Web Application Security: What to Consider for 2023

By Eyal Katz October 11, 2022

Security is the biggest threat facing organizations that strive for faster software delivery. Organizations are witnessing increasing attacks due to application code gaps and security weaknesses.

According to a Forrester report, software security flaws accounted for cyberattacks in about 47% of organizations. Scary enough, a Positive Technologies report also claimed that hackers could attack 9 out of 10 web applications tested for vulnerabilities through theft of credentials, malware injection, and phishing attacks.

As a result, experts believe organizations have yet to take security seriously. Many lack basic adequate protection practices like multi-factor authentication.

Growing importance of Web AppSec for organizations in 2023
Growing importance of Web AppSec for organizations in 2023

As attackers develop sophisticated methods to exploit web application vulnerabilities, developers need to concentrate on implementing security efforts throughout the software lifecycle. In this article, we understand the importance of Web Application Security (Web AppSec) and what developers can do differently to protect their web applications moving forward.

Understanding Web Application Security (Web AppSec)

Web AppSec is a software security paradigm that enforces security controls to protect websites, web applications, and assets from cyber threats. It demands that developers build resilient applications that can withstand sophisticated cybersecurity attacks. 

Like any instance of software, web applications contain defects and bugs. One primary source of such security risks is the software supply chain, where developers use open-source and third-party code, which may have vulnerabilities. These vulnerabilities can expose your web servers and applications to cyber threats. Web applications are at risk because users must interact with the application network and servers. It could be emails, video streaming, or online shopping.

Any kind of security lapse can prove fatal if it is too easy to manipulate web apps with malicious intent. Although testing plays a critical role, testing alone just doesn’t cut it. You will have to implement strict security measures throughout the SDLC to ensure that you address every flaw in your app.

Web AppSec practices through SDLC

With software development moving to the cloud, web applications have become the norm for businesses. However, this also introduces new security challenges. Developers tend to overlook aspects related to security. According to Wakefield Research, a shocking 70% of organizations tend to forget or skip at least one security step. The modern software development approach enables you to infuse security into all the phases of SDLC.

Implementing Web AppSec across SDLC
Implementing Web AppSec across SDLC

Risk assessment at the Requirements stage

When you’re outlining your software requirements, it is necessary that you also consider security specificationsidentifying risks and their sources, analyzing the harm they can do, and defining a remediation strategy. It helps you understand the criticality of assets that need to be protected and determine policies to avoid confidentiality and integrity breaches.

Threat modeling at the Design stage

You must review the design when selecting application frameworks and architectures to avoid flaws and defects. Through in-depth software architecture analysis and functional specifications, you can implement strategies like threat modeling to weed out unsecured designs and risks.

Static analysis at the Development stage

Embedding security best practices includes applying secure coding guidelines to ensure the creation of high-quality code and conducting code reviews through automated static analysis. Watching out for the security risks from open-source libraries and dependencies is also critical.

Dynamic & interactive testing at the Testing stage

While the code analysis begins in the development stage, the testing stage is the most critical section of the SDLC to ensure security-first software development. Through dynamic and interactive testing, you can effectively identify vulnerabilities that may have slipped past the development stage.

Security & configuration assessment at the Deployment stage

Web application security doesn’t end at the testing stage. It goes well into the deployment stage, where you must perform periodic assessments to evaluate system configuration and security controls. You can use strategies such as penetration testing, vulnerability scanning, and red teaming.

Types of testing

For many developers, security testing is restricted to the testing stage of the development pipeline. But as we discussed earlier, it can start well into the development stage and extend until the application is shipped. For robust website AppSec, four types of testing approaches are recommended:

1. DAST (Dynamic Application Security Testing)

DAST is an AppSec testing methodology where you assess a web application from an ‘outside-in’ perspective; i.e., you scan the application and its associated structures without any visibility into source code, technologies, or frameworks. Also known as ‘black box security testing,’ DAST helps you identify security threats like SQL injections and cross-site scripting. This security testing method allows you to prioritize risks and plan remediation strategies to reduce AppSec risk. 

It is a crucial security test method because DAST attempts to find exposed vulnerabilities and lets you understand how they can be exploited so that you can plug those holes.

2. SAST (Static Application Security Testing)

Unlike DAST, SAST will scan your application’s source code, bytecode, and binary code through an inside-out approach. With static analysis, you can access frameworks, design, and implementation methodology, but you don’t have to run the application. Known as ‘white box security testing,’ SAST is a developer-centric AppSec strategy. You can implement early in the SDLC to identify existing and third-party vulnerabilities before the code is added to your software. It provides real-time feedback, which makes incorporating best security practices easy.

SAST enables you to implement remediation against risks faster through an automated workflow for continuous code scanning. It allows you to find defects on the go, making fixing vulnerabilities relatively less expensive.

3. Penetration Test

Penetration Test is a type of Web AppSec testing practice where you simulate a cyber attack to identify application weaknesses. The attacks can be triggered against servers, protocol interfaces, or other critical application systems. Penetration testing can identify security threats such as authorization issues, business logic loopholes, and workflow gaps. It is executed in five stages: 

  1. Planning: Define test goals and gather pre-test information
  2. Scanning: Scan application to understand how intrusions are handled
  3. Gaining access: Gain control over web applications through a targeted vulnerability
  4. Maintaining access: Check if the vulnerability can be further used to assert access
  5. Analysis: Results are used to fine-tune security & firewall settings
Five stages of Penetration Testing
Five stages of Penetration Testing

Penetration testing helps you build a resilient web application to tackle security challenges when implemented with a mix of manual and automated approaches.

4. RASP (Runtime Application Self-Protection)

RASP is a security tool that runs with the application in the runtime environment to validate incoming requests to ensure Web AppSec. It continuously monitors application behavior and provides an essential layer of security around the application. RASP can raise alarms when a threat is detected and protect the application even when the network is compromised by terminating the user session.

However, the challenge with RASP is that it could potentially lead to lazy security practices with increased confidence in self-protection. 

How does Web AppSec reduce risks for your organization?

In the current market weather of an increasing number of cyber attacks, being proactive in security is necessary. You can’t wait for an attack to occur because the consequences don’t just involve financial loss but also reputational damage, which may take even longer to recover from. Through Web AppSec, you can be a step ahead in identifying vulnerabilities, improving the security posture, and designing strategies to remediate before a breach causes damage.

Below are some examples of common attacks listed by OWASP (Open Web Application Security Project), a non-profit institute that works towards improving software security:

Sensitive Data Exposure

Quite a few organizations fail to implement programs to secure sensitive data like authentication credentials, passwords, and credit card details. Such confidential data can allow malicious agents to steal identities and data and commit financial fraud.

You can avoid exposing sensitive data by implementing HTTPS and PFS (Perfect Forward Secrecy) for incoming requests to your sites. It is also essential to disable data caches that store secrets.

Security Misconfiguration

Some security misconfigurations developers commit are outdated codebase, unpatched software, unused web pages, and insecure directories or libraries. They facilitate hackers to gain access to your web applications.

Updating your software regularly is a simple method to avoid misconfigurations. Automating the process will help you in preventing a hassle.

Cross-site Scripting XSS

Attackers often lure people into clicking on malicious links that end up injecting hostile code through a process called cross-site scripting. Leveraging XSS vulnerabilities, hackers can access your microphones, webcam, location, and confidential data stored on your device.

You can effectively prevent malicious code from entering your system by validating user input.

Broad overview of Cross-site scripting
Broad overview of Cross-site scripting

Injection Flaws

SQL and LDAP injections are the two most common injection flaws hackers utilize to breach your databases or directories. They trick you into executing commands to access critical data by sending flawed data using a command query.

Using filters to variable protocols for all the query inputs can help keep injection attacks at bay.

Broken Authentication

Attackers can use multiple methods to gain access to your system and steal data by exploiting improper authentication practices like password stuffing, password leaks, and other vulnerabilities. Once inside your application, they can carry out any action that a genuine user can.

Multi-factor authentication is the best way to secure access to your web applications, alongside creating strong passwords, setting time-outs, and implementing strong identity governance practices.

Features to be reviewed during Web AppSec testing

You can avoid a great deal of nuisance by properly implementing security tests for the below features. Any lapse in doing so can generate vulnerabilities that can give attackers a potential crack to exploit.

  • Application and server configuration – Look out for defects related to encryption and other web server configurations.
  • Input validation and error handling – Multiple attack methodologies are based on improper validation of input and output data.
  • Authentication & session management – Weak passwords and improper credential management make breaches very easy for attackers.
  • Business logic – Ensure that your business functionality is not broken or exposed.

Laying the foundation for a more secure 2023

Securing web applications is fast becoming a business goal for organizations as data breaches can create long-term repercussions. Web AppSec is a tremendous practice for you to protect your websites, databases, and applications. It involves developers taking charge of application security by continuously monitoring and testing their systems. Spectral empowers developers to simplify Web AppSec and make it a part of their everyday tasks.

Our developer-first tool seamlessly integrates with your existing CI systems to continuously scan and track known and unknown assets to stop data breaches before they happen, keeping your applications secure. The solution to preventing costly mistakes is now just a click away.

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