What is Web Application Security?

Web applications are indispensable yet most vulnerable aspects of businesses today – simple blogs or a complicated employee application or a high-volume e-commerce website. Businesses tend to focus on achieving speed, agility and performance through quick changes to the applications as per changing market/ customer needs for competitive and strategic edges in the fast-paced business world. However, they may not be taking proactive and effective web application security measures to protect their web applications, digital resources and sensitive data from hackers and other malicious actors who are pacing up their efforts to orchestrate breaches and attacks.

By prioritizing speed, agility, and performance over web application security, businesses are leaving the applications vulnerable and increasing the security risks. And these are costly risks to take for all sizes and types of businesses.

Risk assessment and strategic planning

Businesses must understand their current security posture, types, sources, nature, impact, and magnitude of all potential risks, web application accessibility, legal obligations, types of users, etc. Based on this understanding, businesses must prioritize risks and resources/ assets that need higher or lower attention. The web app security strategies must reflect these.

Network firewalls do not suffice

Network firewalls are good for network security but are not effective with web application security. Network firewalls, for instance, can be configured to keep allow certain IP addresses while blocking the rest. But it cannot analyze the web traffic to identify if a request is from a legitimate user or a malicious actor. And this is essential for web applications as they are open to access by everyone.

Automated and intuitive web application scanner is a must

Web vulnerability scanners only will tell you where known vulnerabilities, weaknesses, and misconfigurations exist based on the rules it is designed/ tuned it. This is a critical step to fixing vulnerabilities as we can fix only those weaknesses that we know exist. Scanning must be continuously and consistently done every day and after any major business or application-level changes.

Not all scanners are effective in identifying gaps and vulnerabilities. Always choose a web application scanner that is comprehensive, automated and intuitive.

  • Comprehensive scanners cover the maximum number of attack surfaces and vulnerabilities and must be an obvious consideration.
  • With automation, you expedite the vulnerability scanning process and make it effective and seamless, removing the human effort and eliminating human errors.
  • When they are augmented with Global Threat Intelligence and ML such as the ones from AppTrana, they enable you to identify weaknesses before any malicious actors can and fix them proactively.

The other important consideration in choosing a scanner is a free website scanner vs commercial web vulnerability scanner. It is always better to choose a commercial scanner and consider the money spent as an investment for fortified security and the safety of your application. This is because the best commercial scanners ensure zero false positives, provide frequent updates and critical patches, are easy to use and offer professional support.

Remember that having only scanners is not sufficient; they must be part of a comprehensive security solution. It will be like installing a fire alarm but not calling the fire brigade when it goes off.

Web Application Firewall (WAF) for heightened and instant security

WAF is the first layer of defense shielding the web application from illegitimate requests, bad traffic, and malicious actors. It continuously monitors traffic to filter out bad requests and allows only legitimate users to access the application. When integrated with the web vulnerability scanner, it patches identified vulnerabilities until fixed by developers (even though it does not fix the vulnerabilities).

What to look for in a WAF?

  • It must be comprehensive and cover a whole range of vulnerabilities and threats including DDoS.
  • It must be intelligent (augmented with AI and ML) to know whether to allow, block, flag or challenge a request.
  • It must be managed with certified security experts designing and continuously tuning it with surgical accuracy.
  • It must allow custom rules as no two applications and businesses are alike. Custom rules make the WAF effective for the unique needs of the business.
  • It must be instantaneous and provide 24×7 visibility into the security posture of the application.
  • Like with web app scanners, always choose a commercial WAF that is part of a larger security solution.

Security audits and penetration testing are vital

WAF and web application scanners are not enough for robust web security. These are effective against known vulnerabilities and threats but what about unknown vulnerabilities, logical vulnerabilities, zero-day threats, etc.? To strengthen security and protect the data and other digital assets from bad actors, regular security audits and penetration testing by certified security experts are critical.

Securing the webserver and other components: The basics

  • Always keep your web application clean. Remove unnecessary functionalities, legacy features, etc. that serve as gateways for attackers.
  • Enforce a strong password policy or two-step authentication
  • Limit user privileges, permissions, remote access, and other authorizations.
  • Keep your application and all third-party software used on it updated. Ignoring updates and the critical patches it contains are detrimental.
  • Always segregate your live, development and testing environments.
  • Analyze the security analytics, servers and log files consistently.

Take a proactive approach and stay informed to keep strengthening web application security.