What Is Web Application Security?
A web application is an application that is stored on a remote server and delivered over the Internet, typically through a browser interface.
Web application security is complex, because web applications are based on many components, including third-party web servers, legacy components, servers, operating systems, and company-developed code. They can include multiple settings, pages, folders, parameters, and authentication methods. Each of these could represent an attack surface.
Web application security is the protection of web applications from malicious threats using secure coding practices, security procedures carried out by DevOps and IT staff, and dedicated application security tools.
Which are the main security threats for web applications?
There are many different types of threats that can potentially affect web applications, including:
Injection attacks: These occur when an attacker is able to insert malicious code into a web application, allowing them to gain access to sensitive information or perform unauthorized actions. Examples include SQL injection and command injection.
Cross-site scripting (XSS): This type of attack allows an attacker to inject malicious scripts into a web page viewed by other users. The scripts can then be used to steal user data, such as cookies and session tokens.
Cross-site request forgery (CSRF): This type of attack tricks a victim into performing an action in a web application without their knowledge or consent, such as changing their password or making a fraudulent purchase.
Broken authentication and session management: This occurs when an attacker is able to gain unauthorized access to a web application by exploiting weaknesses in the authentication or session management process.
File inclusion vulnerabilities: This type of vulnerability allows an attacker to include a file, usually through a script, on a web server that should not be accessible.
Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks: This type of attack aims to make a website or application unavailable by overwhelming it with traffic from multiple sources.
The Importance of a Secure SDLC
The Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC) is a process that defines how organizations go from application creation to deployment, maintenance, and eventually retirement. Over the years, several standard SDLC models have emerged—waterfall, iterative, and agile.
In the past, security-related activities were often performed only as part of testing at the end of the SDLC. This reactive approach results in many problems being discovered too late (or not discovered at all). A better approach is to coordinate activities across the SDLC, build security into the entire process, and make it possible to find and mitigate vulnerabilities early.
In this spirit, the concept of secure SDLC was born. The secure SDLC process makes security assurance activities such as penetration testing, code review, and architecture analysis, an integral part of all development efforts.
Multi-Layered Defense for Web Applications
Security testing is the process of evaluating system security and identifying potential security vulnerabilities and threats. Security testing is an important step in the SDLC, which can help discovery of security issues and prevention of attacks.
Security testing is based on an assessment of potential security threats within the system. The process involves both positive and negative tests to discover potential security threats. The main purpose of security testing is to identify threats in a system, measure potential vulnerabilities, and ensure that threats do not cause the system to stop functioning or be exploited.
There are several types of security testing, including:
Vulnerability scanners detect and classify known security weaknesses in networks, computers, and communications equipment, predicting the effectiveness of relevant countermeasures. Organizations can perform vulnerability scanning in-house or through a security service provider as part of an ongoing security program or to satisfy regulatory requirements.
A penetration test is an approved, simulated attack performed against a computer system to evaluate its security. Penetration testers use the same tools, techniques, and processes as attackers, to discover and demonstrate the business impact of security weaknesses.
Penetration testing simulates a variety of attacks that can threaten your business. It helps verify that the system is robust enough against attacks, both from authenticated and unauthenticated users, and from various system roles.
A security audit is a systematic assessment of the security of an enterprise information system, which measures the degree to which it conforms to established standards. A thorough audit usually evaluates the physical configuration of a system and the security of its environment, software, information processing, and user practices.
Web Application Firewall (WAF)
A web application firewall (WAF) is a security solution that monitors, filters, or blocks HTTP traffic to and from a web application. Unlike a network firewall, which focuses on the network layer, a WAF is designed to protect the application layer from attacks such as cross-site scripting (XSS), SQL injection, and session hijacking.
WAFs operate by examining incoming traffic and comparing it to a set of rules. If the traffic matches a rule, it is either allowed to pass through or blocked, depending on the rule’s action. WAFs can be implemented as hardware appliances, software applications, or cloud-based services.
WAFs are commonly used to protect public-facing web applications, such as e-commerce sites and online payment systems. They are also used to protect internal web applications, such as corporate portals and intranets.
Here are common WAF solutions you can use to protect your web application:
AWS WAF: This WAF service can be used to protect web applications hosted on AWS. It allows for the creation of custom rules to block specific types of traffic and integrates with other AWS services for added security.
Cloudflare WAF: This WAF solution is provided by Cloudflare, which is a CDN service provider. It can be used to protect web applications from a wide range of threats, including SQL injection, cross-site scripting (XSS) and DDoS attacks.
Imperva SecureSphere: This solution can be deployed on-premises, in the cloud, or as a hybrid solution. It offers protection against a wide range of threats, including DDoS attacks and application-layer attacks.
eXtended Detection and Response (XDR): XDR, or eXtended Detection and Response, is a security solution that aims to detect and respond to cyber threats in real-time across an organization’s entire environment, including endpoints, networks, cloud services, and applications.
In a web application context, XDR can be used to:
- Monitor and analyze web traffic for indicators of compromise or malicious activity.
- Correlate events and alerts from different security tools and sources to identify threats that might otherwise go undetected.
- Investigate and respond to threats in real-time, using automated or manual responses such as blocking traffic, quarantining files, or triggering an incident response plan.
- Provide visibility and context into the full attack chain, from initial exploitation to lateral movement and data exfiltration.
- Continuously learn and adapt to new threats and behaviors.
Here are XDR solutions you can use to protect your IT environment, including web applications:
Carbon Black: This XDR solution uses endpoint detection and response (EDR) to detect and respond to threats. It also includes network detection and response (NDR) capabilities, as well as security information and event management (SIEM) features.
CrowdStrike: This XDR solution uses endpoint detection and response (EDR) to detect and respond to threats.
McAfee: McAfee’s XDR solution combines multiple security technologies and data sources to detect and respond to cyber threats in real-time. It includes EDR, NDR, and SIEM capabilities.
An API gateway is a software layer that sits between an API (Application Programming Interface) and the client that consumes it. Its primary purpose is to route API requests from clients to the appropriate backend service or microservice, and to protect the backend from external access or abuse.
In a web application, an API gateway can be used to:
- Route requests to the appropriate backend service based on the request path or other criteria.
- Load balance requests across multiple instances of a backend service.
- Perform authentication and authorization of API requests.
- Rate limit or throttle requests to prevent overloading the backend or to enforce service level agreements (SLAs).
- Transform or enrich requests or responses to conform to the backend service’s requirements or to the client’s expectations.
- Cache responses to improve performance and reduce the load on the backend.
- Monitor and log API traffic for debugging, auditing, or compliance purposes.
Here are open source API gateway solutions you can use to regulate traffic to your web application:
Tyk: A lightweight, open-source API gateway that supports Lua scripting and provides features such as request routing, authentication, rate-limiting, and caching.
Express Gateway: An open-source API gateway built on top of the Express.js framework for Node.js, it provides features such as request routing, authentication, rate-limiting, and caching.
Apigee: A full-featured API platform that provides complete API management, with features such as request routing, authentication, rate-limiting, caching, and analytics.
AWS App Mesh: A service mesh that provides traffic management and security features for services running on AWS. It includes an API Gateway, Envoy based data plane, and a control plane for managing and configuring the service mesh.
Web applications are especially vulnerable to cyber attacks because they are Internet-facing. There are many potential threats ranging from injection attacks and XSS to DDoS attacks and botnets.
To prevent attackers from exploiting vulnerabilities in your web applications, it is necessary to adopt a comprehensive approach. Thus, it is essential to implement a multi-layered defense for your web applications, combining multiple security measures and testing them regularly.
By ensuring a secure SDLC and leveraging security solutions such as WAF, XDR, and API gateway, you can reduce your organization’s risk of security breaches. In addition to protecting sensitive information and systems, this in-depth security approach can help ensure compliance and maintain customer trust.