Businesses are increasing their online presence to cope with the shift of our daily activities online. It’s now common for companies to deploy web applications to interact with customers and support their internal processes. However, due to the amount of information through these digital channels, they have also become prime targets for cybercriminals.
Fortunately, more organizations are also becoming security conscious when protecting their web apps.
According to the CyberEdge Groups’ 2019 Cyberthreat Defense Report, 63 percent of organizations already use web application firewalls (WAFs). WAFs are considered the primary security measure that prevents malicious traffic from accessing web apps. But despite the availability of these solutions, organizations still fall victim to data breaches. Several high-profile attacks to the likes of Under Armour, Marriott, and Quora in 2018 collectively compromised over a billion customer records.
Given these risks, developers and companies should ensure that their web applications are protected.
As ordinary users, we should also be conscious of applying necessary security measures to prevent stolen records. Here are four fundamental ways web applications can prevent data breaches.
1. Integrating Security Tools
It doesn’t take much for malicious actors to launch cyber attacks these days. Remote access tools can be easily purchased online, and more experienced hackers can also be hired over the dark web to target specific web applications.
Attackers already have access to millions of compromised credentials that could help them breach systems that happen to use weak passwords through brute force. They can also tap massive botnets to assist in carrying out their attacks.
Solutions like WAFs can analyze all traffic trying to access the web app and filter out connections originating from known and suspected malicious sources. They can also prevent other frequent attacks such as cross-site scripting (XSS), SQL injection, and remote file inclusion. As such, web apps must integrate solutions capable of thwarting these attacks.
Many solutions providers now also offer comprehensive security tools integrated alongside WAFs. These solutions may also feature distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack mitigation, anti-malware, and data protection, making it difficult for attacks to succeed.
2. Keeping Stacks Up-to-Date
Web apps depend on technology stacks to function. As web apps and their stacks get more complicated, these components’ vulnerabilities also increase. Web apps and developers must continuously keep their technology stacks free from such issues by patching components and keeping them up-to-date.
For example, a content management system like WordPress. It powers nearly 30 percent of websites requires a stack consisting of an Apache web server, PHP, and MySQL. A vulnerability in just one component like PHP can be used to compromise the entire application.
Unfortunately, many web hosting servers still run outdated versions of PHP like 5.6 and 7.0. WordPress sites that run on such stacks are now at increased risk of exploits since support for these PHP versions ended last December 2018. No new patches and fixes will be released for these versions should exploits be discovered.
Alarmingly, almost half of WordPress sites still use these. Administrators could lower their sites’ exposure by upgrading the stacks to newer PHP releases.
3. Implementing Strict Access Controls
Whoever has access to administrator-level functionalities can pretty much take over a web app and even the underlying technology stack. Earlier this year, email service provider VFEmail was hit by a catastrophic breach. The attacker gained access to all its servers, virtual machines, and backups.
The attacker wiped out all the data, permanently destroying the service. Such a level of attack is often possible by exploiting authentication mechanisms. It allows the attacker to access administrator-level privileges.
This is why it’s critical for companies and developers to keep their access credentials secure. They should use strong and complicated passphrases that are frequently changed. Password rotation prevents hackers from using credentials stolen from previous breaches to access systems.
Web apps also implement two-factor authentication. They ensure that only authorized users can proceed in the apps’ login processes. High-level credentials should also be available to authorize and vet personnel and stored in secure password vaults.
4. Hunting for Bugs
Errors in development can also cause vulnerabilities in web apps. It’s common for developers to leave bugs and errors in the source code. There are also instances when attackers can alter the code to introduce exploits or malicious processes into the app.
To ensure that web apps are free from such vulnerabilities, developers could perform code audits. Ideally, this is done by third-party security specialists. Since external resources typically expose errors more effectively since they can review the code without bias.
As an alternative, companies could also set up bug bounty programs. Under these programs, users who report verified bugs and vulnerabilities are compensated for their discoveries. It allows developers to continuously have fresh eyes to go over possible weak links in their apps. By using user feedback, companies can proactively address vulnerabilities before malicious actors exploit them.
Valuing User Data:
Companies and developers owe it to their users to protect the data. Given the prevalence of breach attempts today, making sure web apps implement necessary security measures would greatly help thwart frequent attacks.
Users should check if their frequently-used web apps implement such measures. Also, they should only continue using those that would handle data appropriately.