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How to perform security testing on web applications

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ARTICLE SUMMARY

Dakota Murphey explores the importance of rigid and structured web application security testing, the solutions that can be brought forward, and how companies can facilitate their execution.

WEB APPLICATIONS ARE CRUCIAL FOR BUSINESSES AND ORGANISATIONS TO FUNCTION EFFECTIVELY, PARTICULARLY IN A WORLD WHERE TECHNOLOGY AND INTERCONNECTIVITY HAVE ACCELERATED RAPIDLY.

However, these types of applications pose a plethora of data risks if not properly tested for their security.

As more women enter the fields of web development, coding, programming, and STEM, their perspectives and experience can enable companies to develop more robust security testing methods. As we know, combining technical expertise with effective and comprehensive security testing allows organisations to deploy web applications with full peace of mind and confidence in their stability.

Dakota Murphey is a freelance writer who specialises in Digital Trends in Business, Marketing, PR, Branding, Cybersecurity, Entrepreneurial Skills and Business Growth.

Dakota Murphey explores the importance of rigid and structured web application security testing, the solutions that can be brought forward, and how companies can facilitate their execution.

Dakota is a freelance writer who specialises in Digital Trends in Business, Marketing, PR, Branding, Cybersecurity, Entrepreneurial Skills and Business Growth.  You can find her on Twitter: @Dakota_Murphey

WHY SECURITY TESTING MATTERS

With web applications growing more complex, security vulnerabilities can easily be overlooked in development. Cybercrime is also growing increasingly rife as technology becomes more accessible, and while AI and automation make manual tasks easier, human supervision is still crucial. 

Flaws like SQL injections or cross-site scripting (XSS) can expose sensitive user data, and while these can be patched, it’s crucial to continually supervise, manage, and monitor these applications. Attackers are finding new ways to exploit these vulnerabilities to breach systems and steal information. 

The consequences of insecure web apps include:

  • Financial loss from fraud or theft
  • Reputational damage if a breach becomes public
  • Legal penalties for violating data protection laws

Security testing procedures can ensure that all endpoints and vulnerabilities are constantly assessed for weaknesses and possible entry points before apps go live. In turn, issues can be resolved, rather than apps suffering breaches post-deployment. Robust, regular testing is crucial for web apps that handle sensitive or personal data and oversee financial transactions.

APPROACHES TO SECURITY TESTING

Several methods exist to evaluate the security of web applications:

PENETRATION TESTING

Penetration testing (or pentesting) mimics the techniques of real hackers. Ethical “white hat” hackers probe apps to uncover vulnerabilities by actively attempting to circumvent security features through methods like:

  • Guessing or cracking passwords
  • Searching for input fields vulnerable to SQL injection
  • Checking for cross-site scripting flaws
  • Attempting to overwhelm systems with a denial of service (DoS) attack

Skilled testers utilise automated tools as well as manual testing methods. Testing should be customised, based on the web app’s functionality and data sensitivity.

Outsourced penetration testing services give organisations real-world insights into their infrastructure’s weaknesses that could be exploited by attackers. The hands-on approach highlights vulnerabilities that static analyses may miss.

STATIC APPLICATION SECURITY TESTING (SAST)

SAST scans app code without executing fully-fledged programmes. It inspects lines of code for common errors and vulnerabilities, with tools automatically scanning multiple code types like Java, .NET, PHP and JavaScript.

Benefits of SAST include:

  • Faster testing as code is not run
  • Able to highlight a wide array of potential weaknesses
  • Can integrate into CI/CD pipelines for rapid feedback

However, because SAST lacks the context of a running web app, it may generate false positives. It exclusively focuses on code rather than interacting with any running apps.

DYNAMIC APPLICATION SECURITY TESTING (DAST)

DAST analyses applications while in a running state. It interacts with web interfaces and APIs, detecting flaws like SQL injections, XSS and improper access controls.

DAST tools crawl through sites to find every link, input field and variable. Fuzzing techniques manipulate these to uncover crashes, errors or other anomalies that could signify flaws.

Benefits of DAST scanning include:

  • Assesses apps in a real-world active state
  • Broad coverage as it crawls entire sites
  • Can access functionality missed by code analysis

The main drawbacks of DAST are its comparatively slow speed compared to SAST and the increased likelihood of missing business logic flaws.

INTERACTIVE APPLICATION SECURITY TESTING (IAST)

IAST combines SAST’s static code analysis with DAST’s app execution. This links code flaws to running processes. IAST inserts sensors into code to track execution and input data when apps run.

Advantages of interactive testing:

  • Pinpoints exploitable flaws rather than theoretical weaknesses
  • Verifies when vulnerable code branches execute
  • Tests front-end and back-end code

IAST requires specific integration into build and runtime environments. Skilled configuration is essential to enable comprehensive testing.

BEST PRACTICES FOR SECURITY TESTING

For effective, complete web app testing that builds secure software, keep these guidelines in mind:

  • Run security tests early and often before app deployment and during its lifespan as code develops and changes
  • Prioritise the most critical risks like authentication weaknesses and injection flaws that provide easy unauthorised access
  • Use a combination of SAST, DAST, pentesting, and others for comprehensive coverage.
  • Check and test all user paths for vulnerabilities and access from their perspective
  • Verify any code fixes or changes through comprehensive retesting
  • Integrate security testing with DevOps and build them into CI/CD pipelines
  • Work with internal and external security specialists to leverage advanced expertise and knowledge

DIVERSITY STRENGTHENS SECURITY

As more skilled women launch careers in fields like development and cyber security, they provide fresh viewpoints on safer software practices. Developers across a broad range of backgrounds can challenge outdated assumptions about code and security, with inclusive teams creating robust and impenetrable web applications. 

The complexity of modern web apps demands multifaceted and multi-layered security approaches. With more women entering the field, diverse perspectives enhance these security measures. By making security testing a priority, companies can release applications that balance user experience with robust defences against cyber threats.

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