A lot of businesses have web applications that cater to the needs of customers, and those applications are very important to the success of those businesses. Software developers have to produce high-quality applications to meet the demands of the business’s users. The world has become more and more digital, technology is evolving quickly, and security threats are evolving just as fast.
In this post, you'll learn the importance of web application security. We'll also cover the risks and consequences of poor web application security.
What Is Web Application Security?
Web application security is a set of processes that protect your web applications against malicious attacks. It takes a collective effort from people, processes, and technology to protect web applications.
By people, I don't just mean personnel in charge of security, because web apps pass through developers, then DevOps engineers, then CI/CD before moving to production, and finally, users. Every team in the development cycle needs to understand web application security so they can spot vulnerabilities in an application.
Most companies have a web application security policy, which is a set of rules every person involved in the development cycle must follow to produce secure applications.
Risks of Poor Web Application Security
Web application security isn't something to be complacent about. You must consider it at every step in the development process, not just at the end, before deployment. You must make sure your technology can avert modern cyberattacks. Poor web application security will leave your application vulnerable and exposed for hackers to exploit.
The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) publishes a list of the top ten security risks, which they update yearly. Below are the top risks for the year 2021.
Broken Access Control
Broken access control is when an attacker bypasses a system’s permissions. The access control should enforce the security policy, and if it fails to do so, an attacker can access restricted information they’re not authorized to access. They can also make modifications to, and even delete this information.
Cryptography is the study of secure communications techniques, where the communication is encrypted so that only the sender and receiver of a message can view the content of the message. A cryptographic failure occurs when an attacker gains access to sensitive data, due to a weak encryption (i.e., cryptographic) algorithm.
An attacker can inject malicious code into your web application, making the interpreter execute unintended commands. Applications that do not have a good filter to detect hostile data, or a way to validate data input by users, are vulnerable to injection attacks. A common example is SQL injection.
When a developer focuses on design and architectural flaws, and neglects to implement security controls throughout the development process of a web application, we call this an insecure design. This can happen when a developer fails to understand the level of security their application requires.
Attackers can gain easy access into your system when security controls are not properly configured. According to OWASP, security misconfiguration can result from a number of things, that include installing unnecessary features, enabling default passwords, error messages that contain too much information, disabling security features, servers with insecure directives, and out-of-date software.
Vulnerable and Outdated Components
You have to be aware of the current versions of all system components, and make timely upgrades. The developers also have to test the compatibility of any upgrade, and regularly check for vulnerabilities.
Identification and Authentication Failures
Almost every app requires users to verify their identity in some way. If you do not implement authentication in your web application, your system is vulnerable. An attacker can gain access to usernames and passwords.
Security Logging and Monitoring Failures
If you don't actively monitor your application, you cannot identify vulnerabilities. Your application should be able to detect threats and attacks in real time. Also, security logging constitutes sensitive data, and should be hidden from users.
Server-Side Request Forgery (SSRF)
OWASP describes SSRF as a flaw that occurs when an application fetches a remote resource without validating the URL. An attacker can force the server to send information to an unexpected destination.
These are the top ten risks you face when you practice poor web application security. Now that you know about the risks, let's look at some of the consequences.
Consequences of Poor Web Application Security
The most obvious consequence of poor web application security is the exposure of sensitive data. Sensitive data can include anything from passwords and usernames to bank card details, medical records, and financial records.
An attacker who gains access to this data can use the information to commit fraud, including identity theft. If you can't protect your web application, you run the risk of suffering financial loss, and losing the confidence of the users who trust you with keeping their data safe.
Security issues can delay the deployment of an application, especially if you do testing late in the development cycle. Delays will put pressure on developers if there's a delivery time constraint, and can tempt them to release an application with flaws that attackers can exploit.
Benefits of Web Application Security
As already established, the internet plays a big part in the success of many businesses, big and small. If you can get the security of your applications right, there are several benefits.
Reduced Risk of Attacks
By having good web application security, you can identify areas of vulnerability and fix them before attackers have a chance to exploit them. To reduce the risks, you can hire a dedicated security team and set up a web application firewall.
Boost in Confidence
A benefit of good web application security is the gain in confidence of the users if you protect their data well. Having a secure system instills confidence in the business that hired you, and also in your developers. It also means your reputation remains intact.
No Business Disruptions
Identifying security risks early in the deployment cycle will ensure that deployment happens when it's supposed to happen. Delays in identifying vulnerabilities will only lead to disruptions, which can then cascade into more severe issues.
Final Thoughts: the Importance of Web Application Security
Security should never be an afterthought at the end of development. Every team member that plays a part in the development of a web application must have a high level of education on web application security. Identifying vulnerabilities early enough will reduce the risk of attackers gaining access to your web application. OWASP provides a list of security risks you should guard against by following good practices. Loss of revenue, exposing sensitive information, loss of user and customer confidence, and a ruined reputation are some of the consequences of having poor web application security.