Security Testing for Web Applications – Best Practices

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13 Sep, 2019

Security Testing for Web Applications – Best Practices

Security has now become a major concern for the decision-makers. With an ever-increasing number of attacks and their complexity, it is only reasonable that the decision-makers invest in improving the security of their organization’s technical infrastructure. With web applications playing a pivotal role for many businesses to market their products, conduct business operations, sell products and services, their security is inherently meaningful for business continuity. This article discusses various best practices related to web application security testing. 

Create a Web Application Security Testing Plan 

Following an unplanned and disorganized approach can result in zero accomplishments. To avoid this situation with negligible ROI, your internal security team or security testing vendor must create a detailed web application security testing plan in line with your business goals. 

Besides, you can also designate specific individuals responsible for maintaining an adequate level of web application security on an ongoing basis if your organization is large enough. Before moving on to the actual security testing process, do consider the costs to be incurred for the outlined activities. 

Create and maintain an inventory of web applications 

To get clear insights into web applications used by your organization and how they are dependent on each other, an inventory of web applications must be created and maintained. So often, our security experts have found that many organizations have rogue applications running and they are never noticed unless something goes wrong. To maintain an effective web application security testing program, it is essential that you precisely know which applications are being used, where they are located, etc. 

Prioritize your web applications 

The next logical step after creating an inventory of web applications is to prioritize and sort applications into different categories such as critical, serious, and normal. The “critical” category will include applications that are public-facing and deal with customer information. The “serious” category applications may be used either internally or externally and deal with some sensitive information. The “normal” category applications do not deal with sensitive data at all, and hence, they are assigned the least priority. 

Prioritize vulnerabilities 

After your inventory is created and prioritized, you need to decide which vulnerabilities must be eliminated and which will not be causing ay trouble. Our experts recommend that instead of defining an altogether new criterion for determining the risks associated with vulnerabilities, commonly known vulnerability scoring systems such as CVSS must be preferred. 

To find the relevant vulnerabilities in the web applications used by your organization, you must keep track of the vulnerabilities being discovered by security researchers as well as vulnerability reports published by industry leaders. 

Run Applications using the least privilege possible 

Access level privileges play an essential role in preventing the extent of damage caused to your organization in case of a data breach. As a good security practice, access level privileges must be clearly defined, and the employees must be assigned the least privilege level possible for their roles and responsibilities.  

Web application firewall and proxy servers are important 

Web application firewall (WAF) and proxy servers help to a great extent to secure web applications. Before your web application security testing plan is implemented, it is necessary that you implement these security measures so that risks associated with cyber attacks is significantly reduced. 

Use cookies securely. 

Cookies are equally convenient for a business as well as its customers. However, they are prone to manipulation by hackers to get access to protected information. This does not mean that your organization should stop using cookies altogether. You can take certain measures such as to not use cookies for storing critical information, setting shorter expiry dates, encrypting the information stored in cookies, etc. 

Consider these suggestions for implementation. 

Our security experts have compiled a list of immediate actions that can be implemented by an organization to improve the security of its web applications – 

  1. Implement HTTPS and ensure that the traffic is coming via HTTPS, not HTTP. 
  2. Implement a content security policy. 
  3. Enable public key pins to prevent MITM attacks. 
  4. Use the latest version of TLS. 
  5. Employ strong passwords which are a combination of lowercase and uppercase letters, special symbols, etc. 

Conduct web application security awareness training. 

In an organization, only a handful number of employees are well versed with good security practices and how they should be ideally followed. Most of the employees only have basic understanding, and we have seen this so often that uneducated employees fail to identify the security risks. Training sessions must be organized regularly for all the employees so that they can quickly spot vulnerabilities and report it to the internal security team. 

Introduce a Bounty or Hall of Fame (HOF) Program 

One of the best ways to get feedback from the security community regarding issues in your web applications is to either introduce a bounty program or a hall of fame program. Even if you employ highly qualified security experts or security testing vendors, there are always chances that they may miss a potential risk or vulnerability. Bounty programs and HOF recognitions encourage security researchers to find security risks and report it to the concerned organization.