Web applications are a part of life. We use them every day, both at home and at work, but have you ever really stopped to think about how secure they are? When the Heartbleed bug made headlines last spring, everyone was suddenly concerned about securing the sites that they use every day, but many security experts fear that despite the widespread impact of that particular attack, not much has changed in terms of web application security.
Since web applications are such an integral part of daily operations for many businesses, it’s time that securing them moves to the top of the priority list. Before that can happen, though, it’s worth looking at the biggest security risks.
Identifying Application Security Risks
According to the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) there are plenty of ways that hackers can exploit vulnerabilities in web applications to steal information and disrupt the flow of data. Among the security risks highlighted in their list of the top 10 security risks to web applications include:
- Injection Flaws. The hacker can inject SQL, OS, and LDAP code into a command to trick an application into completing tasks or allowing unauthorized access to applications.
- Poor Authentication Protocols. If the web application does not exercise appropriate authentication and session management, hackers can easily steal login data and gain unauthorized access.
- Poor Security Management and Configuration. If the security protocols and tools are not installed and updated properly, or misconfigured, hackers can easily gain access.
- Lack of Encryption. Data that isn’t encrypted, especially sensitive data including financial information, protected health information, and even intellectual property, is vulnerable to exposure and theft.
- Cross-Site Request Forgery. Applications can be hacked, causing logged in users to have their sessions hijacked, and their credentials used to send requests to the application that appear legitimate, but are really for nefarious purposes.
OWASP also lists other security risks, including unvalidated redirects and forwards, using components that have security vulnerabilities, cross site scripting, insecure direct object references, and missing function level access control.
The project recommends looking at every single application that your company develops and uses in light of these risks, and taking steps to mitigate them, but there is even more that companies can do to protect their networks and data from web application security flaws.
Addressing Application Security Risks
Understanding the risks to web application security is one thing — reducing those risks is something else entirely. Because the stakes are so high, and failure to secure your data properly could mean significant consequences to your company, it’s vital to make these tools secure, especially since most of the individuals using them will not realize the potential risks on their own.
One of the best options is the deploy a virtualization server security solution that will continuously scan all applications for the security risks listed in OWASP’s report and protect against them. However, you can do more. Education is an important part of any security plan, and it’s important that your security team have at least one person who is committed to staying on top of web application security and learning about the risks and how to reduce them.
It’s also important to understand how users will be using the applications, and evaluate the type of data that user’s will be entering. Some of the most vulnerable web applications, including social media sites, are so vulnerable because they accept a wide range of user inputs, including photos, videos, text files, and more. The more types of user inputs that an application accepts, the greater the likelihood that a hacker will attempt to exploit them to find a way to access unauthorized data.
By understanding how users are actually deploying the apps and what needs to be protected, security teams can more effectively reduce the risks. This also means having a clear understanding of which of the risks are most likely to compromise your data, and addressing them first.
Finally, it’s important to apply security controls consistently, and to stay abreast of changes to risks and the need to mitigate them. Application security is not something that you can expect to address with a single solution, but it’s an ongoing and always changing process. The OWASP list is by no means exhaustive, either, so it’s important to constantly be on the lookout for new risks and solutions. If you do, large-scale bugs like Heartbleed, as well as targeted attacks, will be less likely to affect your company.
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