Organizations are moving to web-based applications and websites to reach customers directly and remotely. This shift is taking place across industries, from e-commerce to financial services.
While web apps offer immense convenience to organizations, businesses, operations, and customers alike, their ubiquity makes them open to cyber attacks. Hackers or cybercriminals are always on the lookout for vulnerabilities in web applications that they can exploit for their personal benefit.
As a result, web application vulnerability testing, or security testing, is essential because it allows organizations and businesses to scan and test their web applications to reveal vulnerabilities.
Let’s discuss what Web Application Security Testing is, its types, why it’s hard to do well, and some of the common threats it has to tackle.
What Is Web Application Security Testing?
Web Application Security Testing, or better known as simply Web Security Testing, is the process of assessing and testing your web application, websites, and web services for security flaws, loopholes, and vulnerabilities.
This allows the prevention of data breaches, malware, and other types of cyber attacks. The process involves meticulous security testing that exposes all hidden vulnerabilities and weak spots in your web application.
In particular, Web Application Security Testing lets organizations prevent the exploitation of existing vulnerabilities in their web applications from hackers and cybercriminals.
Types of Web Application Security Testing
There are three main types of web security testing:
- Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST)
DAST is an approach that entails searching for vulnerabilities in a web application that a cybercriminal could exploit from the outside. DAST web app vulnerability testing uses tools that do not require access to the web app’s original source code and instead rely on exploiting vulnerabilities externally.
Dynamic Application Security Testing is also automatic, making for quick and frequent, automated web application security testing.
- Static Application Security Testing (SAST)
Unlike DAST, SAST is an inside-out approach but still automatic. It searches vulnerabilities in the web app’s source code, offering a real-time outlook of its security. The vulnerabilities exposed by Static Application Security Testing allow improvement of the web application security architecture.
- Application Penetration Testing
Application penetration testing is not an automatic approach and instead involves a human element. The process requires a cyber security professional to imitate how a cybercriminal might break into the web app.
This cyber security professional uses their cyber security knowledge and various penetration testing tools to discover and exploit security flaws in the web app. Many organizations outsource application penetration testing to third-party professionals if they don’t have the in-house resources or want an external, professional view.
Why It’s Hard to Do Well?
Web application vulnerabilities are the key target of Web Application Security Testing. System flaws, security flaws, and vulnerabilities in web apps have existed for decades due to unvalidated or unsanitized form inputs, web app design flaws, misconfigured web servers, etc.
Cybercriminals can easily exploit these vulnerabilities to compromise the web app’s security framework.
Unlike common cyber threats and vulnerabilities like network hacking or data breaches, web app vulnerabilities are more pronounced because web applications interact with multiple users across multiple networks.
At this level of elevated accessibility, vulnerabilities are plentiful, and it becomes difficult to identify each one. This issue results in web app vulnerability testing and web application security best practices becoming more difficult than typical cyber security implementation and best practices.
While web application security solutions are designed specifically for web apps, they only provide traditional vulnerability scanners and solutions. These solutions are important and extensive; however, there is still room for improvement.
Despite identifying and tackling most vulnerabilities, further testing needs to be done to identify the non-traditional and unique vulnerabilities within individual web apps. Without identifying and fixing them, the system remains vulnerable to cyber threats.
This is what makes Web Application Security Testing hard to do well. Even the most secure web applications from industry tech giants are not 100% foolproof. They constantly evolve their systems and implement updates to tackle new vulnerabilities.
It is an ongoing and ever-changing process that continuously targets vulnerabilities through manual and automated Web Application Security Testing.
Common Threats to Tackle
Let’s talk about some common external cyber threats that can be prevented through comprehensive penetration testing and web application security tools.
Structured Query Language (SQL) is a programming language used to communicate with databases. It is commonly used to manage and direct critical information of websites, web services, and web applications.
Cybercriminals have come up with ways to slip their own malicious SQL commands into databases.
These commands allow them to steal, change, or delete critical data. Sometimes, these commands may also give them access to the root system. Cybercriminals who specifically target such databases with malicious intent are practicing what is known as an SQL injection attack.
These attacks become especially problematic if private customer information from the web application gets leaked. Sensitive credentials like customer usernames, passwords, and even credit card information can be breached and exploited for profit.
For example, SQL vulnerabilities make it possible for a cybercriminal to use a web app’s search bar and type in SQL code that could trick the app’s SQL server into unloading all its saved usernames and passwords for the app.
SQL injection attacks like these typically succeed because the web app does not properly sanitize inputs provided by the users. They do not remove inputs that appear to be SQL code, which can be catastrophic.
This issue can be avoided through Web Application Security Testing, more specifically through web app security best practices.
- Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)
Unlike an SQL injection attack, where the target is stored data, a cross-site scripting attack targets the web app users. XSS attacks also involve injecting malicious code into the web app, but in this case, the malicious code only runs in the users’ browsers when they run the app.
This can damage the web app’s reputation because it puts users’ information at risk. The worst part is that there is no indication that an XSS attack occurred. Any sensitive data users give to the web application can be accessed via cross-site scripting without anyone knowing.
This common vulnerability can be identified by Web Application Security Testing, where input fields are tested using web application security tools and manual testing.
These were just some common threats that can be tackled through comprehensive and good Web Application Security Testing and there are many more like Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF), phishing, and more.
Still, doing it well requires using the correct tools to identify vulnerabilities and implementing web application security best practices. You must understand that no web application security or testing is 100 percent, but it can be good enough to identify, avoid, and overcome most vulnerabilities.
Organizations require Web Application Security Testing to safeguard their web apps against hackers, cybercriminals, and their malicious intentions.