Web App Security: Beginners Checklist to Get Started in 2021

Who can deny the importance of security for their website or online store? You may have already implemented some security measures, and you can feel quite complacent about it, but they are far from enough when we consider the security challenges. 

In recent years, even many leading websites and web apps faced a huge surge of security attacks on their websites. This is why it is important to update security best practices every once in a while, and stay completely alert to safeguard the website from new and more sophisticated attacks. 

Are you interested to know how to make an app from scratch? Do you want to know all the major concerns that you need to address? Well, let's begin here with app security first. 

This post will explain the top web app security beginner checklist that you need to follow. 

What is Web App Security?

Web application security refers to a variety of processes, technologies, or methods for protecting web servers, web applications, and web services such as APIs from attack by Internet-based threats. Web application security is crucial to protecting data, customers, and organizations from data theft, interruptions in business continuity, or other harmful results of cybercrime.

Web application security products and policies strive to protect applications through measures such as web application firewalls (WAFs), multi-factor authentication (MFA) for users, the use, protection, and validation of cookies to maintain user state and privacy status, and various methods for validating user input to ensure it is not malicious before that input is processed by an application.

Common Web App Vulnerabilities 

1. SQL Injection

Structured Query Language (SQL) is a programming language for databases that enables data retrieval and manipulation for relational databases. A SQL injection vulnerability falls under the larger group of unvalidated user inputs.

When cybercriminals send requests that they know are false, the web application returns an error message that gives them information about how the database is organized and protected.

2. Cross-site Scripting (XSS)

Distinct from a CSRF which requires a user logged into an application to be tricked into doing something, an XSS attack requires the cybercriminal to insert code into a web page, usually in some element of the page like an image.

When the user opens the web page on their browser, the malicious code downloads and executes in the browser. For example, the code may redirect users from a legitimate site to a malicious one.

3. Cross-site request forgery (CSRF)

A CSRF attack leverages social engineering methods to get a user to change information, like user name or password, in an application. Unlike malware or cross-site scripting (XXS) attacks, a CSRF requires a user to be logged into the application that uses only session cookies for tracking sessions or validating user requests.

Once the user takes the intended action, the attacker leverages the browser to perform the rest of the attack, such as transferring funds, without the user realizing what happened. For example, as OWASP explained, the “buy now” feature on retail websites is easy to exploit through a CSRF attack because the attacker can use the cookies stored on the browser that saves the payment data to complete the attack.

Defining a Framework for Web App Security

To begin with, an organization must have a robust framework and strategic outline for ensuring security for the website or web app. A cybersecurity framework is a comprehensive set of guidelines that help organizations define cybersecurity policies to assess their security posture and increase resilience in the face of cyberattacks.

Cybersecurity frameworks formally define security controls, risk assessment methods, and appropriate safeguards to protect information systems and data from cyber threats. This article looks at the reasons for using a cybersecurity framework and shows how you can find best-practice cybersecurity processes and actions to apply to web application security.

1. Embrace approaches like DevSecOps 

It is an outdated approach to assign cybersecurity concerns and tasks to only the security professionals. This is why modern IT security policies are far more accommodating and inclusive and integrates a wide spectrum of functions. For example, the development methodology such as DevOps has now accommodated security within its collaborative approach for building apps, and thus, we have got DevSecOps

 

2. Tracking the Core Assets  

Before ensuring protection, you must have a comprehensive idea about what you are going to protect. This is why it is important to know the assets and track the corresponding security vulnerabilities and threats. 

Know the servers and server-side technologies that are used for the app or other particular functions. Know about all the open-source components shaping all different web apps. When you know which software is backing which app function, you can easily track vulnerabilities and security issues corresponding to them? 

By just tracking your assets, you can reduce all your concerns and disasters in the time to follow. The tracking of all key assets should also be automated and streamlined from the early stage, as detecting the assets later when the company operations get bigger can be problematic. 

Lastly, besides knowing and tracking assets, segregate the assets into different categories and classes as per their critical roles and security vulnerabilities, they are exposed to. This helps you in threat assessment and creating a strategy for remediation.

 

3, Maintain Secure Coding Practices Throughout 

As far as the most effective security measures for any app are concerned, nothing really works better than ensuring secure and optimized coding. It is an irreplaceable necessity to do away with the coding errors, remove fault lines in the code, and optimize the code as per the best security needs

Here we briefly mention a few of the coding practices important for optimizing app security. 

  • It is important to check and validate all the input fields on the server-side and the client-side to ensure that no malicious code can bypass the more vulnerable client-side. When such bypassing occurs, the server-side can easily handle it. 
  •   Ensure there are no buffer overflow problems that can expose your code to different risks like denial-  of-  service attacks and code injection from remote locations. 
  • SQL Injection is another major risk that apps encounter. A SQL statement entering slyly through the input fields can infiltrate the database (DB) and result in the unnecessary revelation of the database contents or tampering of the database. To prevent this type of attack, using pre-built query statements instead of direct inputs can be a good practice. 


4. Restrict the Privileges to a Minimum

Most of the web applications offer some privileges for selected local and remote computers. Such privileges can really pose potential threats to the app if they are not optimized for security.

To do away with risks resulting from privileges, it is advisable to use the settings allowing the least permissions for different web apps. When it comes to carrying system changes, only a handful of most responsible persons in the organization should have permission for this. Ideally, except for the system administrators, nobody should enjoy full access. 

 

5. Encryption

Encryption has emerged as a highly reliable security measure to protect data from all unwanted threats, including data breaching, tampering and other vulnerabilities. Encryption should protect both data in transit and data at rest. Encryption should be stronger for handling and rolling accessibility to sensitive information. 

As the tried and tested encryption technology for the web, it is advisable to use HTTPS instead of HTTP. Instead of experimenting with different encryption techniques, it is advisable to use the most trusted and acclaimed one that worked well for apps in similar situations. Apart from this, use hashing techniques to evaluate the data safety. Even data stored in databases or log files should be fully encrypted. 

 

6. Evaluate the Authentication Procedure 

As an app administrator, you must enforce the strongest password and login policy to safeguard data and prevent the app from unwanted access. Enforce using strong passwords having at least eight or more characters. To enhance authentication for stronger security, enforce multi-factor authentication. On top of that, there should be an automatic account lockout action when a user carries out a number of failed attempts to log in.

Conclusion 

All these security practices are already tested and tried by web apps across all niches for several years. Apart from meeting these requirements and following these practices, you also need to evaluate security from time to time.

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Published on Jun 7, 2021
Juned Ahmed
Written by Juned Ahmed
Juned Ahmed is the head of operations and co-founder of the IndianAppDevelopers company, a place to hire top app developers in India for domestic and international enterprises mobile app development projects. He has served as a technical content contributor at various blogs and articles especially on mobile technologies topics.

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