Web Application Security: Vulnerabilities and Best Practices

Web applications have become a go-to option for various businesses and startups worldwide to reach a wider audience and increase their sales. However, putting your business on the web comes with massive risk about data & other things.

Yes, here we are talking about the security of the web application.

Now, one question should arise in your mind: What is web application security?

Web application security ensures developing web apps that function efficiently during any kind of attack. In other words, it is a method of securing web apps from threats or vulnerabilities in the code.

Every year, a vast number of web applications are prone to various vulnerabilities and threats from the web. If you also possess a web application, then you might be worried about its security.

Therefore, in this blog, we will first walk you through some of the most common web application vulnerabilities. After this, we will provide web application security best practices that you should take to protect any web application.

So, let’s have a look at all the things in detail:

Web Application Vulnerabilities

Web application vulnerabilities happen due to faults in the web-based application. They are also known as web application attacks.

Now, vulnerabilities in web applications occur at the database level or the network level. This includes various things like invalidated inputs, web app design issues, etc.

Now, let’s have a look at the standard web application security vulnerabilities in detail:

SQL Injection Faults

SQL injection enables an attacker to utilize malicious data to attack databases or directories. Here, injection takes place as soon as a user sends a command or query to an interpreter and forces the interpreter to work on unintended commands and offer unauthorized data.

There are two main ways hackers implement SQL injection. First, SQL injection is utilized to attack the databases. Secondly, LDAP injection is utilized to attack directories.

An attacker inserts malicious content into the database and directories to access the content. By doing this, an attack accesses sensitive information such as username, password, etc. Along with this, an attacker can modify various things in the database.

Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)

Cross-site scripting is a client-side attack. Here the attacker inserts a malicious script into the web page or the web application. Further, the attack starts as soon as the user accesses the particular webpage or web application.

Cross-Site Scripting

Due to this, an attacker can access essential information instantly or fool the user to disclose information.

By applying this web application vulnerability, an attacker would fetch various things such as sensitive page content, session cookies, browser history, etc.

Broken Authentication

Broken authentication is a vulnerability which an attacker uses to hack all the authentication details of the users. Here, the term broken authentication relies on two main things: session management and credential management.

If these two things are not appropriately implemented in a web application, it can result in serious web app vulnerabilities such as credential stuffing, password spraying, brute force, etc.

An attacker can temporarily or permanently access the user’s credentials if a user forgets to log out from a session. Other than this, an attacker can access various things such as session ID, tokens, URLs, and much more.

Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF)

CSRF is a web application vulnerability in which the attacker sends a fake request into the web page where a user is currently authenticated. The attacker changes the state of the web application rather than doing the data theft.

The main aim of the CSRF is to change the email ID, password, status, user profile information, etc. Based on the action, the attacker can get complete access to a user’s account.

Sensitive Data Exposure

Data is very sensitive to the user’s needs and it should be secured from any unauthorized access. In this vulnerability, the attacker makes a man-in-the-middle attack or uses encryption keys to access and steal the data.

Sensitive data exposure only takes place when things in the database are not properly stored. Here, the attacker can access data because of different things like weak encryption, no encryption, transferring data into the wrong database, etc.

With this web application attack, an attacker can access things like banking information, health information, login credentials, social security number, etc. Hence, it leads to identity theft, credit card fraud, etc.

XML External Entities (XXE)

XML external entity is a vulnerability using which an attacker impedes the application’s processing of XML data.

Here, the attacker accesses various things into the application server and looks after the back-end or external system, which even the user can’t access in the web application.

This vulnerability results in a revelation of private data, server-side request forgery, etc.

Security Misconfiguration

Security misconfiguration means unable to apply security controls in the web application or applying all the security controls with some errors.

Several primary misconfigurations observed in the web application include unencrypted files, unpatched systems, unsecured devices, improper firewall protection, etc.

If things like framework, application, web server, etc., are configured well, your web application will work effectively.

If all the things aren’t configured properly, then the attacker can access sensitive data or functionality. Apart from this, an attacker might also access the entire database.

Insecure Deserialization

Insecure deserialization is a well-known web application attack observed in web applications.

For those who don’t know, serialization is a valuable process to convert objects in a format that further can be restored. On the other side, deserialization is reverse where the data from a file stream of the network is fetched to build an object again.

In this vulnerability, an attacker can carry out a vast number of attacks like denial of service attack (DoS attack), access-control related attack, evade authentication, replay attacks, etc.

Using Components With Known Vulnerabilities

Several web application components, such as frameworks, libraries, software modules, etc., can cause vulnerability. How? If various components are operating with a similar advantage like the web app, it results in vulnerability.

Also, when developers are using these components but not keeping them updated or unaware of them, it results in an attack. Here, the attacker can cause data loss or an entire server takeover.

Unvalidated Redirects & Forwards

Various web applications redirect or forward a user to different URLs and pages within the site or on the other website. However, if these web applications don’t have an effective validation, they might accept false input and redirect users to an untrusted source.

Here, the attacker can take advantage of the situation by changing the original URL into a malicious URL to initiate a phishing scam or get users’ credentials.

Unvalidated Redirects & Forwards

Here, the attacker makes a slight change in the redirected URL to ensure that it looks genuine, and then users become victims of the attacker.

Insufficient Logging and Monitoring

Anytime a user forgets to log off from a crucial security-related event or the event isn’t monitored, this kind of vulnerability happens.

Here, the attacker can fetch a huge amount of data and destroy it. Apart from this, an attacker can also get the important credentials of the user.

Web Application Security Best Practices

Here is the complete web application security checklist that you should consider to protect any web application.

Encrypt Your Web App Data

Encrypting the data is one of the oldest yet well-known practices to secure a web application. Here, you need to encrypt all the sensitive data in the web application. This includes passwords, credit card details, passphrases, demographic data, personal details, etc.

Here, one needs to encrypt data-at-rest as well as the data in transit. By doing this, the data will only be accessible by users with proper permissions.

Apart from protecting these data, you should ensure that a web application is up-to-date with the latest SSL certificate. Also, a web application should be HTTPS secure.

Lastly, you should ensure that all the user ID and password should be encrypted using the best hashing algorithms. This will help you to protect web application data efficiently.

Monitor Your Web App Assets

Knowing what you have used in the web application is highly essential to protect any web application.

Here, you should have a list of all the types of web applications developed and used in the organization. You should also have all the details of the servers in which web apps are stored and the components used in the web applications.

It will help you to know which assets your web application is utilizing. Moreover, it will save a lot of time in the long run.

Carry Out a Threat Assessment

Threat assessment is an essential point in the web application security checklist. For protecting any web application, it’s crucial to identify the potential threats.

You need to first identify the total number of threats in your web application to curb them. Carry out some of the steps given below to identify threats.

  • Think about all the paths that an attacker can utilize to hack the web application
  • List out all the security measures that you have taken against it.
  • What kind of tools you will require to protect your web app against threats.

A thorough assessment will help you to integrate the best security measures in your web application. However, combining all these things in the web application doesn’t guarantee the complete protection of the web app.

Avoid Security Misconfigurations

Incorporating a structured build and deploy process will help to integrate various things in the web application efficiently. Also, you can test all the things before deploying them. Moreover, it will help to prevent you from multiple vulnerabilities.

Consider Automation for Managing Web App Vulnerabilities

Developers have become extremely careful about vulnerability management. Developers take the utmost care while working on the web application by implementing the best security practices. Despite this, there is no guarantee that your web application will protect from any attacks.

An organization should integrate an automatic tool that detects all the vulnerabilities in the early stage, decrease the possibility of human errors, and resolve all things effectively.

Define and Adopt a Cybersecurity Framework

A cybersecurity framework consists of a vast number of documents or guidelines valid for an organization to protect its security.

Here, an organization has an exclusive right to set up its own security controls, risk assessment methods and defend the data from any attacks. Hence, it is recommended for organizations to adopt a customized cybersecurity framework.

Even though big organizations heavily adopt the cybersecurity framework, small & medium scale companies can also choose several suitable policies.

Have a Close Look on Web App During Patching

Patching a web application is very important from time to time. If you neglect these things in the web application, it can become vulnerable to bugs, attacks, etc.

However, while patching the web application or any of its third-party libraries, it is essential to have an extreme watch on the process. Why?

If you don’t take care of the patching, it might result in some serious vulnerabilities in your web application. To resolve vulnerabilities related to patching, you can post vulnerability details in security advisories or forums, which can further help you resolve the web application.

Conduct Extensive Quality Assurance & Testing

One of the vital web application security best practices is to implement extensive quality assurance and testing.

Here, it is essential to carry out an appropriate manual testing process of the web application. However, adding another layer of security in the web application will help you identify any of the loopholes in the process.

Moreover, the quality assurance and testing will allow you to enhance user experience, prevent any kind of attacks, and improve the brand’s image.

Update Dependencies Regularly

In this ever-changing scenario, updating all the running libraries and tools would be highly beneficial. If you fail to do so, then you might face various security vulnerabilities in the web application. You might also face issues regarding security, performance, etc.

Therefore, it is imperative to update the dependencies to the latest version. It protects a web application from a vast number of vulnerabilities, enhances performance, reduces maintenance tasks, etc.

Prioritize Vulnerabilities in Web App

One yet another essential web app security best practice is to prioritize vulnerabilities. Whether you have a single web app or multiple web apps, they will consist of web app vulnerabilities.

By prioritizing the vulnerabilities, you can identify vulnerabilities that you need to eliminate and leave the rest.

Primarily there are five ways through which you can prioritize the vulnerabilities.

1. Severity: It means emphasizing the critical and high severity vulnerabilities depending on the CVSS(Common Vulnerability Scoring System) rating.

2. Application Type: Web applications with sensitive data need to be addressed first.

3. Popularity: Based on the popularity of the vulnerability among the hackers, one can prioritize the vulnerabilities.

4. Disclosure Date: Some organizations aren’t able to continuously look after a wide range of vulnerabilities. That’s why they set a date from which they start resolving the vulnerabilities.

5. Ease of Remediation: Based on the level of correction required, one can prioritize the vulnerabilities and resolve them.By utilizing the most suitable method and focusing on the handful of vulnerabilities, you can resolve them instantly and save time.

Utilize Cookies Securely

The utilization of cookies is yet another best practice for securing a web application. Cookies are adopted by businesses and users worldwide.

Cookies are mainly used to identify the users and provide a better experience. Moreover, they provide a faster as well as a personalized experience to the users.

If the cookies are exposed or compromised, hackers can pretend to be another person and gain privileges in a web application.

To protect the user’s data, you should consider some essential things. Firstly, you should never store any kind of sensitive data of the users in cookies.

Secondly, you should decide on a fixed date of expiration for the cookies. Lastly, always encrypt all the cookies of the users.

By implementing all these things in cookies, you can increase web application security.

Wrapping Up

Here we conclude our in-depth guide on web application security. You must have understood all the web application vulnerabilities and how to overcome them by applying best practices.

If you already possess a web application and are facing any of the security issues, then feel free to contact us. We would identify all the potential vulnerabilities and resolve them accordingly.

On the other side, if you don’t possess a web application and are planning to build one, don’t hesitate to contact us.

Guru TechnoLabs provides the best web application development services to businesses and startups worldwide. Hence, we can understand your project and deliver you the best solution.

Ravi Makhija
Ravi Makhija

An entrepreneur, an IT professional. Tech geek. Founder & CEO at Guru Technolabs - Globally Trusted Web & Mobile App Development Company. Loves writing about new technologies and the latest trends in IT field.