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Design Framework for Web Application Security against Vulnerabilities

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When you log in and start browsing via web browser, connect with your friends or co-workers or publish your personal thoughts online, you often use a web application. Web apps can be installed in the browser as an add-on or are accessed on the websites being visited. Usually, we quite innocently permit these apps to run in the background.

Have you ever considered what types of data these apps transmit to third party servers when you permit them to keep running in the background?

What makes the web applications vulnerable?

  • Web applications use the simplest architecture for ease of functions for e.g. a social bookmarking app used to capture bookmarks.
  • They are created using HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) for swift browser compatibility.
  • They have strength to identify or combat the exclusively designed threats.
  • Usually, either the intranet or the internet is used to connect the user to the web application.
  • The applications hosted in the environment provided by the browser they are designed for. For example Firefox Hello, an inbuilt web application that comes with a Firefox toolbar for video chat, or any such extension that you have installed in Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Opera, Safari, Internet Explorer, Torch, Maxthon, SeaMonkey, Avant Browser or Deepnet Explorer, etc.
  • The browser serves as the endpoint device, the appearance should be user-friendly and hence harmless, to the user.
  • Since the data is being transferred via a web app that has the permission, it is extremely challenging even the firewalls to obstruct such data transfer either.

Security of web applications is one of the biggest concerns of the organizations around the world. However, there are no fixed rules set that would ease the identification of vulnerabilities. Defining some best practices can help some up with better and secure web applications. Website Security Statistics Report based on a review of 30,000 websites concludes that there is a lack of consent on the best practices for web application security and software.

Why do we need the web application security?

Here are a few facts from some of the latest reports that will create a requirement of web application security:

  • WhiteHat Sentinel found at least one ‘serious’ vulnerability in whooping 86 percent of the websites tested. These serious weaknesses were easily exploitable by the hackers to take control over the entire website or a part of it to access all the sensitive data.
  • Nearly, 61 percent of these threats could be resolved within an average of 193 days from them being reported.
  • 4,000 web application vulnerabilities have been reported and the number is anticipated to touch the mark of 8,000 in 2015 alone as per the survey.

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Establish a Security Framework for Web Application:

To secure the web applications, mere scanning is not enough. To keep strict tabs on the web application security, the organization needs to have a security framework that addresses security issues at all the stages including development, deployment, and maintenance of a secure web application.

Assigning dedicated human resources to undertake the thorough responsibility of the web application security is a good place to begin with. The next step is to implement the three-tier model of web application security.
web-app-sec-secure-cycle

Web Application Security as a part of Vulnerability Management

A comprehensive web security program helps to secure all the processes and seal the vulnerability management for the enterprise. Web application security needs to be an integral part of the organization’s vulnerability management program.

While there is more than one aspect is vulnerable, an organization needs to scan and address all the vulnerable aspects or areas. Identification of the vulnerabilities is a good place to begin with.

Threats to Organization Owing to Insecure Web Applications

There are many forms of web application vulnerabilities. Hackers and attackers can exploit any accessible vulnerability to take charge of the sensitive information that is desirable.

SQL Injection and Cross-Site Scripting: Vulnerability in the syntax of the web application can lead to faulty injection or manipulation of the URL. Via such URL modification, the hacker can get in and access the server, database, as well as other back-end resources. Apart from SQL injections, Cross-site scripting or XSS is used to embed malicious code to websites via web applications as well.

Broken authentication and inadequate session management: Broken authentication is one of the most frequently exploited vulnerabilities. Use of non-secure passwords, lack of dual authentication and remain logged in even after the session is over, gives attackers access over web applications.

Direct object reference: Improper vetting of the application parameters being used on the web gives access to the hackers to dictate malicious commands to the organization’s website. They can gain access to the internal aspects of the site or get the data they need by exploiting such vulnerability.

Security configuration: Wrongly or inaptly configured servers give an opportunity for the hackers to abuse their website and DNS are anticipated to be the next biggest vulnerability.

Lack of encryption: While the data travels online, the encryption of such data is mandatory. Unencrypted data is much more vulnerable and poses as a lucrative attraction to the hackers.

Lack of hierarchy based access control: Often the administrators hide objects and do not provide them with ample protection. For the objects and functions that should be accessible only by the higher access levels need to be protected and not masked.

Using third party components with inbuilt vulnerabilities: Third party applications or plug-ins are easy to access, quick to embed and more than often they come with a bug or a known vulnerability. Such third party vulnerabilities that come with most open source, free applications, pose a massive threat via web application to the security of the organizational data.

Automated redirects and forwards: If a web app is programmed to redirect the user, it must be accompanied with proper and ample validation, encryption, and server security. Auto redirects are often used to redirect user or gain access to data or access the unauthorized pages.

Tips to secure web application security

While most web application security and web vulnerability protection processes focus on various aspects, most of them fail to give a systematic process. Here is a simplified four-step process that identifies all the web vulnerabilities, including the web application vulnerability and gets you rid of them permanently.

web-application-security-way

Identifying: Identification of the vulnerable targets is an extremely important. However, it is not a one-time job. Owing to the fact that the face of the web, the number of threats and the virtual infrastructure of the organization based on its needs, which are constantly evolving, the vulnerabilities can crop up at any time. Usually, the administrators are aware of the number of automated scanners available to pick and scan the web-based vulnerabilities. The scan reports give you a perspective and make you aware of the patches required now.

To be vigilant at all times, you need a systematic, comprehensive, and active vulnerability management system. Apart from identifying the immediate risks, you need to identify the organizations risk profile. Hence, identify:

  • The size of the web infrastructure, the geographic spread of the infrastructure and the scope of the use,
  • Hardware and software connected via the network; and,
  • The proportional value of the assets connected to the network.

Analyzing: To combat against all at once is usually not feasible. Hence, segregation of the assets and vulnerability based on high or low risk can be helpful.

Items at Risk Importance / Asset value Threat /Vulnerability
XYZ (High/Low) (High/Low)
ABC (High/Low) (High/Low)

Documentation: Analysis brings in a lot of information that needs to be properly documented in order to:

  • Implement strong access keys,
  • Implement appropriate encryption,
  • Make data available as per authority levels,
  • Determine the absolute safety of all the assets without respite. Apart from the threat analysis, other information like service agreements, the regulatory compliances, and expiration dates must be taken into account.

The reports must be reviewed the system owners, administrators and the security team. Create a schedule of the actions to be taken within a definite period as per the priority. Ensure the implementation and redemption.

Remediation: High-risk and high-value assets take the top precedence while low-risk or low-value assets can take the back seat. The low-risk or low-value assets should be scheduled for daily scanning while the high-risk and high-value assets must be under constant vigilance. For e.g. assets of critical importance, sensitive business data or financial information should be under incessant watch. Regular scans are mandatory for all the information and assets connected to the server. Inbuilt appropriate actions such as quarantine or restore functions can ensure smooth operations, despite the threats.

Conclusion:

The excuses such as who has so much of time or we are short of the staff will not help you stay safe. Threats are no joke; they are the most serious affair that needs prime attention. If you want to keep your assets, business, clients, future and profits secured, pay immediate attention to the web application vulnerabilities and their security measures.

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