Which are the best security practices for a web application?
Cybercrime is a multi-billion dollar industry, and we all have a part to play in protecting ourselves against cyber-attacks. Having a secure website or blog is something that everyone is trying to achieve. However, Verizon’s 2021 Data Breach Investigations report found that 39% of data breaches result from web app compromises.
So this post is going to review the best practices for a secure web application. All patterns prevent hacking and security threats, but we’ll also suggest how to fix vulnerabilities after a threat is detected.
Let’s get started!
What is web application security?
Web application security is a branch of information security that deals specifically with the security of websites, web applications, and web services.
Network security aims to protect the underlying networking infrastructure from unauthorized access. Web app security practices safeguard the application itself, its hosted servers, and connected devices and networks.
Web application attacks are on the rise: a whopping 16% of applications have flaws that allow attackers to take control over your system. In comparison, 8% of web application servers are critically flawed, allowing an attacker to break into the local network.
Why are web app security practices important?
The internet is no longer a safe place. The average cost of a data breach to businesses worldwide is $3.86 million. It takes an average of 191 days for companies to identify violations.
It is just one example of the troubling rise in cybercrime, which has skyrocketed over the past decade. In addition to the loss of revenue, data breaches can also seriously damage your reputation. Even lead to lawsuits if sensitive information about your customers becomes exposed.
According to ISACA, organizations typically spend between $3,500 and $300,000 on new tools and services, awareness programs, administrative policies, and additional staffing after a data breach.
Why do having strong web app security practices matter?
Web applications are the primary means businesses, organizations, and governments communicate with their customers today. When done correctly, web applications allow users to quickly and efficiently find and engage with the information they need most.
Businesses are increasingly turning to secure web apps to power their customer-facing services. These apps provide everything from online banking to email, company intranets, social media platforms, and ecommerce sites.
It should be no surprise that web apps have become a prime target for cybercriminals looking to steal valuable user data or disrupt business operations. Cyberthreats such as malware, phishing attacks, and distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks all target web apps somehow.
These attacks can have severe consequences on your business, including but not limited to:
1. Loss of customer data
It is the most critical and standard issue with security. Most people do not take this seriously until they become a victim. But you should prevent hacking from occurring in the first place.
It can be easily prevented by following a standard protocol for data encryption like using SSL certificates and using HTTPS instead of HTTP protocol. You will significantly reduce the risk of your customer data getting stolen through fake websites.
2. Reputational damage
If you own a website, your main goal is to be valuable and trustworthy to its visitors. If your website gets hacked, you will lose the trust of your visitors and potentially incur financial losses.
You have to make sure that all of your software is up-to-date, as vulnerabilities are often found and fixed by developers who release updates shortly after discovering them.
3. Loss of customer trust
The most important consequence of a data breach is the loss of customer trust. It can irreversibly damage a company’s reputation by losing customer trust.
In the case of a major retailer, the business impact could be catastrophic, and they may not survive at all. Even if they do recover their security posture, it could take years to get back to their previous levels of customer trust.
A lack of trust results in a loss in sales and customers and slower adoption of new products or services. Customers are likely to take their business elsewhere, especially if they feel that their personal information and identity are at risk of being fraudulently used.
4. Loss of revenue
The financial implications are obvious, but the effect on your reputation could be more damaging than you imagine. Today’s consumers expect a faster and more efficient user experience from their online interactions, whether with a social network or website.
Since your users expect a certain level of service from even the most rudimentary web applications. Any unexpected downtime or security breach could cause them to lose faith in your business’s ability to meet their needs. This could mean losing customers, subscribers, and ultimately revenue for an online business.
5. Compliance & penalties
Compliance is an integral part of ensuring strong security practices, but it’s no substitute for them. Comply with regulations such as GDPR, PCI-DSS, NIST, HIPAA, and SOX, which will protect your users’ data and your reputation. However, you can be compliant with a standard but still be vulnerable.
The costs of non-compliance are substantial. Any company that fails to report a data breach faces possible fines and negative publicity — not to mention the lost business from customers who distrust its ability to protect their data.
7 Web application security best practices
Security is a big issue for web development. There are many practices to follow to make your application more secure. Here’s a list of the seven most crucial web app security practices you should follow every time you develop a web application.
1. Carry out a full-scale security audit
It’s vital to carry out a full-scale security audit of your web application and all its elements, including:
- Application server
- Database server
- Web application code
It’s best to perform this audit before you launch your web application. However, if you haven’t done it before launch, regular security audits are essential throughout the life cycle of your web application. It is where automated penetration testing tools come in handy. You can use them to scan open ports and identify the software running on them.
2. Ensure your data is encrypted
Data encryption is a top priority. You should encrypt data when it’s at rest or in transit. In other words, you need to make sure that your data is encrypted when it is stored and when it’s moving between computers.
Encrypting your data makes it impossible for attackers to use stolen information because they would not be able to decrypt them without the required encryption key.
Whenever a user submits data via their browser, like filling out a form or logging in, it gets encrypted and then submitted over an encrypted connection before reaching your server.
You can do this with SSL/TLS encryption, where the client uses a public key to encrypt data which you can use to exchange data within the secured session. BuiltWith, a market research firm, reports that 65.76% of the top one million websites now use SSL/TLS.
It is also essential to ensure that your security solutions provide strong encryption and regularly update the latest threat definitions.
3. Implement real-time security monitoring
As a rule of thumb, you should always look for ways to improve security. It can range from adding firewalls and IDS/IPS systems to regular vulnerability scans.
Keeping track of your app’s security can be extremely difficult — especially as it grows. You will have to monitor multiple data streams manually and analyze them to detect any malicious activity or vulnerabilities.
Fortunately, real-time security monitoring is now available thanks to new technology. Skilled developers can create software that collects, analyzes, and interprets data from multiple sources, including logs, firewall alerts, security reports, etc.
This software then presents the data in an easy-to-understand dashboard that allows you to identify suspicious activity and take action before the situation escalates.
4. Follow proper logging practices
The log files are a valuable source of information for any web application. They can reveal security vulnerabilities, application functionality, and even its performance.
Log files are helpful to make changes to your application or its code. But following proper logging practices will ensure that you’re not storing sensitive data in log files directly accessible by anyone with physical access to your computer.
Logging is a critical part of web app security practices. It’s also essential to consider the types of data you’re storing, what kind of format it is in, and how long you should keep it before being purged.
5. Continuously check for common web application vulnerabilities
Enable automatic updates. Most operating systems, web servers, databases, and antivirus programs have an option where they can check for and install updates as they become available automatically.
The simplest way to ensure that you’re always running the latest software version with all security fixes applied. Regularly check for updates to stay on top and provide resilience against such vulnerabilities.
6. Implement security hardening measures
For starters, you should disable any unnecessary features in the server, such as unused services and unnecessary user accounts, or even HTTP TRACE/TRACK methods.
It is good to remove any software not needed for your application to work. You should also limit access to resources only to those who need it and ensure they have the least privileges possible.
You should also ensure that all unnecessary ports are closed, preferably by setting up a firewall. Many firewalls allow you to block access to IP addresses using a blocklist, or they will enable you to specify rules for traffic filtering.
Disabling directory browsing is another good practice and makes you less prone to attack if your code is not well-written and prone to vulnerabilities.
7. Carry out regular vulnerability scans and updates
Security is a massive problem these days. With the advent of the internet, we have access to the world’s information storage at our fingertips. Sadly, this also makes us vulnerable to attacks by hackers who mean to make our lives difficult.
You must maintain a secure server to help protect your users from cyberattacks. For example, ensure that you carry out regular vulnerability scans on your servers and ensure that they’re updated from time to time.
It will help ensure that you don’t have any vulnerabilities lurking in the background of your server, which could compromise the security of your application and its users’ data.
Final thoughts on web app security practices
The web application security best practices are an excellent way to start with building and evaluating a minimum viable product.
It has good guidelines for developers and security specialists who look after web applications, thus helping them stay away from the most common vulnerabilities. It means a better user experience and, therefore, more beneficial for your product!