What is web application security?

When it comes to your home, you want to make sure that you can get in and out whenever you want to but that other people can’t break in. You also want to know that your possessions are safe and your appliances won’t cause fire or water damage. Well, web application security is pretty much the same thing, but for web applications. In short, it is making sure that the application will run how it is supposed to, for the users who are authorized to interact with it (and only those users), and that the data used or stored will not be mishandled.

Why is web application security important?

For a growing number of companies, a security breach leads to a loss in revenue, whether directly, for example in the case of transactions which cannot go through, or indirectly, by losing clients’ trust. In addition, more and more countries are adopting data protection and privacy laws, exposing companies to fines and regulatory sanctions if they fail to deploy appropriate security measures to protect staff and customers’ personal data.

Due to the global nature of the internet, web-based assets, such as websites, web applications and web services (namely APIs) are discoverable and accessible by third parties. This means that any vulnerabilities or misconfigurations in these applications and services are vulnerable to targeted attacks and large-scale disruptions from malicious external parties.

Whether your business is primarily web-based or you rely on the web in some form to operate, web application security must be a key component of your company strategy, and you should make sure you have put in place an appropriate plan to protect your assets and operations. Of course, the resources you mobilize should be adapted to the criticality of the assets and the risks they face. An online tutoring platform will not need the same security plan as a FinTech service, for example. While a data breach may annoy the users of the first, it will simply not be acceptable for the users of the latter. However, a service disruption, especially if prolonged, will anger both users’ groups.

How do I tackle web application security?

Awareness and preparedness are key. By knowing your assets (data, applications, infrastructure, etc.), the different types of threats, and your ecosystem vulnerabilities, you will be able to test the areas exposed to potential attacks and plan for mitigation. Being prepared is half the battle: in case of an incident, your teams will know how to react and lessen the impact.

Building security into the development process for applications will go a long. This can take the form of best practices, good working relationships with developers, and testing efforts or checks. Testing can be manual or automatic, and can be an all-hands-on-deck pentest or a small targeted security audit. There are several tools you can use depending on your objectives. Being literate on the available approaches and the appropriate cases in which to use them will come in handy since bringing security into your development lifecycle is not a one-shot exercise, but rather a regular process to activate every time something changes in the environment, be they system upgrades, patches, new application rollouts, etc.

Another key security process is monitoring, and this is a continuous one. Automating as much as possible frees up valuable time for tasks that actually require human expertise and deeper analyses. With the amount of security-related tasks required, you can easily drown under less important tasks resulting in losing track of serious unresolved vulnerabilities and substantially diminishing your incident response capabilities. Some steps to take include setting up a centralized logging platform, and using an Application Security Management platform like Sqreen to prevent data breaches, protect your customers, stop business logic attacks and get visibility into your applications.

Furthermore, do not forget that web application security is not only a technical issue. Making sure your systems are up to date, your data is encrypted, and that you have set up all the necessary tools is important, but infusing security throughout all the processes of the company and educating your teams, whether engineers or not, to be appropriately aware of security is equally crucial.

What if a security incident happens despite our best efforts?

That’s what plans are for! As Denis Waitley once famously said: “Expect the best, plan for the worst and prepare to be surprised.” Business continuity planning and disaster recovery planning enable the continuation or recovery of vital systems for operations in the wake of a security incident. Make sure your data and system backups are uncorrupted, up-to-date and ready to load, and that your teams are fully aware of how to recognize an incident and how to execute the procedures you’ve put in place.

By adopting a holistic approach to security, hackers will not be able to make your web-based assets do what they are not supposed to do.

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