7 Web Application Security Best Practices

To maintain the best possible security posture and protect your sensitive data from cyberattacks, you cannot rely on security products alone. Here is a list of seven key elements that we believe should be considered in your web application security strategy.

1. Include everyone in safety practices

Some companies still believe that security should only be the responsibility of a specialized team. In today’s business environment, such an approach is not viable:

  • The growing cybersecurity skills gap means that security teams are unable to catch up with business growth.
  • A dedicated security team becomes a bottleneck in development processes.
  • If security is reactive and not proactive, there are more issues for the security team to deal with.

The current best practice for building secure software is called SecDevOps. This approach, which goes beyond DevSecOps, assumes that everyone involved in web application development (and any other application development) is in some way responsible for security. Developers know how to write secure code. QA engineers know how to apply security policies to their tests. All leaders and executives have safety in mind when making key decisions.

An effective secure DevOps approach requires a lot of education. Everyone should be aware of security threats and risks, understand potential application vulnerabilities, and feel responsible for security. Although it takes a lot of time and effort, the investment pays off with top-notch secure apps.

2. Adopt a cybersecurity framework

Cybersecurity is very complex and requires a well-organized approach. It is easy to forget certain aspects and just as easy to fall into chaos. This is why many organizations base their security strategy on a selected cybersecurity framework.

A cybersecurity framework is a strategic approach that begins with detailed security risk research and includes activities such as developing a cyber incident response plan along with appropriate application security checklists. The larger the organization, the more such a strategic approach is needed.

Another benefit of adopting a cybersecurity framework is the realization that all cybersecurity is interconnected and web security cannot be treated as a separate issue.

3. Automate and integrate security tools

Previously, security teams manually performed application security testing using dedicated security solutions. For example, a security researcher would first use a simple vulnerability scanner and then manually perform additional penetration testing using open source tools. However, in the current security landscape, such an approach is not optimal. As in the entire IT industry, the most effective IT security processes rely on automation and integration.

Many security tools are now developed with such automation and integration in mind. For example, professional-grade vulnerability scanners are intended to be integrated with other systems such as CI/CD platforms and issue trackers. There are several advantages to such an approach:

  • The less manual work, the less room for error. If the security processes are automated and integrated, no one can, for example, forget to scan a web application before it is published.
  • If security is integrated into the software development life cycle (SDLC), problems can be detected and eliminated much earlier. This saves a lot of time and greatly facilitates the repair.
  • If security tools work with other solutions used in software development, such as issue trackers, security issues can be handled the same way as any other issue. Engineers and managers waste no time learning and using separate tools for security purposes.

4. Follow secure software development practices

There are two key aspects to secure software development:

  1. Practices that help you make fewer mistakes when writing application code
  2. Practices that help you catch and eliminate errors earlier

In the first case, software developers should be made aware of potential security issues. They should understand SQL injection, cross-site scripting (XSS), cross-site resource tampering (CSRF), and other vulnerabilities and misconfigurations such as those listed in the OWASP Top 10. They should also know the secure coding techniques needed to prevent such vulnerabilities, for example, they should know how to prevent SQL injections.

In the second case, what helps the most is to find security vulnerabilities as early as possible in the development lifecycle. If you integrate security tools into your DevOps pipelines, as soon as the developer commits a new or updated feature, they are informed of any vulnerabilities it contains. Because this is done immediately, it also makes these vulnerabilities much easier to fix because the developer always remembers the code they were working on. It also ensures that the developer can correct their own code and not waste time trying to understand code written by someone else a long time ago.

5. Use various security measures

There are many aspects of web security and no single tool can be seen as the only measure that will guarantee total security. The key tool in web application security is the vulnerability scanner. However, even the best vulnerability scanner will not be able to uncover all vulnerabilities such as logical errors or bypass complex access control/authentication schemes without human intervention.

Vulnerability scanning should not be considered a replacement for penetration testing. Additionally, to fully secure web servers, vulnerability scanning must be combined with network scanning. Fortunately, some vulnerability scanners are integrated with network security scanners, so the two activities can be handled together.

In addition to vulnerability scanners based on DAST or IAST technologies, many companies also choose to use a SAST (source code analysis) tool at early stages, for example in SecDevOps pipelines or even earlier, on machines. developers. Such a tool is a very useful addition, but due to its limitations (such as the inability to secure third-party items), it cannot replace a DAST tool.

Some companies believe that the best way to protect against web-based threats is to use a web application firewall (WAF). However, a WAF is just a band-aid that eliminates potential attack vectors. While a WAF is an important part of a comprehensive enterprise security suite and the best way to address zero-day vulnerabilities through virtual patching, it should not be seen as the bottom line. most important defence.

Overall, you should use a variety of security measures, but you shouldn’t just believe that buying them and giving them to your security team will solve the problem. These security measures should be integrated throughout your environment and automated as much as possible. They are there to reduce the workload of the security team, not to increase it.

6. Perform Safety Drills

One of the best ways to check if your sensitive information is safe is to perform attack simulations. This is the key assumption behind penetration testing, but penetration testing is just spot checks. To fully and continuously assess your security posture, the best way is to perform ongoing security drills such as Red Team vs. Blue Team campaigns.

The idea behind Red Team is to hire an external organization that continually tries to challenge your security and establish a local team that is tasked with stopping such attempts. There are many advantages to this approach. Continuous exercise means your business is always prepared for an attack. It also helps maintain general security awareness, as the blue team involves more than just a dedicated security team.

A dedicated red team doesn’t just exploit security vulnerabilities. They often perform different types of simulated attacks (including phishing, social engineering, DDoS attacks, and others) to help protect you against real attacks. The added benefit is also the awareness of how different security elements are woven together and cannot be treated separately.

7. Maintain a bounty program

Many high-level security professionals prefer to work as freelancers instead of being hired by companies on a full-time or project basis. Losing such exceptional expertise is a huge waste. Your company can use these valuable resources by establishing a bonus program.

While some companies may perceive a bounty program as a risky investment, it pays off quickly. It also increases the respect your brand has in the hacker community and therefore the general perception of the brand. If you have a bounty program and treat independent security experts fairly, your brand is seen as mature and proud of its position in security. You can reinforce this perception by publicly disclosing bounty program earnings and responsibly sharing information about security vulnerability discoveries and data breaches.

THE AUTHOR

Tomasz Andrzej Nidecki
Technical Content Writer

Tomasz Andrzej Nidecki (also known as tonid) is a technical content writer working for Acunetix. A journalist, translator and tech writer with 25 years of IT experience, Tomasz was editor-in-chief of hakin9 IT Security magazine in its early days and ran a major tech blog dedicated to email security.

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