What is Web Application Security?

Web application security encompasses the processes, technologies, and methods to protect websites, web servers, web applications, and web services from external threats and internet-based attacks. Content management systems, APIs, and SaaS applications are examples of common cyberattack targets.

Web apps are like an online road that users can take to exchange information with your company. Emails, web forms, and any application that clients can use to interact with your company is a web application. With this kind of information avenue, creating and maintaining a high level of security is necessary, otherwise anyone can get into your company and take sensitive information without any roadblocks.

Web-based applications are targeted because they can contain a complex source code that can be hijacked with improper inputs and are externally available. Attackers try to override or overwhelm these systems with different styles of code "mutations". Injection type flaws allow attackers to input malicious code to reconfigure and manipulate the application, creating unexpected crashes or unintended outcomes that can provide a foothold for criminals to access sensitive data.

Cyberattacks against web applications can be easily automated and can be executed against thousands of targets simultaneously. The technique is to barrage them with bombardment of coding, much like a virtual battering ram, and try to crash web applications. Once they knock down the web application gateway with this style of injection attack, sensitive data can be exposed, and the company can be left hobbled from doing business.

Why is Web Application Security Important

Any company with an online presence has some form of a web application. The sheer amount of web apps available make them an ideal target for any attacker to use brute force and strongarm their way into a company's sensitive data. This virtual "smash and grab" goes beyond monetary loss for an organization. These attacks have been known to have long-reaching and lasting negative effects.

The biggest reason to enable web application security is to protect the sensitive data your company has been entrusted with by your customers. If an attacker is able to destroy, alter, or steal private client data, it would create a wave of backlash for an organization. Compliance fines would be levied and the price of remediating the security vulnerabilities could be even costlier. The loss of sensitive data and the cost of correcting a breach are hard to overcome, especially when the news of an attack reaches the public and business partners. Damaged reputation from a cyberattack can be nearly impossible to overcome. Customers and companies may not want to do business with an organization that's unable to secure their shared data.

Taking proper web application security precautions helps reduce the risk of data theft, compliance penalties, the cost of security fixes, and a ruined reputation.

Top Web Application Security Risks

While there is a near endless amount of security risks the emerge and evolve, it’s not efficient or realistic to focus on every single one separately.  Just like law enforcement’s most wanted list, the OWASP Top Ten keep track of which security risks are the most likely to be exploited and then building a security plan around them is the best way to begin your security plan.

Types of Web Application Security Risks

Cryptographic Failures (formerly Sensitive Data Exposure)

Fraud and identity theft are often the result of a financial or healthcare institution being breached.  To prevent confidential data exposure, security measures should require strong authentication, encryption, controlled log-ins, and the proper deletion of data to limit any exposure.

Authentication Failure

When authentication is improperly enforced, attackers are able to steal passwords, tokens, and pose as a user and gain access to a company’s data.  Denying weak passwords and employing a multi-factor authenticator in your security protocol are important measures in protecting against authentication being compromised.

Broken Access Control

Insufficient access regulations can leave weak points in your access controls.  Cybercriminals can gain access to your data and take advantage of these cracks in your security.

Software and Data Integrity Failures

Creating deserialization insecurities, remote code execution and code activated from an external attack are deployed. This vulnerability allows escalated attacks, like code injection, to be carried out.

Cross-site Scripting (includes Injection)

A web application that is untrusted and delivers data from a web browser is a cross-site scripting attack.  It doesn’t have secure validation and hijacks the user’s browser session, alters websites, and sends users to malicious websites.

  • Injection
    Untrusted data being passed through a code command interpreter can lead to injection attacks, like SQL, and can let the attacker control activities through the intermediary program.

Security Misconfiguration (includes External Entities)

Easy to overlook and hard to believe it happens, but web security misconfigurations are a frequent web application vulnerability.  Incomplete web security setup and unsafe public cloud storage are common errors leading to security access.

  • External Entities
    External attackers can deploy DDoS attacks, port scanning, and remote coding executions, checking for any code vulnerability.  Crashing or altering the code to an entry point can leave sensitive data out in the open.

Security Logging and Monitoring Failures

How do you know if an attack has happened or where an attack occurred, if your monitoring and logging records aren’t correct?  Without those records, a company can be left in the dark about whether a breach was exploited and even what data was exposed or stolen.

Outdated and Vulnerable Components

Using software or web applications that aren’t updated regularly or have known vulnerabilities can enable cybercriminals get through your security.  Cyberattacks are always evolving, but not staying up to date on the latest patches, software versions, and any other updateable cybersecurity options may be leaving known, already exploited weaknesses unfixed.

Best Practices for Securing Your Web Applications

There are steps any company can take to help secure their assets.  These best security practices can sometimes be overlooked because of their simplicity or inexperience within a cybersecurity team.

Document Software Changes

Knowing when software changes is a crucial part of security planning.  Depending on the depth of web app features, keeping track of changes can become overwhelming, quickly.  Keeping documented changes can help backtrack and find weaknesses that may have been added to the system.

Prioritize Possible Breach Entry Points

There are known entry points that are commonly used for cybercriminals to exploit.  Dividing these known, exploitable sections into critical, elevated, and normal levels can help adjust the security monitoring based on how likely they are used to create a breach. 

Utilize a Web Application Firewall

A web application firewall (WAF) filters internet traffic between a server and a user.  Firewalls are incredibly popular to protect entry points in a company’s network, analyzing traffic and preventing malicious activity.  WAF doesn’t require source code changes, they just add another layer of protection, making it easy and convenient.


Encrypt Whenever You Can

Standard HTTPS and HSTS encryption is good, but, SSL encryption is better.  Encrypting all user data that’s sent and received while utilizing HTTPS makes man-in-the-middle attacks next to impossible, securing access to your server.

Penetration Test for Vulnerabilities

One of the best ways to use advanced security measures, pen testing lets you find vulnerabilities efficiently.  Using multiple techniques, pen testing should be the basis for a pre-emptive security check and it can be used post-attack to help locate the vulnerability that may have been the cause of a breach.


Update Web Apps

Keeping your company web apps secure is top-of-mind, but any third-party providers associated with that can contain known/unknown vulnerabilities.  Log any changes and updates to them and always update to the newest version available to help prevent leaving any breaches open.


Enable Cookies

Cookies help get more information from web users, however, they can be an entry point for cybercriminals.  Maintaining an expiration date, minimizing shared information, and encrypting are key features to make it harder for an attacker to use them against an organization.

Real-time Monitoring

Keeping a constant eye on your network is a must.  The longer a breach is exposed, the more damage can be done.  Monitoring for malicious activity and scanning for known and unknown security holes is essential to cybersecurity efforts.  Time is of the essence with cyber threats. Quickly find weaknesses and stop sensitive data theft in real time.

Employee Security Training

Human error is one of the biggest threats for a security strategy.  Education can help minimize bad social actors from phishing or social engineering employees into giving away credentials or permissions.  Creating an employee security training guide, with regular updates, can help them recognize when they’re being manipulated by a criminal.

Manage Permissions

Make sure employees and outside contractors have the right access.  Create a security plan that has levels of security and permission clearance credentials so if they’re stolen, cybercriminals can only go so far within the network and don’t have full access.

Web Application Security Solutions

Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST)

Dynamic application security testing is a guided attack on an application’s source code using a variety of coding and injection attacks. This attack is done prior to deployment to test known aspects of an application.

  • Web Application Scanning
    This DAST type of security scanning method checks for web application software vulnerabilities. Typically, it analyzes an entire website, checking each entry point and file within the site structure. WAS can be utilized constantly, especially during updates or changes, to ensure applications remain secure.
  • Black Box Fuzzing
    Black box fuzzing is a specific DAST attack method, however, it does not use guided attacks. Black box fuzzing uses the same attack methods a cybercriminal would. Without prior knowledge of the system, it automatically tries to change the coding via injection and other attack methods. Black box fuzzing is used during development, before deployment, since it’s easier and more cost effective to remediate without taking the web application offline.

Web Application Pen Test

Web application pen testing is when a security teams tries to breach a web application attack surface area with the same methods that a cybercriminal would.  Pen testing is used prior to an attack to locate vulnerabilities and post-attack to find where the attackers got into a system.

Web Application Firewall (WAF)

A web application firewall (WAF) filters, blocks, and monitors HTTP web traffic.  It allows non-malicious traffic to proceed as normal and prevents criminal web traffic from reaching a webpage or application.  This is implemented while a website is active to create a traffic shield.

Fortra's Application Scanning Solutions

Frontline Web Application Scanning™ 

Easy to conduct dynamic testing with accurate assessment results, no matter how often your web apps change. 

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BeSTORM Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST)

Dynamic application security testing (DAST) with a black box fuzzing option to test with the same techniques an attacker would.

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BeSOURCE Static Application Security Testing (SAST)

Guided, controlled static application security testing utilized during the developmental lifecycle prior to app deployment. 

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Managed Web Application Firewall 

A highly versatile, uncomplicated, cloud-ready web application firewall solution. 

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