When Netscape was launched in 1994, it was a milestone event for the internet. After all, it was one among the first web browsers that could offer something more to users. Gradually other web browsers came into vogue. Google Chrome with its almost indestructible and impenetrable nature has made the internet into a mesh of web applications.
From your favorite social media website to the online shopping destination, almost everything on the web today is an application. Most web applications are also seen at par with mobile applications that are known for their light-weighted, high-performance and ease-of-use.
We have become extremely reliant on web applications for anything and everything. And that makes us vulnerable to cybersecurity threats. A single faulty web application is all it takes to bring down an entire section of the web.
It is no surprise that web application security has branched out as an independent function with its own identity and process. For those who are new to the world of cybersecurity, web application security might appear to be a vast ocean with endless possibilities.
This article focuses to improve web application security, the various external factors that influence it, the key stakeholders and effective measures to maximize it.
Web application security — external factors of influence
Every web application will have its domain-based security compliances that it has to comply with. These form the external factors of influence of that web application. The way the web application functions, treats user data and responds to user data will all be dependent on these external factors.
Some of the popular external factors of influence on web app security are described below:
PCI DSS represents the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard. It is a standard mandated by the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council. PCI DSS lays down several security standards that stipulate how businesses that handle credit card and online payments should ensure security for such transactions. Depending on the volume of annual transactions, the level of security required will be higher.
GDPR represents the General Data Protection Regulation. It is a data protection regulation that was enacted in 2018 in the European Union. GDPR basically added more power to data protection laws that have been existing for more than two decades in the European region. GDPR requires that businesses that collect user data ensure proper safety and security of such data, ensure timely reporting of breaches and take user consent before collecting data.
PSD2 (Revised Payment Service Directive)
The (revised) Payment Service Directive is a directive signed by the countries of the European Union that applies to the payment industry. It introduces security guidelines that are meant to secure financial data and its interoperability with other systems. Banks, financial businesses, insurance organizations, etc. are required to comply with PSD2 requirements.
Key stakeholders of web application security
Every web application has a set-off stakeholder. These stakeholders are directly or indirectly influenced by web application security measures.
The business that creates, collects or processes data to render its products or services to its users or customers.
Internal users like employees or third-party vendors who use the web application on a regular basis or on a time to time basis.
All external users or the public who will be affected in some way by the upsides or downsides of the web application security measures.
For example, a hospital is a business organization. The doctors and nurses who use web application are internal users. All those who will be positively or negatively affected due to the data security or its breach thereof are public.
Best practices for ensuring website application security
The easiest way any hackers would try to hack a business would be through its website application. A weak website application is like an open door that can let in anybody undetected. When it comes to web application security, studies suggest at least 69% of web applications exhibited at least one SQL injection error, and 42% contained a cross-site scripting vulnerability.
Ensuring website application security should rank high on any business’ priority. Some proven ways include:
Limit user inputs in the application
From Yelp to Salesforce, almost every website of every kind accepts user inputs of several forms like text, image, file attachments, etc. These user inputs may contain malicious documents which can possibly compromise the application’s security. Limiting user inputs in the website application is one of the best practices that can be adopted.
Use code signing certificate
A code signing certificate is a developer’s best weapon to prevent users from falling prey to fake apps. It is used to sign web apps, mobile apps and helps front-users to check whether the code received is from a genuine party or from a fake party. Code Signing certificate assures users that the code is not altered since it is signed.
Run regular vulnerability assessments
Vulnerability assessments help in figuring out loopholes that could compromise the app soon. They also identify the top vulnerabilities that should be addressed immediately to prevent security outage.
Be aware of security controls in programming languages
Every web application is written in a different programming language. Each programming language will have its own security controls. For example, what could be secure for Java may not be so for .NET. Web app developers need to understand how the security controls differ from app to app so that vulnerabilities can be prevented from happening.
Set up a defense against OWASP top 10 vulnerabilities
The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) has listed down top 10 vulnerabilities. Setting up defenses against these top 10 vulnerabilities is a good start for web app developers. Some of the top 10 vulnerabilities include injection, broken authentication, cross-site scripting, security misconfigurations, etc.
Web application security is a constantly growing and evolving space. It is not possible to cover the entire topic in a single blog. However, it is possible to gain a bird’s eye view of the topic, which is what this blog is all about.