Navigating the murky world of modern web applications can be a minefield from a cybersecurity standpoint. Many of these applications contain a labyrinth of layers, and if not designed with security in mind, they can be a breeding ground for vulnerabilities. In fact, successful web application attacks pose a serious threat, as they accounted for more than two-fifths of all data breaches (43%) in 2019 and are the single greatest cause of data breaches according to the Verizon DBIR 2020 report.

Therefore, it is essential for organizations to locate and understand any aspect that may be exploited as an entry point by an experienced hacker. In order to do this, security teams must gain a better understanding of their application architecture to reduce their overall attack surface.

The Seven Web Application Attack Vectors to Look Out For

So, how might security teams successfully map the entire attack surface of the web application and identify the attack vectors before it’s too late?

This can be broken down into three key stages, starting with application discovery. Organizations should have an inventory of what critical web apps they own and where they are most likely to be exposed. But herein lies a problem, as the number of apps and associated vulnerabilities could easily be in the thousands, especially in larger organizations where shadow IT is more prevalent. It’s vital to locate the publicly exposed web apps at a regular cadence to shed light on potential blind spots.

1. Security mechanism, which determines how web traffic between users and the application is secured.

2. The method in which the page was created, as the coding language and web design program used could reveal more security issues.

3. Degree of distribution correlates to digital footprint, as the more public-facing pages and linkages an application has, the higher the risk with more potential backdoors to encounter issues.

4. Authentication should be restricted to only those who need access, otherwise anyone can gain entry.

5. Input vectors are also an issue. The more input fields, the easier it is for threat actors to tamper with, which can lead to cross-site scripting attacks.

6. Active contents. Depending on how dynamic the application and the way scripts are run, the attack surface could increase if it has been developed using vulnerable active content technologies.

7. Cookies are required for real-time application security to help with monitoring session activity and are key to helping keep hackers away from unauthorized areas.

Securing the Crown Jewels

Usually, the web application is where customer sensitive information and privileged financial data is collected and stored. This information is not only essential for day-to-day business operations but is also protected by a plethora of data protection laws. Failure to comply can result in hefty fines as well as substantial loss of customer trust and revenue.

Furthermore, as most businesses prioritized operational continuity in the wake of the global pandemic, many applications were left under-secured due to restraints on resources. This misguided approach may directly correlate with the rising trend of poor cybersecurity behavior among remote workers.

Once the web applications have been corroborated against the threats above, one must correlate the results against business criticality and the frequency of updates in order to determine the overall risk posture. When the total addressable attack surface is established, including areas of weakness and strength, security teams will then have the necessary ammunition to implement the right security controls at the right places, and deliver greater efficiency and security impact for your business. 

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