In conversations about web application security, vulnerability and malware are terms that are often confused and even used interchangeably. Both of these are starkly different concepts and cannot be used interchangeably. In this article, we will help you to understand the distinct differences between the two terms and how to protect your web applications and websites against these.
Malware (short for malicious software) is a malicious piece of code (also known as payload) that gets planted in your systems, most likely by exploiting the vulnerabilities present in your systems / websites / web applications / networks.
Malware is often used for one or more of the following:
Malware can be delivered over a network, physical media, email links or file attachments, social media, instant messaging, etc. using social engineering, phishing, rootkit or bootkit techniques.
Except for ransomware, in most other cases, malware does not make itself known in a dramatic fashion; you may not even know you are running malware on your website. For instance, it may be hidden in the source code of your website/ web application and extremely difficult to know or detect.
Vulnerabilities are exploitable risks, gaps, weaknesses, loopholes, and misconfigurations that when identified by attackers can be used as an entry point to change, damage, block, download or manipulate the website/ web application. The presence of vulnerabilities weakens the overall security posture and undermines web application security efforts because they amplify the security risks facing the organization.
Vulnerabilities are most commonly caused by:
Typically, all websites / web applications, even simple ones like Blogs, have thousands of vulnerabilities. Based on their nature, vulnerabilities are also classified as known, business logic (arising from a business logic flaw and unique to the context and policies of a business) and unknown / zero-day.
Here are some examples of commonly exploited vulnerabilities:
Imagine that your website / web application is your house. To ensure that your house is safe from thieves and other criminal elements, you will secure possible entry points (doors, windows, locks, etc.) from these criminal elements and these entry points and exploitable risks represent the vulnerabilities. The criminal element entering the house, stealing, manipulating the security alarm, opening the backdoor, etc. is what malware does to your website. So, malware is the threat while vulnerabilities are exploitable risks and unsecured entry points that can be leveraged by threat actors.
Vulnerability detection is a proactive step while Malware identification is a reactive step. Since the infection was allowed to happen by a vulnerability in the website / network.
To ensure the fortified and robust web application security, you must proactively identify, instantly patch, speedily fix and secure vulnerabilities to ensure a minimized attack surface and exploitable entry points. This way the possibility of getting malware into your system is minimized. But it may be impossible to stop all malware which is why you must identify malware using intelligent security scanning, line-by-line code analysis, behavior analysis, etc. on a regular basis.
While anti-malware and anti-virus software may help you identify the malware, they are not equipped to detect and secure vulnerabilities. A WAF is a must-have for both securing vulnerabilities and proactively identifying malware, mitigating the spread of malware and isolating the impact with reactive policies. By leveraging an intelligent, comprehensive and managed security solution like AppTrana, which offers a managed WAF, automated scanner and the expertise of certified security professionals, you can ensure heightened web security.
Ashish Pradhan is responsible for all technology functions like engineering, client services and customer support at Indusface. Prior to joining Indusface, Ashish held various senior leadership roles at Symantec Corporation in India and USA. During his 25 years of global experience in the software industry, Ashish has helped create and grow a broad variety of software products spanning systems management, IT compliance, and information security domains.