Top Web App Security Breaches & How You Can Stop Them

Web application security breaches are on the rise. In 2021, more than 250,000 unique Android users were attacked by a trojan. In 2020, Marriott Hotels disclosed a security breach that impacted the data of more than 5.2 million hotel guests who used their loyalty application. According to NTT’s 2020 Global Threat Intelligence Report 55% of all cyberattacks in 2019 were a combination of web application and application-specific attacks. Most web applications typically have a vast threat surface including areas like DBA tools, content management systems, and multiple APIs. And since web apps have become an integral part of business operations today, any breach can easily result in loss of reputation, damaged client relations, rescinded licenses, and even legal actions. What ads to their vulnerability is that most web apps are now in the cloud, and with businesses taking an agile approach to application development, new apps are being released without the needed protections.

A closer look at some of the top web application security challenges can help you avoid some common pitfalls and be prepared for remedial steps.

Insufficient user access controls

Without stringent user authentication and the proper authorization tools to act as a gatekeeper, it becomes much easier for attackers to access sensitive information and steal, manipulate, or delete vital data. Access controls can be applied in a variety of ways such as role-based access, discretionary access control, mandatory access control based on the sensitivity of information being accessed, or permission-based access control. It’s critical that no matter what access control method is applied, access controls are clearly defined and strictly implemented across all applications. The principle of least privilege, i.e. allowing each user only the minimum access privileges they need to perform their job can be very effective in control web app security breaches.

Malicious attacks

While bots perform automated functions like managing user queries, malware bots do just the opposite. They dodge login authentication to enter the application and gather passwords, capture sensitive information, launch DDoS attacks, spam, and propagate malware as they self-propagate to infect large numbers of users. Post-pandemic especially most businesses have enabled employees and other stakeholders access to application resources, including file servers and databases. Unfortunately, this allows attackers to trigger system commands in the compromised application and keep their malware updated. Web application firewalls, strict user access controls, and user challenges such as CAPTCHA are some methods to control malware bots.

SQL Injection

SQL injection (SQLi) basically uses SQL code to manipulate a web app’s backend database by injecting malicious code into the app, targeting app data not meant for public view such as secure enterprise data, user databases, customer information etc. SQLi are one of the most common and malicious web app security breaches. Moreover, automated tools can easily spam apps with SQL requests to see what works. The attackers can even grab admin rights and alter or delete data. It’s usually legacy web apps that are especially vulnerable to SQLi. Patching or upgrading them can offer a decent amount of protection against attacks. What also helps is to add code strings that make it almost impossible for an attacker to use the code as a string delimiter. Account impossible for hackers to use it as a string delimiter. The IT should also lock any account permissions connected to the executable web app code.

Remote Code Execution

Remote Code Execution, or RCE, is perhaps the most potent vulnerability in a web app, where attackers can run a poor quality or erroneous code within a web app with the objective of compromising the application. Attackers can also access the database server which contains sensitive data. RCE attack are also harder to detect. But techniques such as penetration testing could help spot these gaps in security for apps that handle critical information. Regular security updates and patches also help prevent RCE attacks.

Cross-site Scripting

In cross-site scripting attacks, hackers slide in client-side scripts into a website being accessed by external users, allowing the web app to accept an input from a user without any validation. The objective is to get the hacked user to deliver a payload (a malicious script) to another user and steal/ modify data in order to access sensitive information. The good news is that there are several ways to prevent such attacks. These include sanitizing the client and server-side data, checking output data so that only clean data gets passed on to an HTML document, and checking input data.

Inefficient Passwords

Simple as it may sounds, passwords that are not strong enough make the way easier for a hacker. Most web apps allow users to proceed with very simple passwords that can be easily cracked – using methods like a dictionary attack – and used for logging in and making configuration changes, viewing sensitive data, uploading/ modifying files etc. Multi-factor authentication, complex passwords, account lock feature, and frequent password updates help prevent such attacks.

Distributed denial-of-service

Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks overload a web app with more traffic than it can handle to a point that it stops functioning. Multiple requests for communication flood the app forcing it to crash and preventing access by legitimate customers. DDoS attacks have become more sophisticated over time and are sometimes combined with ransomware attacks. Deploying a solid firewall and scanning traffic for suspicious activity can help stop DDoS attacks. If IT teams are vigilant, they can immediately stop multiple requests from the same IP and immediately send out alerts to security admins.

Launch day attacks

Sometimes, when an app has just been launched and is still being tested, hackers find it easier to access such new apps. This is because a lot of code is reused from application to application, allowing hackers to predict the common code. The easiest way to prevent such attacks is to use in-house code for an app instead of open-source and to build in strict security checks.

Final thoughts

Unfortunately, the number of ways security teams can protect their web apps is limited, while hackers have a plethora of options for attacking and exploiting. Antivirus software and spam filtering alone are insufficient, and a much more comprehensive set of tools is needed to protect web apps from data breaches, malware attacks, and service disruptions. Enterprises must regularly scan their apps in order to detect and mitigate any new vulnerabilities before they can impact anything.