One of the worst things a business owner can find out is that their business got hacked. And those that do discover the breach are the lucky ones.
If you found yourself in that situation of having failed to protect the sensitive data of your clients, you’d most likely give anything to be able to implement efficient security practices in time. The consequences of a data breach include not only significant financial losses and the disruption of daily business operations but also brand image damage.
To make matters even more complicated, the recent shift to remote work caused by the COVID-19 pandemic comes with its own security challenges for companies all over the world. Cybercriminals have taken advantage of the new situation businesses find themselves in to hijack teleconferences and organize phishing attacks and online scams that target remote workers.
What can a business owner do to mitigate the risk of a data breach in such turbulent times? Make sure that your application follows the best practices of secure coding.
What is OWASP and how does it work?
OWASP (Open Web Application Security Project) is a nonprofit online community of professionals that aims to improve software security by providing business owners, developers, and users with free documentation, tools, projects, and forums concerning web application security.
One of their most popular projects is OWASP Top 10 which raises awareness about the most critical web application vulnerabilities, their impact, and preventive measures. This document is viewed by developers worldwide as the first step towards more secure coding.
The OWASP Top 10 includes the following vulnerabilities:
- Injection: allows untrusted data to be sent to a server/database/device as part of a command or query which, in turn, gives attackers the possibility to execute their own commands or to access sensitive data without permission.
- Broken Authentication: is caused by the incorrectly implemented authentication and session management functions of a website, app, or device, which allows attackers to hijack a user’s or administrator’s access and to take control temporarily or permanently over their account.
- Sensitive Data Exposure: many web applications are not designed to properly handle sensitive data – such as financial data, healthcare data, and personally identifiable information (PII) – which can result in data theft, credit card fraud, and other crimes.
- XML External Entities (XXE): vulnerable XML processors can be exploited by attackers in order to extract data stored locally, execute a remote request from the server, scan internal systems, conduct a denial-of-service attack and other nefarious actions.
- Broken Access Control: results from poor enforcement of what authenticated users are allowed to do and lets attackers gain access to users’ accounts, view sensitive files, and modify data or functions they shouldn’t.
- Security Misconfiguration: as the name suggests, this vulnerability involves overlooking vulnerable aspects of the web application infrastructure – the most common vulnerabilities include using default credentials, leaving files unprotected on public servers, and not patching known flaws on time.
- Cross-Site Scripting XSS: an XSS flaw occurs when a web application includes untrusted data in a new web page without proper validation and allows attackers to corrupt existing data, modify the behavior of an application, and redirect users to malicious sites.
- Insecure Deserialization: this flaw involves the insertion of malicious code into deserialized data and can result in one of the most serious types of attack, remote code execution.
- Using Components with Known Vulnerabilities: when companies fail to keep their software up to date, attackers have more chances to exploit known vulnerabilities and gain access to their system. See the Equifax data breach case.
- Insufficient Logging & Monitoring: the lack of monitoring for suspicious activity can slow the detection of potential cyber attacks – according to IBM, the average time to detect a breach in 2019 was 206 days, and 73 days to contain it.
Also, OWASP created a Web Security Testing Guide which provides clear directions and best practices that web application developers and security professionals can use whenever they need to test the security of an application.
How can secure coding keep your business out of danger?
When a developer starts working on a web application they not only need to take its design and architecture into consideration, but they also have to write optimized, efficient, and, most importantly, secure code.
Secure coding helps businesses to prevent potential cyberattacks from happening as it eliminates those common vulnerabilities which are usually exploited by attackers.
Here are some secure coding practices that will help your team mitigate security risks for your web application:
- Store user credentials and highly sensitive information only by using encryption on the server-side.
- For authenticated users, generate a new session identifier and deactivate the old one periodically.
- Make sure that all points of communication on a server (except those intended to be public) require authentication and, if necessary, role management.
- Restrict users’ privileges to only the functionality and data that is required to perform their actions.
- Use HTTPS in order to protect data in transit.
- Regularly update servers, frameworks, and system components to their latest versions.
- Sanitize all inputs that will be used in SQL queries or XML.
- Restrict the access of the third-party API keys you use only to your web application or server.
What you must always keep in mind is that secure coding doesn’t stop at the development stage.
Having an audit such as Secure Code Review allows you to check if your application’s source code meets industry security standards and deal with any coding issues that were overlooked. This way you prevent the appearance and potential malicious exploitation of serious security vulnerabilities later on.
Also, we recommend you continuously test the security of your web applications in order to make sure that there aren’t any unprotected gaps through which an intruder could get access to your data.
Penetration testing is one tool that can help you stay proactive when it comes to the security of your web application. The code is analyzed from an attacker’s point of view, thus uncovering any critical vulnerability existent in your application.
At LooseByte, we love to help our clients keep their business and sensitive data secure. Monitor, Test, Fix…and then test again. That’s our mantra.
Is security one of your business goals but you feel like you don’t have the time or necessary expertise to stop attackers from getting in? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a message on Facebook. We’re here to help!