Web Application Security and Web Application Security Solutions

What is web application security

Web application security is the process of protecting websites and online services against different security threats that exploit vulnerabilities in an application’s code. Common targets for web application attacks are content management systems (e.g., WordPress), database administration tools (e.g., phpMyAdmin) and SaaS applications.

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Perpetrators consider web applications high-priority targets due to:

  • The inherent complexity of their source code, which increases the likelihood of unattended vulnerabilities and malicious code manipulation.

Organizations failing to secure their web applications run the risk of being attacked. Among other consequences, this can result in information theft, damaged client relationships, revoked licenses and legal proceedings.

Web application vulnerabilities

Web application vulnerabilities are typically the result of a lack of input/output sanitization, which are often exploited to either manipulate source code or gain unauthorized access.

Such vulnerabilities enable the use of different attack vectors, including:

  • SQL Injection — Occurs when a perpetrator uses malicious SQL code to manipulate a backend database so it reveals information. Consequences include the unauthorized viewing of lists, deletion of tables and unauthorized administrative access.

In theory, thorough input/output sanitization could eliminate all vulnerabilities, making an application immune to unlawful manipulation.

However, complete sanitization usually isn’t a practical option, since most applications exist in a constant development state. Moreover, applications are also frequently integrated with each other to create an increasingly complex coded environment.

Web application security solutions and enforced security procedures, such as PCI Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) certification, should be deployed to avoid such threats.

Web application firewall (WAF)

Web application firewalls (WAFs) are hardware and software solutions used for protection from application security threats. These solutions are designed to examine incoming traffic to block attack attempts, thereby compensating for any code sanitization deficiencies.

By securing data from theft and manipulation, WAF deployment meets a key criteria for PCI DSS certification. Requirement 6.6 states that all credit and debit cardholder data held in a database must be protected.

Generally, deploying a WAF doesn’t require making any changes to an application, as it is placed ahead of its DMZ at the edge of a network. From there, it acts as a gateway for all incoming traffic, blocking malicious requests before they have a chance to interact with an application.

WAFs use several different heuristics to determine which traffic is given access to an application and which needs to be weeded out. A constantly-updated signature pool enables them to instantly identify bad actors and known attack vectors.

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Almost all WAFs can be custom-configured for specific use cases and security policies, and to combat emerging (a.k.a., zero-day) threats. Finally, most modern solutions leverage reputational and behavior data to gain additional insights into incoming traffic.

WAFs are typically integrated with other security solutions to form a security perimeter. These may include distributed denial of service (DDoS) protection services that provide additional scalability required to block high-volume attacks.

Web application security checklist

In addition to WAFs, there are a number of methods for securing web applications. The following processes should be part of any web application security checklist:

  • Information gathering — Manually review the application, identifying entry points and client-side codes. Classify third-party hosted content.

Refer to the OWASP Web Application Security Testing Cheat Sheet for additional information; it’s also a valuable resource for other security-related matters.

Network and web application security solutions

Entire suite of web application and network security solutions, all delivered via our cloud-based CDN platform.

  • Web application firewall (WAF) — Managed 24/7 by our team of security experts, Imperva cloud WAF uses crowdsourcing technology and IP reputation to prevent attacks aiming to exploit application vulnerabilities. This solution also comes complete with a custom rules engine, enabling total on-the-fly control over all security policies.

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