Web Security Testing 101
Security testing allows you to search for vulnerabilities within your web app before hackers can exploit them. The result? A safer, more accessible website.
As technology improves, new ways for criminals to exploit it emerge. This is especially true for the internet, where virtually anyone can launch an attack from anywhere in the world. That's why web security is especially crucial for organizations today.
Web security is the process of protecting your website, and its users, from a variety of potential threats. These threats can come in many different forms, including viruses, malware, phishing scams, and SQL injection attacks. And in today's landscape, if you're not sure how to combat these dangers, you'll be at a significant disadvantage.
That's where web security testing comes in.
Web security testing is the process of searching for any known vulnerabilities attackers might exploit to compromise your web application—which, as a result, makes sure your site is safe for people to visit.
For this reason, web security testing is one of the most crucial aspects of web security today. (Also read: Benefits of Performing a Vulnerability Assessment.)
So, let's explore why security testing is important, how it's done and essential resources for incorporating it into your organization:
Why Is Web Security Testing Important?
Website security testing is critical since it helps you detect and repair flaws in your website before attackers can exploit them.
It's also important to test your website regularly even if you don't think there are any vulnerabilities present. This is because new threats are constantly emerging; what was considered safe yesterday may not be safe today. (Also read: 6 Cybersecurity Advancements We Owe to COVID-19.)
Testing also helps assure you your website will be accessible to visitors when they require it. This is especially important for mission-critical websites such as those of banks and other financial institutions.
Finally, web security testing can help you keep up with industry standards such as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS).
How Do You Conduct Web Security Testing?
There are two main ways to go about web application security testing:
- Manual testing. White hat hackers, often known as ethical hackers, perform manual testing by attempting to break into systems in order to find vulnerabilities so they can be fixed.
- Automated testing. This is typically done using web security scanners, which are programs that automate the vulnerability assessment process.
The benefits and risks of both manual and automated testing are unique—as is the case with any other sort of software. Manual testing is sometimes more thorough; but it is time-consuming and expensive. Automated testing is often faster and more affordable; but it can miss some vulnerabilities.
As such, employing a combination of manual and automated testing is often the best method. This will give you the most comprehensive view of your web application's security posture. (Also read: The Beginner's Guide to NIST Penetration Testing.)
What Resources Can Help With Security Testing?
Many consider the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) Web Security Testing Guide the best resource for web security testing available today.
The OWASP Web Security Testing Guide covers everything from setting up a test environment to identifying vulnerabilities; it's easy-to-use and it includes step-by-step instructions on how to test for each type of vulnerability. In short, it's a critical tool for anyone in charge of web application security testing.
The OWASP Top Ten is a list, updated every few years, of what OWASP believes are the 10 most critical web security concerns. The most recent update, from 2017, includes information on new threats, such as cryptojacking and IoT attacks. (Also read: IoT Security Challenges: Why Enterprise Must Assess Them Now.)
OWASP also provides a variety of other resources—including the OWASP-testing and OWASP-codecs projects.
What Are Today's Top Web Security Threats?
So, now that we've clarified what web security is, let's find out: What exactly do you need to know about it?
To answer that, let's take a look at some of the top web security threats that you need to be aware of.
1. SQL Injection Attacks
SQL injection attacks involve an attacker attempting to execute malicious SQL code on your database. If successful, this can allow the attacker to gain access to sensitive data, such as customer information or financial records.
2. Cross-Site Scripting Attacks
Next on our list is cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks.
This code is then executed by unsuspecting users who visit your website. If successful, this can allow the attacker to steal sensitive data such as cookies or session information.
You can prevent XSS attacks by using a content security policy and input validation.
3. Cross-Site Request Forgery
Cross-site request forgery (CSRF) attacks occur when an attacker uses a website to deceive a user into submitting a harmful request.
This can allow the attacker to perform actions on your website on behalf of the user, such as changing their password or making unauthorized purchases.
4. Denial Of Service Attacks
Denial-of-service (DoS) attacks are a type of attack where the attacker attempts to make your website unavailable to users.
This is usually done by flooding your server with requests, causing it to become overloaded and unable to respond to legitimate requests.
You can prevent DoS attacks using rate-limiting and filtering.
5. Man-In-The-Middle Attack
Man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks include, for example, eavesdropping attacks—wherein an attacker interferes with communication between two parties. This can allow the attacker to eavesdrop on conversations or even modify data in transit.
6. Ransomware/Ransomware as a Service
Ransomware is a type of malicious software typically involving an attacker encrypting files and demanding payment in the form of digital currency for decryption. It is often distributed via email, downloads or compromised websites.
Ransomware as a service (RaaS) is a low-code ransomware adaptation that hackers can purchase through the dark web and use to conduct ransomware exploits, such as phishing emails, without needing to know how to code.
You can mitigate the negative effects of a ransomware attack through the following guidelines from the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA):
- Maintain offline data backups.
- Periodically patch and update firmware and software.
- Regularly conduct vulnerability scans.
- Develop a proactive incident response plan including notification procedures. (Also read: How Should Businesses Respond to a Ransomware Attack?)
7. Business Email Compromise (BEC)
A business email compromise (BEC), sometimes called a "man-in-the-email" attack, occurs when hackers infiltrate a company's critical data by way of the organization's email system. Common manifestations of this type of attack include:
- Executive fraud, wherein hackers impersonate an organization's leadership.
- Bogus invoices, wherein hackers request financial transfers into their own accounts.
This threat is notoriously difficult to flag, as the malicious emails often don't contain malware or other pillars of fraudulent emails. However, by staying on top of best practices to prevent similar threats, like spear phishing, you can help guard your email system against BECs. (Also read: How to Keep from Getting Phished.)
These are seven cyber threat examples; but there are many more. For additional information regarding these and other dangers, visit OWASP's website.
Simply having a website does not guarantee it will be useful to visitors. Therefore, it's essential to make sure your site is accessible at all times. This means having a robust defense against today's top cyber threats—and to develop that, you need to know about today's top cyber threats and how they might compromise your website's security. (Also read: Top 5 Cyber Threats from 2020.)
The bottom line is this: You must make certain your data is safe from hacking and loss. This includes keeping your, and your users', data safe.
And by following the guidelines in this post, you can help safeguard your website from assaults.