive Website Solution also Ie. Hackerrank Solutions and Geeksforgeeks Solutions. If You Are Interested to Learn a C Programming Language and You Don't Have Experience in Any Programming, You Should Start with a C Programming Language, Read: List of Format Specifiers in C.
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