Ask The Experts: Getting Started with Web App Security

Question from a  reader: What should I be paying attention to the most with regards to web applications? My organization has a number of Internet facing web applications, but I don’t even know where to start to understand what the risks and exposures might be.

Adam Hostetler responds:

The first thing I would do is to identify what the applications are. Are they in house developed applications, or are they something like WordPress or another framework? What kind of information do they store (email addresses, PII, etc)? If they are in house or vendor applications, have they been assessed before? With a little knowledge of the applications, you can start building an understanding of what the risks might be. A great resource for web application risks is the OWASP project.

Phil Grimes adds:

When it comes to web applications, I always promote a philosophy that I was raised on and continue to pound into my kid’s heads today: Trust but verify. When an organization launches an internet facing application there is an immediate loss of control on some level. The organization doesn’t know that the users accessing the application are who they say they are, or that their intentions are “normal”. Sure, most people who encounter the app will either use it as intended or if they access the app inadvertently, they may just mosey on about their merry way. But when a user starts poking around the application, we have to rely on the development team to have secured the application. Making sure identity management is handled properly will help us ensure our users are who they say they are, and validating all data that a user might pass to the application becomes an integral part of security to ensure possible attacks are recognized and thwarted.

John Davis comments:

I would say that the most important thing is to ensure that your Internet facing web applications are coded securely. For some time now, exploiting coding weaknesses in web applications has been one of the leading attack vectors exploited by cyber criminals to compromise computer networks. For example, poor coding can allow attackers to perform code injection and cross site scripting attacks against your applications. The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP), which is accessible on the Internet, is a good place to learn more about secure web application coding techniques. Their website contains lots of free tools and information that will help your organization in this process. There are also professional information security organizations (such as MicroSolved) that can also provide your organization with comprehensive application security assessments.

As always, thanks for reading and let us know if you have questions for the experts.

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