The proverb, “A stitch in time saves nine” encapsulates the core of web application security. Businesses always need to be one step ahead of attackers and malicious actors to identify vulnerabilities, weaknesses, and misconfigurations in the web applications and ensure that they are patched and/or fixed before attackers can find and leverage them to orchestrate attacks. One of the critical measures in such a web app security solution, apart from security tools such as vulnerability scanners, WAF, etc., is web application testing or penetration testing.
Penetration testing (Pen-testing) enables businesses to check and understand the strength of web application security by simulating a real-time cyberattack under secure conditions. It is important to note that penetration testing cannot be automated. It is a manual process performed by certified security experts.
Every web application has several components and assets that are publicly exposed and vulnerable to attacks. It is quite a challenge for most businesses and developers to figure out which application parameters and components need to be included in the penetration testing checklist and how to go about it.
Pen-tests cannot be randomly or blindly done. The first and most important thing that you must do is to gather all possible information about your web application, its potential threats, and weaknesses risks involved, etc. This is done by creating a site map by using crawling tools, opening pages manually, using brute force to access directories not linked on the website, gathering intelligence from developers and so on. Make sure to include comment and metadata, third-party apps/ services on the application, metafiles and all entry points while gathering intelligence about how different parts of the web application/ target work.
As mentioned earlier, web applications consist of several components and vulnerabilities, all of which need not be tested. Using automated tools such as web vulnerability scanners, you can scan for known vulnerabilities such as SQL injections, XSS, file inclusions and another OWASP top 10. Onboarding on services like AppTrana you will be able to customize scanners and tune policies based on the unique requirements of your business. With the help of the security analytics that is made available, you will be able to understand traffic behavior, nature of attack attempts, attack patterns, etc. You can then validate the findings of scanning to see what is exploitable and the risks involved. Leverage pen-tests to check business logic flaws, user-/ web-browser specific flaws, unknown vulnerabilities and other misconfigurations that do not show on vulnerability scanning.
Based on the information/ intelligence gathered and site map created, draw up a robust security strategy by defining the scope, objectives and expected outcomes/ deliverables of penetration testing, prioritizing critical problem areas and high-risk components over others. High priority should be accorded to parts of the application where users are allowed to add, delete or modify content (comment section, contact forms, etc.), third-party services hosted, entry points, etc.
You should also include testing as different users – an unreliable external source with minimal or no privileges and a user with all possible privileges and authorizations.
You must define the methods and tools you will be using to conduct the web application testing. If you are not doing the pen-testing and onboarding a security service for it, make sure that it is entrusted only to trustworthy & certified security experts who combine their intelligence and technical skills with creative thinking and innovative approaches to uphold the highest levels of web application security. You should consider security solutions like AppTrana.
Pen-tests must be used for testing the following.
Just doing the pen-testing does not suffice; what is most crucial is to engage in a tailed analysis of the results of the testing. Compile the findings and the analysis in a manner that the security personnel can finetune the WAF and other security measures in place and developers are able to fix critical and high-priority vulnerabilities. The key stakeholders must understand the nature of known and unknown vulnerabilities, sensitive data that are accessible and the timespan the pen-tester remained undetected in the system.
Being an indispensable and critical component in any website application security checklist, pen-testing must be entrusted to security experts included in services from AppTrana.
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.