If your organization conducts business via web applications, it’s critical to protect your web application infrastructure from threats such as denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, malware, and ransomware. With increased web traffic due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a reported 20% surge in DDoS attacks in 2020 alone, emphasizing the need for web application security.
A web application security assessment can protect valuable organizational and customer data from breaches that compromise user confidentiality. Read on to learn which threats it prevents.
Threats Identifiable by a Web Application Security Assessment
A web application risk assessment can help your organization identify various critical threats identified by the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP). While OWASP’s list features the top ten web app security threats as of 2021, we’ll focus on the top two categories thereof:
- How a web application security assessment can identify access control vulnerabilities
- How a web application security assessment can determine cryptographic failures
Given the evolving nature of these threats, working with a trusted expert on web application risk assessment is the best way to mitigate the vulnerabilities specific to your particular web apps.
Access Control Vulnerabilities: How to Spot and Address Them
A web application security assessment is a great place to start when identifying sources of broken access control in your web app infrastructure. Functional access controls prevent users from executing functions outside of defined permissions, but broken access controls could result in:
- Unauthorized disclosure of sensitive information
- Unauthorized modification of organization data
- Potential destruction of organization or customer data
A thorough web application security assessment works to prevent these issues by identifying vulnerabilities associated with broken access controls. The most critical of these include:
- Unrestricted user access – Users with lower access privileges can perform functions requiring higher access privilege. This broken access could result in the improper use of privileges to access, modify or delete data. Users could cause unintended damage to your organization’s data. This vulnerability is most common in instances where least privilege access rights are required but have not been implemented at all or fully.
- Bypassed access control checks – URL modification via parameter tampering or force browsing are used to bypass access control. Interfering with parameters exchanged during the interaction between a client and server, a threat actor can modify certain user permissions or credentials to gain access to your organization’s data. Typical targets are information stored in cookies, query fields, or hidden forms to bypass access control.
- Escalation of privileges – An authorized user leverages a vulnerability in the system to elevate designated user privileges to administrator-level ones. Once the administrator privilege is obtained, the threat actor can disable security controls. Then, unauthorized use of admin privileges could lead to compromised data integrity and confidentiality.
A web application risk assessment can identify these and other vulnerabilities specific to access control impacting your web applications and all systems connected to or affected by them.
Cryptographic Failures and Advanced Web App Security Risks
Besides protecting data from unauthorized access, a web application security assessment can also identify possible breach points or cryptographic failures for several types of data that are stored or processed on web apps. The most critical kinds of data to scan for these risks are:
- Customer and organization user passwords, related to access (see above)
- Credit card numbers, health records, and other personal information
- Trade secrets and protected information critical to business objectives
Most breach points for these types of data stem from issues with infrastructure required for regulatory compliance. Gaps in required controls, specifically in web applications, can leave sensitive data exposed to threat actors. Some of the most critical vulnerabilities include:
- Poor verification of internal traffic over web servers or back-end systems, resulting in external internet traffic entering into your servers without visibility or authorization
- Weak or old cryptographic algorithms and protocols, or poor cryptographic key management, which could compromise or nullify the impact of encryption
- Poorly enforced encryption, resulting in missing HTTP headers
- Improper validation of server certificates and trust chains, or use of legacy protocols (FTP or SMTP), resulting in the exposure of sensitive data to unauthorized viewers
Two widely-applicable global regulations are in place to protect the integrity of end-user data. Most organizations must implement some form of web application security assessment for:
- The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) compliance, if the organization in question processes credit card payments or cardholder data (CHD).
- The European Union General Data Protection (GDPR), if the organization in question processes data belonging to citizens of EU Member States or other participating states.
A web application security assessment can proactively prevent threats of non-compliance, which can have serious legal, financial, and reputational consequences, short- and long-term.
Web Application Security Assessments and PCI DSS Compliance
A web application security assessment can help determine if your organization meets the PCI DSS compliance requirements. These protect CHD data during storage, transmission, and all other processing across eligible organizations’ IT infrastructure, including all web applications:
- Requirement 1 – Protect CHD data with appropriate firewall configurations.
- Requirement 2 – Replace all default security parameters or system passwords.
- Requirement 3 – Secure CHD data in storage (including across web apps).
- Requirement 4 – Encrypt CHD for transmission over unsecure, public networks.
- Requirement 5 – Install and regularly update antivirus or antimalware protections
- Requirement 6 – Develop secure systems and apps (including web apps).
- Requirement 7 – Restrict CHD access by users’ business need to know.
- Requirement 8 – Authenticate identity of all users granted CHD access.
- Requirement 9 – Restrict physical access to CHD and CHD environments.
- Requirement 10 – Log and monitor all access to CHD across all systems.
- Requirement 11 – Regularly assess and adjust systems and processes.
- Requirement 12 – Maintain policies addressing responsibilities for all personnel
A web application security assessment makes it easier to track compliance with the PCI DSS Requirements, especially across web apps, and prevent unnecessary threats to CHD. These can lead to significant legal and financial consequences, including seizure of payment functions from one or more of the SSC Founding Members (Visa, Mastercard, Discover, AmEx, JCB).
Web Application Security Assessments and EU-GDPR Compliance
While PCI DSS compliance protects clients’ CHD, EU GDPR compliance protects EU citizens’ broader rights as data subjects. A web application security assessment can help you navigate compliance with the GDPR to uphold the guaranteed rights of subjects whose data you control.
The GDPR is massive, but its most essential protections are listed under the Articles 12-23:
- Transparency and modalities – Eligible companies need to uphold clear, transparent, and accessible communication regarding data usage, including across its web apps.
- Information and access to personal data – All collection of user data, including data collection on or involving web apps, should promote full disclosure regarding:
- Rectification and erasure – Data subjects’ rights, including on web apps, include:
- The right to make changes to any inaccuracies in any collected personal data
- The right to have personal data erased based on appropriate legal grounds
- The right to restrict processing of their data based on appropriate legal grounds
- The right to notification about communication of data and intended recipients
- The right to obtain their data and information about it in an accessible form
- Automated decision-making – Subjects also have these rights,including on web apps:
- The right to object to the processing of their personal data in specific capacities to which they do not consent, including where or how the data is processed
- The right to not be subject to automated decisions, or any legal or other effects arising from automated decision making operations executed upon their data
Web application risk assessments can help detect and address any risks or early indicators of potential non-compliance before they materialize into actual, punishable offenses. EU GDPR non-compliance can result in significant fines, up to 4% of an organization’s global annual revenue or €20 million, whichever is higher—hence the importance of assessing risk early.
Assess Web Application Threats and Mitigate Cyberattack Risks
Dealing with vast amounts of user data and traffic passing through your networks requires robust web application security mechanisms. At RSI Security, we offer web application security assessment services to help your organization secure valuable user data and maintain smooth business operations. If you’re also looking to build out a risk assessment web application, or other risk management infrastructure, contact RSI Security today for a consultation.