This article has been updated since it was last published in 2020.
As technology continues to evolve, so do the risks associated with software applications. With the increased prevalence of cyber attacks and data breaches, it’s more important than ever to prioritize application security in software development. In this essay, we will discuss common application security risks and best practices to protect against them.
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Application security threats are vulnerabilities or weaknesses in software applications that can be exploited by attackers to compromise the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of sensitive information. Application security risks can vary depending on the type and complexity of the application, but there are some common ones.
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It is difficult to provide a definitive number of security threats as they are constantly evolving and new ones can emerge at any time. Additionally, security threats can vary depending on the specific context and industry. However, there are some common security threats which we detail below. It is important for individuals and organizations to stay informed about emerging security threats and take proactive measures to protect against them.
The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP), a non-profit organization dedicated to improving software security, maintains a list of the top 10 web application security risks, which is updated periodically. The current list contains the following:
This list is by no means exhaustive. Let’s look at some of these security vulnerabilities in more detail and provide specific steps that can be taken to prevent them.
In an XSS attack, an attacker can inject malicious code (usually in the form of a script) into a vulnerable website or application, which can then be executed by unsuspecting users who view the page. This can allow the attacker to steal user credentials, redirect the user to another site, or perform other malicious actions on behalf of the user.
CSRF is a type of web application vulnerability that allows an attacker to perform unwanted actions on behalf of an authenticated user without their knowledge or consent.
It works by tricking the victim into clicking on a malicious link or visiting a malicious website while they are authenticated on a legitimate website. The attacker’s website then sends a request to the legitimate website on the victim’s behalf, using the victim’s session cookie or other authentication credentials, and performs an action that the victim did not intend to perform.
For example, if a victim is logged into their bank’s website and then visits a malicious website, the attacker’s website could generate a hidden form that, when submitted, transfers money out of the victim’s account. Since the request is sent from the victim’s browser with their authentication credentials, the bank’s website will process the request as if it came from the legitimate user.
SQLi is a type of web application security vulnerability that allows an attacker to inject malicious SQL code into a web application’s database. This can happen when a web application fails to properly sanitize user input before passing it to an SQL query.
Attackers can exploit SQL injection vulnerabilities to steal sensitive data, modify or delete data, or even take control of the affected system. Common targets include login forms, search fields, and other forms that accept user input.
A brute force attack is a type of cyberattack where an attacker tries to gain unauthorized access to a system by guessing the correct username and password through a trial-and-error approach. In a brute force attack, the attacker uses automated software that systematically tries different combinations of usernames and passwords until the correct one is found.
Brute force attacks are most commonly used to target login pages on web applications, but they can also be used to crack encryption keys, wireless network passwords, and other types of authentication mechanisms.
The success of a brute force attack depends on the strength and complexity of the password. If the password is weak and easily guessable, the attack can be successful in a short amount of time. However, if the password is strong and complex, the attack may take a very long time or be impossible to succeed.
Malware is a type of malicious software designed to harm or disrupt computer systems, networks, or devices. Malware can take many forms, including viruses, worms, trojans, spyware, adware, and ransomware.
Malware can be spread through various methods, such as email attachments, infected websites, file-sharing networks, or malicious software downloads. Once installed on a system, malware can perform a variety of malicious actions, such as stealing personal information, monitoring user activity, disrupting system operations, or taking control of the system.
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Despite the presence of several serious security threats, developers can take proactive steps to mitigate against these risks. By following a variety of best practices, developers can reduce the likelihood of security breaches, data loss, and other security incidents. This, in turn, can help to maintain the trust of customers and stakeholders, and enhance the reputation of the organization. Organizations like healthcare and fintech that are governed by regulatory bodies or laws, are required to implement certain security features.
Here’s a roundup of 6 best practices for securing your software.
SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificates establish a secure, encrypted connection between a web server and a user’s browser, ensuring that sensitive data transmitted over the connection cannot be intercepted or tampered with by unauthorized parties. This helps to protect sensitive data, such as login credentials, credit card information, and other personal information, from being stolen or compromised. SSL certificates also help to authenticate the identity of the website, providing assurance to users that they are communicating with a trusted website and not an imposter or fraudulent website.
Access controls, which involve implementing policies and procedures to limit access to sensitive data and systems, are a critical component of a comprehensive security strategy for any organization. Access controls help to ensure that only authorized personnel can access sensitive data, systems, and applications, while unauthorized individuals are prevented from accessing them. Many regulatory frameworks, such as HIPAA, PCI-DSS, and GDPR, require organizations to implement access controls to protect sensitive data. By implementing access controls, organizations can ensure compliance with these frameworks and avoid costly fines and penalties.
Some effective user controls include:
Secure data storage refers to the methods and technologies used to safely store and manage data, while data backup refers to the process of creating and maintaining copies of data to ensure that it is not lost in the event of a system failure, data corruption, or other unexpected events.
Some effective data storage practices include:
Secure development practices refer to the set of processes, techniques, and tools used to develop software with security in mind. These practices aim to identify and address potential security vulnerabilities throughout the software development lifecycle, from design to deployment.
By implementing secure development practices, organizations can ensure that software applications are developed with security in mind, reducing the risk of security vulnerabilities and data breaches. It is important to note that secure development practices are not a one-time activity, but rather an ongoing process that should be integrated into the software development lifecycle to ensure that security is considered throughout the lifecycle of the application.
Some effective secure development practices include:
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Web traffic is the data exchanged between a user’s browser and a web application or server. Protecting web traffic is crucial to prevent attackers from intercepting or modifying sensitive data exchanged over the web, such as usernames, passwords, credit card details, and personal information. It is important to use industry-standard security protocols to cut the risk of attacks. Protecting web traffic involves using firewalls and intrusion detection systems to prevent attacks.
Some best web traffic protection practices include:
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Operational security involves implementing a range of policies, procedures, and controls to protect an organization’s systems, applications, and data from threats and to ensure the efficient and secure operation of its infrastructure. By implementing effective operational security practices, organizations can minimize the risks of security breaches, data loss, and system downtime.
If you are building an app and relying on a third party for their software, then you might also want to ensure that they follow sound operational security. In particular you may want to ensure they are SOC2 compliant. SOC2, or Service Organization Control 2, is a type of audit report that provides an independent assessment of a service provider’s internal controls and security practices. SOC2 helps organizations demonstrate their commitment to operational security by providing an independent assessment of their controls and security practices.
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Securing software against common security threats is critical in today’s digital world. From cyber attacks to data breaches, the risks posed to organizations are many and varied. However, by taking a proactive approach to software security and adopting a security-first mindset, organizations can help to prevent security incidents before they occur, protecting their valuable data and systems from harm.
QuickBlox provides top security features for their communication software. If you’re planning to build a secure messaging app, or to add chat or video functionality to an existing platform, talk to QuickBox. Serving customers in healthcare and fintech, with high security concerns and compliance needs, we implement the best in software security. Find out more today.