10 Major Web Application Security Vulnerabilities and How to Prevent Them

10 Common Web Application Security Vulnerabilities

Security vulnerabilities for web applications continue to rise, putting companies of all sizes at risk. Web application attacks account for 26% of all breaches, according to Verizon. Nearly three out of four are from external sources, jeopardizing valuable data and confidential information. 

Yet, internet use isn’t going to slow down for businesses. In fact, 68% of consumers say they have higher expectations for a company’s digital capabilities since COVID-19, according to research from Salesforce

Security best practices and techniques are always evolving. The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) is a nonprofit that provides free materials (documents, videos, tools, forums, etc.) to help with the security of web applications. Their goal is to make it possible for any user to improve their web application security. They also offer education and training programs in the field of cybersecurity. 

Combatting intruders requires a mindful and multifaceted strategy.

Here are the most common web application security issues and how to prevent them.

SQL Injection

SQL injection attacks occur when a hacker inserts malicious code into an SQL database to gain access to sensitive data or to take control of a device. One of the most common web hacking techniques, SQL injection can potentially destroy a database – and all of the valuable data inside it. This security issue is usually the culprit when e-commerce sites are compromised and information like user details, credit card information, and social security numbers are illegally accessed.

In order to protect your devices from this type of attack, ensure that your SQL database is properly configured and your devices are always up to date with the latest security patches. Recommended steps include…

  • Employ user authentication tools
  • Restrict access privileges of users, particularly regarding the type and amount of data they can access
  • Do not use system administrator accounts.

Broken Authentication

Broken authentication occurs when malicious users access a website by creating a new account or using real accounts. Broken authentication normally occurs when applications incorrectly execute functions related to session management, thereby allowing intruders to compromise passwords, security keys, or session tokens. For example, attackers may use credential stuffing with a standard list of default passwords and usernames to log in to legitimate accounts; or they can interrupt user requests on the same network to gain access to passwords as users type them in, or they can use cookies to access legitimate accounts. 

Recommended steps to counteract broken authentication issues include…

  • Implement multi-factor authentication
  • Require high password complexity for user accounts
  • Rotate session IDs after a successful login.

Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)

XSS attacks occur when a malicious user injects malicious code into a web page, which is then executed by unsuspecting users who visit the page. The attacker can take control of the victim’s device or steal sensitive information. The exploitation of XSS against a user can lead to various unpleasant consequences such as account compromise, account deletion, privilege escalation, malware infection, and more.

Counteracting XSS attacks starts with…

  • Continuous inspection and testing of access control
  • Implementation of best practices for security code development
  • Ongoing research to find entry points.

Sensitive Data Exposure

This vulnerability is one of the most widespread, according to OWASP. It occurs when applications and APIs don’t properly protect sensitive data such as financial data, social security numbers, usernames, passwords, or health information. As a result, attackers can gain access to such information and commit fraud or steal identities.

Sensitive data exposure attacks can be prevented by…

  • Secure URLs
  • Strong and unique passwords
  • Encryption of all sensitive information that does need to be stored.

Broken Access Control

Access control is a security mechanism to put restrictions on who or what can view or use the resources of a company. It occurs after authentication is checked, and determines what authorized users are allowed to do. Failures can lead to data modification or deletion, the unauthorized performance of business functions, and more. 

Efforts to control broken access control require…

  • Continuous inspection and testing
  • Deny access by default
  • Limit cross-origin resource-sharing usage
  • Role-based access control
  • Permission-based access control
  • Mandatory access control.

Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF)

CSRF occurs when an attacker places code on a website that makes a genuine-looking request to the target website. The cookies of the target website will be added by the browser in the request, making a forged request and allowing the action to be successfully carried out. For example, the victim’s browser makes a request for a password change and appends the cookies with the request. The server treats it as a genuine request and resets the victim’s password to the attacker’s supplied value. As a result, the victim’s account gets taken over by the attacker.

Prevention requires…

  • CSRF tokens that are tied to a user’s session but not submitted automatically
  • Disabling functions like “remember me.”

XML External Entities (XXE)

This vulnerability occurs for web applications that parse XML input. It happens when poorly configured XML processors evaluate external entity references within the XML documents and send sensitive data to an unauthorized external entity, i.e., a hard drive. By default, most XML parsers are vulnerable to XXE attacks.

XXE attacks can be prevented by…

  • Using less complex data formats such as JSON
  • Keeping XML processors and libraries upgraded
  • Using SAST tools.

Session Hijacking

Session hijacking occurs on a user session over a protected network. The most common method of session hijacking is called IP spoofing when an attacker uses source-routed IP packets to insert commands into an active communication between two nodes on a network and disguise itself as one of the authenticated users. This type of attack is possible because authentication typically is only done at the start of a TCP session. Another type of session hijacking is known as a man-in-the-middle attack, where the attacker uses a sniffer to observe the communication between devices and collect the data as it’s transmitted.

To prevent session hijacking…

  • Implement security measures at both the application and network levels 
  • Use packet ciphering the packets so that the hijacker cannot decipher the packet headers and obtain information for spoofing
  • Employ protocols such as IPSEC, SSL, SSH, etc. 

Distributed Denial Of Service (DDoS) Attack

With DDoS attacks, an attacker attempts to prevent legitimate users from accessing a system by flooding the system with requests, overwhelming it, and causing it to crash. Due to an enormous amount of traffic, the network resources are serving the requests of those false-end systems, and a legitimate user is unable to access the resources. 

Preventing DDoS attacks is hard because the traffic comes from multiple sources, and it’s difficult to actually separate malicious hosts from non-malicious hosts. Some of the mitigation techniques that can be used are: 

  • Blackhole routing 
  • Rate limiting
  • Blacklisting/whitelisting

Security Misconfiguration

It is estimated that up to 95% of cloud breaches are the result of human errors, according to Gartner. The improper implementation of security allows hackers to find new ways to enter websites. The most common reason for this vulnerability is not patching or upgrading systems, frameworks, and components.

Security misconfiguration can be prevented by

  • Using dynamic application security testing (DAST)
  • Disabling the use of default passwords
  • Monitoring cloud resources, applications, and servers.

Why You Should Choose InApp?

One of the best ways to prevent security breaches is to partner with cybersecurity experts. InApp’s in-house Independent Software Testing department provides full-cycle QA and testing services, as well as custom testing for individual components. Our certified ISTQB professionals use established testing protocols for each stage of your software product lifecycle, including development, implementation, and maintenance. Read more about how our independent testing services helped one client improve their software application before it hit the market.