Web application security (also known as Web AppSec) is the idea of building websites to function as expected, even when they are under attack. The concept involves a collection of security controls engineered into a Web application to protect its assets from potentially malicious agents. Web applications, like all software, inevitably contain defects. Some of these defects constitute actual vulnerabilities that can be exploited, introducing risks to organizations. Web application security defends against such defects. It involves leveraging secure development practices and implementing security measures throughout the software development life cycle (SDLC), ensuring that design-level flaws and implementation-level bugs are addressed.
Web security testing aims to find security vulnerabilities in Web applications and their configuration. The primary target is the application layer (i.e., what is running on the HTTP protocol). Testing the security of a Web application often involves sending different types of input to provoke errors and make the system behave in unexpected ways. These so called “negative tests” examine whether the system is doing something it isn’t designed to do.
It is also important to understand that Web security testing is not only about testing the security features (e.g., authentication and authorization) that may be implemented in the application. It is equally important to test that other features are implemented in a secure way (e.g., business logic and the use of proper input validation and output encoding). The goal is to ensure that the functions exposed in the Web application are secure.
Majority of Web Application Attacks
A Web application in today’s environment can be affected by a wide range of issues. The diagram above demonstrates several of the top attacks used by attackers, which can result in serious damage to an individual application or the overall organization. Knowing the different attacks that make an application vulnerable, in addition to the potential outcomes of an attack, allow your firm to preemptively address the vulnerabilities and accurately test for them.
By identifying the root cause of the vulnerabilities, mitigating controls can be implemented during the early stages of the SDLC to prevent any issues. Additionally, knowledge of how these attacks work can be leveraged to target known points of interest during a Web application security test.
Recognizing the impact of an attack is also key to managing your firm’s risk, as the effects of a successful attack can be used to gauge the vulnerability’s total severity. If issues are identified during a security test, defining their severity allows your firm to efficiently prioritize the remediation efforts. Start with critical severity issues and work towards lower impact issues to minimize risk to your firm.
Prior to an issue being identified, evaluating the potential impact against each application within your firm’s application library can facilitate the prioritization of application security testing. With an established list of high profile applications, web security testing can be scheduled to target your firm’s critical applications first with more targeted testing to lower the risk against the business.
The following non-exhaustive list of features should be reviewed during Web application security testing. An inappropriate implementation of each could result in vulnerabilities, creating serious risk for your organization.
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