On May 7, 2021, the largest oil pipeline system in the US suffered a major cyber attack.
A hacker group identified as DarkSide intruded into the colonial pipeline system and stole 100 gigabytes of data within a couple of hours. Following the data theft, attackers infected the pipeline’s IT network with ransomware. The consequences were severe. Fuel disruption, a peak in prices are just the tip of the iceberg. The colonial pipeline had to pay a hefty price of 75 bitcoins (worth $4.4 million at that time) as ransom in hopes of quick recovery. Although, a month later, the company was able to recover much of the ransom payment with the FBI’s help. But this attack woke us all up to the sheer need to protect our digital assets.
One such critical digital asset is web-based applications and services. They have become an indispensable aspect of our everyday life. Verizon’s 2021 Data Breach Investigations Report shows that:
Nearly two-in-five (39%) data breaches arise from web app compromises.
That’s why web application security has become the need of the hour.
Web application security encompasses the security of websites, web applications, and web services such as APIs. So let’s discuss the importance of securing your web applications and the best practices you can follow in this blog.
Why Is Web Application Security More Important in 2022?
Web applications have become quite prevalent in recent years. From online banking to online shopping, we rely on web apps for a wide range of uses in our everyday life.
This wide popularity, in turn, attracts the attention of cybercriminals. Hackers always remain on their toes to find vulnerabilities in web apps and exploit them to their advantage. A recent report by PurpleSec revealed that:
Over 18 million websites suffer malware infections at a given time each week.
Unsecured applications can result in massive service outages and downtime, leading to sales and revenue losses. As per recent estimates by Cybersecurity Ventures, ransomware costs are expected to reach $265 billion by 2031. This goes to show how dearly web application vulnerabilities can cost businesses if they are not taken care of.
In addition to financial losses, the absence of web application security can also threaten the company’s reputation and its goodwill among customers. For example, you lose your sensitive data and lose your customers’ trust during data breaches.
Moreover, the government is now cracking down on companies that do not follow adequate security practices. Some compliances like GDPR, PCI, and more, have been formulated to enforce web security and protect user privacy. Failing to abide by these compliances can lead to heavy fines, penalties, and lawsuits.
How Can You Secure Your Web Applications?
The stats mentioned above only enforce maintaining healthy practices to secure your web applications from the prying eyes of hackers. The most common threat to your web application is cyber security attacks. These include SQL injection, DDoS attacks, broken authentication, and cross-site scripting.
While we cannot stop hackers from inventing new fraud schemes and exploiting applications, we can learn the best web application security practices to mitigate the risks involved.
So, with that agenda in mind, let’s dive in!
1. Keep malicious traffic at bay with Web Application Firewalls
A web application firewall (WAF) is designed to secure web applications from application-layer attacks. It offers robust protection against the most critical web application vulnerabilities, such as cross-site scripting, injection attacks, cross-site forgery, broken authentication, among others.
You can think of WAF as a shield between the web application and the client. It constantly monitors and inspects the HTTP traffic going in and out of web applications. If the traffic is found to be safe, WAF allows it to pass through. On the contrary, malicious traffic is blocked from web apps to prevent threats and attacks.
The web application firewall uses a set of rules, also known as policies, to differentiate between safe and malicious traffic. These policies are customizable and can be tailored to meet the unique needs of your web application.
Web application firewalls can be configured in multiple ways. The two most common types of WAFs are:
- Hardware-based WAFs
- Cloud-based WAFs
Both have their advantages and disadvantages. So choosing the appropriate option for yourself is a matter of understanding your unique business needs and making the decision accordingly.
2. Encrypt sensitive data in transit with TLS
Data security is crucial for web applications. For example, when someone shares confidential information on your application, like personal details or bank credentials, they expect that information to be safely delivered and stored on your web server. That’s where TLS steps in to help.
Transport layer security (TLS) encrypts the communication between client and server via HTTPS protocol. As a result of this encryption, your web application remains protected against data breaches. In addition, TLS also authenticates the parties exchanging the information to prevent any unauthorized data disclosure and modification.
TLS protocol has become a standard security practice in recent years. It is also helpful from the SEO standpoint since Google uses a secure connection as a ranking signal.
To implement TLS on your website, you need to buy a TLS certificate from a certificate authority. Then, install it on your origin server. One can recognize TLS encryption by the padlock icon that appears right before the URL in the address bar. Besides, if the URL begins with “HTTPS”, it’s also a sign that your browser is connected via TLS.
3. Improve your security system with Pen Testing
Pen testing works on one principle: Hack your web app before hackers do.
It may sound outlandish at first, but it’s not. Here’s why.
If you can find vulnerabilities in your web application and take security measures to fix them, your chances of getting hacked in the future will drastically reduce.
That’s the idea behind penetration testing, popularly known as pen test or pen-testing. It’s a preventive measure to reduce, if not eliminate, cyber attacks.
In this cybersecurity exercise, cybersecurity experts, with permission, attempt to find and exploit vulnerabilities in your system.
They use different penetration tools like Nmap, Wireshark, Metasploit, etc., for this purpose. This simulated attack intends to test the effectiveness of your existing security policies and identify unknown vulnerabilities that hackers could exploit. It also discovers loopholes that have the potential to lead to data theft. Thus, the test reports help you identify vulnerabilities before hackers, helping you update your security solutions and patch vulnerabilities in time.
4. Inculcate security practices in the design and development phase
The majority of security incidents are caused due to defects in the design and code of the software. That’s why integrating security practices in the application design and development phase is crucial.
When it comes to the design phase, some of the best security practices include performing threat analysis, implementing design principles like server-side validation to mitigate risks, and building a security test plan.
For secure coding, developers should be educated about the OWASP Top 10 vulnerabilities and the OWASP secure coding practices they can adopt to prevent those vulnerabilities. Developers should also make a habit of scanning their code to catch security vulnerabilities early in the development phase. They can integrate security tools into the DevOps pipeline to find any vulnerability that may have sneaked into their code. This will allow them to revise their code quickly and nip the problem in the bud.
OWASP has also worked actively to identify the best coding security practices that can be integrated into the software development lifecycle to mitigate the most common software vulnerabilities.
5. Adopt a cyber security framework
The last element on our best cyber security practices list is employing a cyber security framework. A cyber security framework is a set of standards, guidelines, and practices that an organization can follow to manage its cyber security risks. The framework aims to reduce the company’s exposure to cyberattacks and identify the most prone areas to these attacks.
There are different types of cyber security frameworks. Some popular ones that dominate the market include the NIST cybersecurity framework, CIS, and ISO/IEC 27001. When it comes to choosing a cyber security framework for your organization, adopt the one that can protect the most vital areas of your business. You can also look at existing security standards prevalent in your industry for inspiration.
The dynamics of the web are ever-changing. Overlooking web application security can lead your business to massive revenue losses and reputational damages. The web application security practices discussed in this blog post will guide you to take actionable steps and set up a web security strategy that offers 24/7 protection and improve your web application’s credibility.