Web Application Security: What It Is, How It Works, and the Best Services

Web Application Security: What It Is, How It Works, and the Best Services

Changing passwords frequently, locking devices, and keeping software up-to-date are all common security practices. However, an application’s security can often be an ignored and vulnerable element.

Web applications have a high probability of facing threats triggered by various factors – system faults due to incorrect coding, misconfigured web servers, and application design problems.

Loopholes in an application’s code or operating system can be exploited by cybercriminals to gain access to databases, servers, and other sensitive data. Taking advantage of the sensitive data exposure, hackers then proceed to launch ransomware attacks or other forms of online fraud.

Considering 43% of data breaches are caused by application vulnerabilities, adopting the best practices and proper tools is fundamental to mitigate risks and strengthen the security of web applications.

In this guide, we will cover what web application security is, how it works, and which tools you can use to secure your web application.

As a sector in cybersecurity, web application security focuses on safeguarding websites, web-based apps, and online services from a variety of malicious attacks – ensuring their smooth operation and performance.

Most Common Types of Web Application Security Vulnerabilities

Web application vulnerabilities allow bad actors to gain unauthorized control over the source code, manipulate private information, or disrupt the application’s regular operation.

The international non-profit organization dedicated to web application security OWASP has revealed the top 10 web application layer security risks. Let’s take a look at some of the most common attacks against web applications.

SQL Injection

This type of flaw enables an attacker to tamper with an application’s database queries by injecting code. In most attacks, hackers can retrieve data belonging to other users or related to the application itself, such as passwords, credit card details, and cookies.

When an SQL injection attack goes awry, an attacker may attempt a denial-of-service attack or compromise the underlying web server or other back-end infrastructure.

Cross-site Scripting (XSS)

It is a widely used technique to execute code, most commonly JavaScript, in the targeted website or application. A successful cross-site scripting grants attackers access to the entire application.

An example of an XSS attack is when a hacker exploits an input field’s vulnerability and uses it to inject malicious code into another website.

Hackers have complete control over what happens once their targets click on the infected link. The main reason why XSS is considered a high-risk security flaw is that it allows an attacker to view data stored in LocalStorage, SessionStorage, or cookies on the target system. Hence, no personal data should be stored in these systems.

Cross-site Request Forgery (CSRF)

A CSRF attack employs social engineering techniques to convince a user to modify application data such as the username or password. A CSRF attack requires an application that uses session cookies solely to identify the user making a request. These cookies are then used to track or validate user requests.

Depending on the action the user is forced to complete, the attacker can steal money, accounts, or perform other web application attacks.

Credential Stuffing 

Hackers use usernames, emails, and passwords from publicly available data dumps on the dark web to take over users’ accounts. The illegal data may contain millions of username and password combinations due to years of data breaches on numerous sites. This shows how even old data can be valuable to attackers.

Credential stuffing is highly dangerous, particularly in finance. Financial credential stuffing provides hackers clear access to all of your bank account and transaction information, allowing them to apply for loans, use your credit cards, or conduct bank transfers.

Fake Account Creation

Typically, many businesses promote account creation to track their customers’ behavior and share the latest offerings. This makes quick and simple sign-up an important element, yet security may be overlooked. Therefore, it can be just as easy for criminals to set up fake accounts as any other legitimate customers.

Hackers can create a significant number of user accounts that aren’t affiliated with a real person or that are made using stolen personal information. These fake accounts can be used to cover up credential stuffing practices, take advantage of customer offers, or authenticate stolen credit cards.

Fake account creation attacks are becoming more difficult to detect and prevent as hackers are constantly looking for new ways to forge or steal identities.

Security Misconfiguration

Another high-risk web application vulnerability is security misconfiguration, which allows attackers to easily take control of websites. Malicious attackers can take advantage of a wide range of weaknesses and configuration errors, including unused pages, unpatched vulnerabilities, unsecured files and directories, and default settings.

Elements such as web and application servers, databases, or network services can all leave you open to data breaches. Hackers can manipulate any private information and take control of both user and admin accounts.

Authorization Failure

Visitors of a website or an application can only access certain parts of it if they have the proper permissions – that’s because of the access controls. If, for example, you run a website that allows different sellers to list their products, you need to give them access to adding new products and managing their sales.

Thus, there are certain limitations for non-seller customers that hackers may exploit. They can find ways to compromise the access control and release unauthorized data as a result of modifying user access permissions and files.

Local File Inclusion (LFI)

LFI is a frequently discovered vulnerability in poorly built web applications. It enables an attacker to include or expose files on a server. 

If the web application executes the file, it may expose sensitive data or even execute malicious code. 

How Does Web Application Security Work? 

Apart from preserving the technology and features utilized in app development, web application security also establishes a high level of protection towards web servers and processes. Additionally, it safeguards web services like APIs against online threats.

The critical aspect of web application security is to ensure the applications operate safely and smoothly at all times. To achieve this goal, you can start with an in-depth security testing analysis.

Security testing means discovering and fixing all the vulnerabilities before hackers get to them. That is why it is highly recommended to carry out web application security tests during the SDLC (Software Development Life Cycle) stages, not after the web application has been launched.

The following are some effective security measures that can help protect your web application.

Suggested Reading

If you have a WordPress site, make sure to check our guide with 20+ methods to improve WordPress security.

Conduct a Comprehensive Security Audit

Regular security audits are an excellent approach to ensure you’re following the best practices to keep your web application secure and will quickly find any potential flaws in your systems. Not only can a security audit help you stay on top of potential vulnerabilities, but it also protects your business.

To ensure a complete and objective perspective on your security audit process, it is best to hire a professional. With their extensive experience and expertise, they’ll be a valuable asset to identify and mitigate vulnerabilities that require patch management or other fixes.

After completing a security assessment, the following step is to address all of the discovered flaws. A good approach is setting priorities based on the impact level of each type of vulnerability.

Make sure to perform consistent vulnerability scans and updates. To make things more efficient, perform your web application security testing by using your vulnerability scanners to look for major injection attacks such as SQL injection, cross-site scripting, and DDoS attacks rather than scanning for all types of vulnerabilities.

In addition, remember to make sure that all servers where your web applications are hosted are up-to-date with the latest security patches.

Fully Encrypt Your Data

When someone uses your web application, they may disclose sensitive information. This information should not be accessible to any unauthorized party. Hence, it is critical to ensure that your web application provides data encryption during transit and at rest. This is where SSL/TLS encryption plays a vital role.

When you use SSL/TLS encryption, you use a safer version of the HTTP protocol, HTTPS, and secure all communications with your visitors. Without SSL-encrypted connections, both websites and applications have weak encryption that can jeopardize the session management and overall security system. See how HTTP vs HTTPS compares and how having an SSL can benefit your site.

By implementing security measures like the HTTPS protocol, you’re building a better online presence and improving SEO performance.

Monitor Web App Security in Real-Time

In order to ensure that your web application has 24/7 protection, you need more than just a security audit to identify and fix all of its vulnerabilities. This is where you need Web Application Firewalls (WAF).

Essentially, a WAF manages all aspects of real-time monitoring of your web app’s security aspects like session management. This means it blocks potential application layer attacks in real-time, such as DDoS attacks, SQL injection, XSS, and CSRF attacks.

Implement Proper Logging Practices

Web application scanners and firewalls may not be able to detect all security flaws at the outset. Hence, one of the approaches to take is practicing proper logging. Clear and comprehensive logging can provide accurate records of what occurred at what time, how it happened, and what else was going on.Logging tools like Retrace, Logstash, or Graylog can help collect information on error incidents that occur in your web apps. Logging helps pinpoint the source of a breach and, potentially, the threat actor.

Top 10 Web Application Security Solutions

A web application security solution seeks to protect businesses from all attempts to exploit a code vulnerability in an application.

Let’s look at the 10 best solutions to secure web applications and help keep your business up and running.

1. Cloudflare

Homepage of the web application security solution Cloudflare

With Cloudflare’s intuitive interface, users can quickly identify and investigate security risks, blocking any potential cyber threats.

Its Custom Firewall Rules protect your website and APIs against malicious inbound traffic, while the activity log will help you fine-tune your security settings.

In addition, keep track of and prevent the use of stolen or exposed credentials that could give attackers access to your account. Cloudflare’s services also include a web application firewall and DDoS protection.

Although Cloudflare offers a free plan, it does not include the WAF capability. To get automated web app vulnerability protection, sign up for Cloudflare’s Pro plan, which starts at $20/month.

2. Perimeter 81

Homepage of the web application security platform Perimeter 81

Perimeter 81’s Zero Trust Application Access provides fully audited access to cloud environments, apps, and local web services, enhancing their security and monitoring.

Once users sign in, it’ll list all applications they have access to. You can assign them different access levels depending on their role. Additionally, Perimeter 81 also encrypts all stored information and filters out outbound traffic.

To use Perimeter 81’s services, sign up with your work email and request a demo.

3. NordPass

Homepage of NordPass password manager

Founded by the same team behind the popular NordVPN, NordPass is a reliable security solution for web apps.

If you want to find out whether any of your company’s confidential information has been compromised, NordPass for Business’s Data Breach Scanner will help identify any leaked information. Moreover, its password health feature helps prevent security threats by detecting weak, reused, or outdated passwords within the company.

NordPass password manager starts at $3.59/month for the business version, while a free plan is available for personal use with a 30-day premium trial.

4. StackHawk

Homepage of the API and web application security tool StackHawk

StackHawk scans your applications, services, and APIs for security flaws in the code or open-source components. It offers great efficiency in finding and fixing the bugs, allowing your team’s developers to replicate the issue that triggered a vulnerability by copying a cURL command.

The tool is built on the most widely used application security scanner, ZAP, and has business clients like Microsoft Teams, Slack, and Github Actions. Stackhawk offers a free plan that provides unlimited scans for one application, while its Pro plan starts at $35/month per developer. If you are interested in seeing the StackHawk platform in action, you can request a live demo.

5. Forcepoint ONE

Homepage of the application security platform Forcepoint

If you are looking for an all-in-one cybersecurity solution, ForcePoint One is an excellent choice.

With comprehensive in-app encryption, it’ll provide the highest level of security for both managed and unmanaged apps. Moreover, Forcepoint ONE also provides zero-day threat detection while uploading, downloading, and even when data is at rest. Other security features include data leak prevention and malware protection.

To request a free trial and obtain pricing information, you need to contact Forcepoint’s team.

6. Barracuda

Homepage of the Barracuda Cloud Application Protection platform

Barracuda Cloud Application Protection protects your apps from multiple threats by combining full WAF capability with advanced security services and solutions. Apart from protecting web applications, Barracuda also provides solutions for securing your email, data, and network.

By using any of Barracuda’s WAF solutions, you get access to the Barracuda Vulnerability Manager feature for free. It scans your web applications for security vulnerabilities such as HTML injection, malicious code, cross-site scripting, and sensitive data leaks.

You will get a full report with your web app security analysis as well as tips to further protect it.

7. Rapid7

Homepage of Rapid7, a comprehensive application security platform

The security solutions from Rapid7 use intelligent automation to identify vulnerabilities, detect malicious activity, investigate and stop attacks.

With its contextual threat analysis, Rapid7 streamlines compliance and risk management to provide quick and comprehensive data collection across users, assets, and networks.

Rapid7’s plans start at $1.84/month for the Vulnerability Risk Management tool and $166/month per app for the Web Application Security service.

All plans come with unlimited user accounts, a central account dashboard, and shared data across tools. If you encounter any issue, Rapid7 also provides 24/7 technical support.

8. WhiteHat

Homepage of WhiteHat Security

WhiteHat Security is built on a powerful and scalable cloud-based SaaS architecture. It offers security protection that includes software composition analytics and automatic API protection and monitoring.

In addition, WhiteHat is a great option if you are looking for a web application security solution that streamlines workflows and automates application security throughout the entire software development lifecycle.

9. Netacea

Homepage of Netacea, a bot management solution for websites, apps, and APIs

Developed using behavioral machine learning, Netacea’s multi-tiered Bot Detection and Account Takeover Prevention solutions help identify and stop automated attacks that can cause severe damage to your business.

Netacea’s Intent Analytics prevents non-human and malicious traffic from compromising websites and applications efficiently and accurately. Before fully committing to Netacea’s services, you can request a tailored demonstration to see how it works and how it can benefit your business.

10. Mimecast

Homepage of the cybersecurity service Mimecast

From email security concerns to application loopholes, Mimecast provides a cloud-based platform that can handle all. Using its automated services, identify any threats and malicious activities and safeguard your web apps.

Mimecast also simplifies the process of handling data in accordance with compliance guidelines. Plans are available for businesses with 100+ employees and small businesses with up to 100 employees – contact Minecast’s sales team to receive a price quote.

Conclusion

When developing a web application, it is important to ensure its security from the get-go rather than after the application is launched. To discover vulnerabilities, developers need to constantly perform security tests and implement various types of protection controls such as application firewalls and content security policy.

Whether you’re trying to stand out from the competition, comply with certain standards, or maintain customers’ trust, quickly identifying and resolving any common vulnerabilities within modern web applications is essential.

Web application security is even more important if you are dealing with confidential and sensitive information. By conducting a complete analysis of the web application for security flaws, loopholes, and vulnerabilities, you also significantly decrease the risks associated with a data breach done by cybersecurity bad actors.

Remember, the more secure the web app, the better will be the brand’s reputation and user experience.

We hope this article has provided you with a better understanding of the importance of maintaining the security of web applications and the best practices to do so.

Do you have any questions regarding common web application vulnerabilities or important web application security measures? Leave us a comment below. Make sure to use secure web hosting to prevent any vulnerabilities.

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Rizma Bunga

Rizma is a Digital Content Writer at Hostinger. She loves to discover new things and uses writing as a way to share what piques her interest. In her free time, she loves to rewatch her favorite films or curate music playlists for her loved ones.