As technology advances, so do the bad actors. Their mode of operation changes almost in step with new technology. Cyber-attacks keep evolving and increasing at alarmingly high rates.
Businesses are almost at a loss on what to do to keep the bad guys at bay.
They work hard to find areas where you are vulnerable. When they do, these hackers will mercilessly exploit your business’s weak areas. Since dealing with breaches is expensive and takes time to rectify, securing web applications must take precedence.
The Web and its Intricacies
Technically, the internet is a dynamic platform. You can program and customize it in any way you like. Besides, with an application at hand, communication, information exchange and closing of sales with customers become easy.
From a marketing approach, the web helps you understand your prospects and their spending habits. To obtain such details, you request visitors to fill out application forms or provide features that will enhance their browsing experience.
However, obtaining this information is akin to going on a fishing or hunting expedition. You must capture the data, process, transmit and store it for future use.
To do so requires the use of web applications. In a nutshell, a web application is a computer program that allows anyone visiting your site to either submit or retrieve data via the internet.
Among the features that make data capture possible include:
- Login pages
- Products or services request forms
- Shopping carts
Sneak Peek – A Web Application at Work
Web applications work via a three-layered approach. The first one consists of the user interface which in this case is the web browser. Second, is the technology that helps in generating content. A database or content carrier is the third layer.
Such material could be in the form of:
- Credit card details
A user triggers a request to your web application server. The request goes through a browser on the internet.
The application accesses the server containing your company’s database and instructs it to carry out the requested task. Once complete, the web app retrieves information and sends it to the requester who is the user in this case.
Since the process takes place electronically, you may not notice what has transpired. Everything happens so fast; it takes about a fraction of a second.
Web Application Attacks in Perspective
Vulnerabilities in web applications say due to improper coding, creates leeway for hackers. Think of the intruder as the enemy who seeks to attack a poorly secured military camp.
They might lay an ambush or wait until dark. Once a hacker accesses your database, they can steal crucial information such as credit card details and use these to commit fraud.
Hackers capitalize on human error and negligence. At other times, they rely on luck while some are highly creative and sharp individuals that keep trying until something gives.
What is all the Fuss about Securing Web Applications?
The answer to this question is almost apparent. Your organization’s database contains crucial and highly sensitive information.
In the wrong hands, such data can destroy your integrity. Besides, customers could lose money. Here now are reasons for the noise on web application security:
- Your customers are the primary target
Hackers are aware that once they have your customer’s attention, they can manipulate them into thinking that they are dealing with you.
Towards this end, they introduce malicious software that results in redirecting traffic. Before you know it, you have lost money and client confidence. By securing web applications, you retain customers and their business.
- Costly clean-up
When you discover that someone has hacked into your web application, you start looking for ways of cleaning up.
No matter who you ask or whichever site you search, the recommendation will boil down to finding a professional in Singapore to clean it up. The service may not be cheap and could end up chewing a massive chunk of your budget.
- To avoid having a blacklisted website
Every day Google blacklists around 10,000 websites. Once blacklisted, a site carries a message that notifies the user of possible harm from using the website.
With such a warning, who would dare stay on such a web page? In other words, Google is trying to tell you that they have expelled or are about to evict you from their search engine.
Tips for Securing Web Applications
Securing web applications, is achievable? The most suitable approach is to carry out an audit and identify possible attacks.
After that, you develop defence mechanisms to guard the business against these attacks. You need to have the mentality of a military commander.
In the event of war, no such unit leader would send his men to the battlefront without formulating a strategy. He must understand the enemy and the nature of the conflict.
- Carry out input validation
Web forms used by visitors to share or request information present the most vulnerable front for a web application attack. Any errors, however small, in capturing or processing of user input can result in corrupt data. To ward off the possibility of attack, an experienced Singaporean web developer should carry out input validation tests to ensure that the system is watertight.
- Keep testing and scanning your database
Insist on your web developer carrying out database tests and examining the applications for the entire cycle of the app development. Through these random tests, you can find out which areas are vulnerable plus the danger they pose. Upon discovering the flaws, you can seek the developer’s intervention to have them rectified and seal all loopholes.
- Make use of web application firewalls
Recall the previous example of a military base that is under siege. By being proactive, the soldiers can take measures to prevent enemy penetration. WAFs (web application firewalls) work similarly. WAFs can detect suspicious activity through a set of protocols or rules.
11 No-Fail Ways of Securing Your Website Applications Without Spending a Fortune
The above tips will help enhance the security of your website application. Already, the website applications are hosted on modern servers that are secure, but with new technologies, you need to do more to safeguard the privacy of your users. Here are 11 additional no-fail ways of securing your website applications without spending a fortune.
Get Rid of Unnecessary Sections of the Applications
Having too many unnecessary sections reduces the usability of the applications and increases the risk of hacking. Usually, these sections are not updated as regularly as the essential parts. Hackers can use the loopholes to steal users’ data, such as credit card information and email addresses.
On the same point, some brands have multiple websites that serve different purposes. If you are one of them, you need to ask yourself whether you need them or you can combine them into one website. That way, you will be able to monitor and update the security features more conveniently instead of running security checks on each website independently.
The same case applies to APIs; reduce them to make your website applications hack-proof. Note that hackers can use any exposed item that is poorly secured or non-used to wreak havoc on your business.
Regularly create an inventory of all your services and web application arsenal to know which ones you should eliminate and which ones should be upgraded to keep bad guys at bay.
Prevent Leakage of Sensitive Information Through Architecture Loopholes
A majority of sensitive information leakages are caused by human error. For example, a web developer may decide to share a piece of code on a forum or with other developers in their network to get help or their input before using it to write an application.
Once the code is exposed to the world, anyone who comes across it can use it to remotely and discreetly manipulate your website applications. Based on experience, hackers strive to get information about their targets from online newsgroups, pastebins, and forums.
Therefore, put stringent measures or protocols to prevent leakage of web application information such as business logic, plugin versions, code, and processes. Please make sure that the developers (either in-house or outsourced) are aware of these protocols and adhere to them from the onset to avoid regrets down the road.
You could also go the extra mile to request them to sign a non-disclosure agreement before they embark on creating a web application for your business.
Review Website Application Code Regularly
Security should be part of your business Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC). Please don’t assume that the website application is secure because it was developed as per the recent best coding and security practices.
Every day, hackers develop new ways of compromising web applications without exposing their identity and location. Therefore, it’s imperative to regularly conduct thorough code reviews that focus on the architecture of the software and the code.
Special coding skills are required to conduct the review. Consider outsourcing the tasks to a reputable white hack firm if you don’t have these skills. Ideally, web application code reviews should be done in teams and by people who were not involved in developing the initial code. Such a team is better positioned to pinpoint loopholes and errors as they criticise the code.
Also, it is recommended to have security checklists for use during the website application development. The checklist should be specific to the programming language selected for the project.
Be Cautious About Who You Grant Credentials and Access Rights
This security tip is challenging to implement, especially in fast-growing companies that hire employees on a contract or temporary basis. It’s super important to have a database of all user credentials for all your website applications.
Ensure that you revoke the credentials once an employee leaves the company or assign them new roles. Have you ever heard of the principle of least privilege (PoLP)? This principle recommends only giving users access to the essential tools and information they need to perform their roles.
For instance, if you have a website, don’t give the content writers full admin access when they can improve your website content with just view and edit permissions.
Regulating the access rights may seem tedious and time-consuming, but it will go a long way in making your website application tamper-proof. More importantly, it will protect you from malicious or disgruntled employees who may try to sabotage your brand before or after leaving the company by sharing their credentials with hackers.
Concisely, not applying PoLP is a security mistake that poses a significant danger to your business. It encourages the propagation of insider threats and exposes sensitive business data to hackers. Hire a reputable security firm to regularly vet the access credentials and make the necessary changes to be on the safe side.
Collaborate with Professional White Hat Hackers
In the current fast-paced world, most businesses rely heavily on website applications to run daily operations, such as providing services to customers. Small and medium businesses that are not on a tight budget cannot afford to have in-house web app developers and security personnel.
However, that is not a reason to neglect web applications. There are many reputable platforms such as Upwork with professional white hat hackers that you can hire to monitor and secure your web applications without spending a fortune. Check the reviews posted by other clients on their profiles before hiring to get an idea of the quality of services they offer their expertise.
Usually, ethical or white hat hackers work by hacking web applications to identify vulnerabilities and fix them before black hat hackers uncover them. Having such a team on your side will significantly help secure your web application as they know the latest hacking techniques and tricks used by hackers.
You could also create a bounty program to reward anyone who successfully identifies vulnerabilities or loopholes in your website applications. Consider hiring the winners but do due diligence to know their background. Otherwise, you may end up with black hat hackers on your team who won’t hesitate to share sensitive code information with third parties or even initiate an attack when you least expect it.
Who are white hat hackers? These are programmers or developers who have a vast knowledge of how web applications are developed and function. Unlike the black hat hackers, they use their expertise to help government agencies, organisations, and businesses to create secure applications. They also collaborate with companies to identify security breaches and seal them.
Their importance in the modern world cannot be ignored. In 2015, they remotely hijacked a Jeep when the owner was driving it. Realising the great danger such a global hack could have on users and the company’s reputation, Chrysler recalled more than 1.4 million vehicles.
Create an Inventory
First, you cannot protect a website application that you have no clue exists or how it functions. In your quest to improve the security of your website application, you need to start by creating an inventory.
Sure, your company may be capable of developing and publishing its web applications. However, it would be best to consider the intermediary applications that your customers rely on to engage with your business.
The applications or online resources your business uses to run daily operations should also be included in the inventory. Categorise or list the website application based on their vulnerability and the damage they could cause to your business if they were to be hacked.
For example, suppose you have a company culture of taking employees out for dinner once or twice per month. In that case, you don’t need to worry much about the application you use to book the reservation at the restaurant, but the apps that process your credit card transactions should be looked into carefully. If not, you risk exposing your credit card number to hackers when paying.
The bottom line is that a reliable vulnerability management system should list all the web applications. Security updates or patches made on any apps should also be noted down for future reference.
Adhere to the Best Cyber Security Practices
Adhering to the best cyber security practices, such as using unique and strong passwords, will make your apps tamper-proof. Go further to activate multi-factor authentication (MFA) for critical applications.
For example, set the MFA such that users need to input a secret code sent to their phone number as a message or email inbox after inputting the password. That way, a hacker who has access to the password but not the user’s phone or email cannot log in to the application.
Make sure that you use the most recent version of TLS and HTTPS when developing web applications to take full control of them. You can also add an X-XSS protection security header. There are brands that go an extra mile to add sub-resource integrity to <link> or <script> elements.
One of the benefits of the X-XSS protection header is its effectiveness in preventing cross-site scripting attacks. It’s also compatible with Chrome, Safari, Google, IE 8+, Github, Opera, and Android. Most reputable web app testing consultancy firms advise customers to implement it to add another layer of security to their mobile apps.
Consider Installing a Web Application Firewall
Persistent hacking attempts are impossible to counter with a robust web application firewall (WAF). The modern WAF is not only capable of vetting web clients before relaying requests to your website but also filtering inbound traffic.
It relies on AI (artificial intelligence) and machine learning (ML) to identify suspicious user behaviour and block login attempts from users and IP addresses listed on the watchlist.
Use it to protect your web applications from application-layer attacks that traditional network firewalls cannot stop. With it, you can rest easy knowing that sensitive data sent through the HTTP application layer won’t be exposed to any third party without your consent.
Invest in a Modern Scanning Tool
One effective way to identify security vulnerabilities on web applications is by investing in a modern scanning tool. The primary role of security testing company that develop these tools is to stay abreast of new vulnerabilities and hacking techniques and update their systems accordingly.
With such a tool in your arsenal, you will get notifications whenever any of your web applications are vulnerable to a new hacking threat. It will also alert you of any configuration issues or loopholes that attackers can use to penetrate the app.
This information will help you seal the application before the hackers gain access to your application database. There are also automated scanning tools such as the popular black-box fuzzers that are wired to simulate an actual hacking attack to identify loopholes that hackers can exploit.
Such a proactive security action will give you an upper hand over hackers as you will be able to block attacks before they happen. However, it’s important to note that some scanning tools are too intrusive and can potentially ruin your application. Such tools are incapable of identifying vulnerabilities, so consult a reputable security expert before using any tool you find online.
Review Internal Application Processes
Developing a web application is not a one-time project. It’s crucial to regularly review the application’s internal processes to know if they pose any danger to your business. For example, confirm whether the password recovery process is secure. Check how easy it is for hackers to steal users’ passwords and modify them.
The review will help you identify flaws and correct them to safeguard your business. Note that website security starts during the initial functional designing stage of the application. List down all the critical functions of the website application and develop a schedule to review them either weekly, biweekly, or monthly.
This action will ensure that hackers can’t circumvent the primary mechanics or code used to develop the application. The goal of the review process shouldn’t be to confirm that the application is working as expected in a pre-defined scenario but to detect vulnerabilities and seal them.
Back-Up Your Data
Not to sound like a broken record, but the number of brands that don’t back up their data is worrying. Understand that your website application data is always at constant risk of getting netted by hackers, and so it must be backed up off-site.
Off-site means that the data is not stored in the application or in the same hosting cloud. It’s also good to have fall-back applications such as an alternative credit card processor to help you process transactions securely if the primary application is compromised. Having a disaster plan and preparing for the worst will secure your business.
By keeping abreast of trends in software development, your IT team always remains alert.
Besides, training empowers them to design robust software solutions that can withstand any form of attack from hackers. Securing web applications is an essential and continuous undertaking.
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