What is a Website Vulnerability and How Can it be Exploited?
A website vulnerability is a software code flaw/ bug, system misconfiguration, or some other weakness in the website/ web application or its components and processes. Web application vulnerabilities enable attackers to gain unauthorized access to systems/ processes/mission-critical assets of the organization. Having such access, attackers can orchestrate attacks, takeover applications, engage in privilege escalation to exfiltrate data, cause large-scale service disruption, and so on.
With a clear understanding of what website vulnerabilities are and how they can be prevented, organizations can be better equipped to avert attacks and harden their security posture. This article will enable you in doing so.
Common Types of Website Vulnerabilities
SQL Injections (SQLi)
SQLi vulnerabilities enable attackers to inject malicious code/ un-sanitized inputs into SQL queries. By doing so, attackers can gain access to unauthorized information, modify/ create/ delete/ manipulate sensitive data and user permissions. This is one of the most prevalent lethal web application vulnerabilities.
Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)
XSS vulnerabilities enable attackers to compromise user interactions with web applications, orchestrate impersonations and/or phishing attacks by allowing them to inject malicious scripts on the client side. This typically occurs when applications accept input from untrusted sources and allow unvalidated inputs in the user input fields such as forms, comments, message boards, etc.
Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF)
CSRF vulnerabilities trick the unsuspecting users into unknowingly performing actions for the attacker. During CSRF attacks, the attacker may utilize the user’s authentication/ authorization to exfiltrate/ modify or delete data or transfer funds or send other requests masquerading as the user.
These website vulnerabilities occur when security controls and configurations of any of the multiple layers of the website – application, server, network services, platform, framework, databases, etc. – are improperly implemented or implemented with serious gaps and errors.
Examples of security misconfigurations include
- Use of legacy components, unused pages/ features, unpatched software, etc.
- Leaving unnecessary admin ports open.
- Enabling outbound connections to internet services.
- Enabling directory services and so on.
Broken Authentication and Session Management
These are web app vulnerabilities that allow attackers to capture or bypass authentication methods used by the website/ web application. By bypassing authentication and session identifiers, the attackers could engage in impersonation, identity and data theft, account takeover, and so on.
- Weak password security
- Predictable login credentials
- Session ID exposure in the URL
- Session values not timing out
- Passwords, session IDs, and credentials are not sent and/or stored securely.
Sensitive Data Exposure
This website vulnerability arises when sensitive information is not adequately protected, making it easy for attackers to gain access to it. Sensitive information includes username, password, session token, credit card data, medical records, etc. Sensitive data exposure is caused when the website does not have in place proper data encryption, tokenization, key management, etc.
How Can Website Vulnerabilities be Exploited?
Website vulnerabilities are unavoidable, and most website/ web applications will have a few vulnerabilities. The two key concerns for organizations should be the exploitability factor associated with the vulnerabilities.
Web app vulnerabilities are exploitable when there are no proper security measures in place to prevent attackers from finding and taking advantage of vulnerabilities. The factors that affect the exploitability of a vulnerability are the complexity associated with exploitation and the availability of active/ known exploits.
Based on this, the risk associated with the vulnerability is calculated and vulnerabilities are categorized into critical, high, medium, and low risk. The critical and high-risk vulnerabilities must be fixed and protected on a high-priority basis.
Some facts and figures from 2020…
- 75% of attacks leveraged web application vulnerabilities that were known at least for 2 years!
- 80% of exploits were published even before the CVE (Common Vulnerabilities and Exposure) related to that exploit was made public. This means, instead of organizations steering ahead of attackers, attackers had the first-mover advantage in most exploits.
The Way Forward: Preventing Exploitation of Web Application Vulnerabilities
Website vulnerabilities can be prevented from exploitation with security measures such as up-to-date data encryption, strong access controls, and authentication measures, user input validation, secure coding practices, patching of identified vulnerabilities, and good cyber hygiene practices.
The best way to prevent the exploitation of website vulnerabilities is to be proactive. Organizations need to gain first-mover advantage by identifying and patching vulnerabilities before attackers can. To check for website vulnerabilities, regular intelligent scanning and pen-testing by trusted experts are necessary.
Upon discovery, developers work to fix and patch the website vulnerabilities. During this period which could take 100 days or more, the vulnerability is unprotected. Attackers can snoop around and detect vulnerabilities before they can be patched if they are not properly secured.
With an intelligent, managed Web Application Firewall such as AppTrana in place, organizations can effectively secure vulnerabilities through instantaneous virtual patching until they are fixed by developers. With the insights and visibility provided by AppTrana, organizations can fortify website security.