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How to Implement Security Testing for Web Applications

Jan 18, 2022
10 min read

Websites are becoming more versatile with each passing and offering features that weren’t possible before. Users can now engage with data and content through various new ways and enjoy functionalities that were only limited to desktop applications not so long ago. Unsurprisingly, the total number of active websites has now reached more than 1.97 billion.

However, since almost everything is currently shifting to the web, so is the data related to these activities. From online shopping, money transfer, and banking to sharing of personal information, private images, and professional association, everything is now happening on the web.

Because of this, the amount of data stored in web applications has increased exponentially. According to some estimates, the size of the internet was approximately 2,000,000 Gigabytes in 2020.

Nevertheless, the growing size of the internet is not as big of a concern as the security of data stored on it. A study by the University of Maryland revealed that hackers attack websites every 39 seconds, raising the number of cyber attacks to 2,244 times a day, on average.

Due to increasing cyber security concerns, implementing security testing has become vital for any web app on the internet. In this article, we will explain how to implement security testing for web applications.

What Is Security Testing ?

Security Testing is a sub-type of software testing that involves identifying risks, threats, and vulnerabilities in an application. The purpose of this testing is to prevent cybercriminals from infiltrating applications and launch malicious attacks.

To make this possible
Testers must detect all possible loopholes and vulnerabilities in the application that might lead to a loss of repute, information, and revenue. They must not only identify threats from external sources but also the danger of attacks malicious elements that gain access to the application.

All efforts aim to ensure that all key features of the application function flawlessly in a production environment. Therefore, testers assess various elements of security such as the confidentiality, integrity, continuity, vulnerability, and authenticity of the web application.

By testing on various layers across database, network, infrastructure, and access points like mobile, system security testing identifies all the risks a web application security faces. After detecting these vulnerabilities, developers and security experts can plugin these gaps to make the applications secure.

Why Is Security Testing Important for Every Business?

Compared to other applications, web applications are most prone to cyber attacks. These applications are often accessible everywhere, exposing it to cybercriminals from all corners of the world.

Detect and Prevent Security Threats

Since web applications house private data, confidential information, as well as online transactions, they are a favorite target of cybercriminals. Even if a web application meets quality requirements related to performance and functionality, it does not guarantee that the web application is secure.

Many web developers think that by protecting a website from unauthorized disclosure of information, they have fulfilled their obligation to website security. However, doing so is not enough to protect your web app from malicious elements.

We can implement security testing effectively only if we commit to the principles and practices of secure development, deployment, and sustainability throughout the web app’s development lifecycle.

Security testing helps developers ensure whether an information system protects data while maintaining its intended functionality. It focuses on enabling users to verify the information they receive.

The in-depth review of software security testing can help detect implementation errors usually missed during security white box tests, unit tests, or code reviews. Similarly, security-focused testing may also discover issues stemming from misidentification of boundary conditions during the design and implementation.

Moreover, security testing can help software teams uncover security issues caused by incorrect product builds. At the same time, any security issues resulting from the interaction of different components in the underlying environment are also identified during web app security testing.

Meet Compliance Regulations and Avoid Penalties

Websites all over the world must adhere to various compliance/auditing standards in order to provide their services effectively. Some of the most famous compliance standards are SARBANES – OXLEY, GLBA, and HIPAA. Besides that, many websites have to report and fulfill testing necessities outlined in the federal PCI-DSS and NIST/FISMA commands.

Security testing provides business with complete reports, which can help them avoid many penalties for non-compliance. At the same time, it can show your due diligence towards ensuring security and establishing essential security controls.

Ensure Availability and Business Continuity

To make your business operations available all the time, you require access to resources, 24/7 communications, and network availability. One of the most dangerous consequences of foregoing security testing is that your entire web application can stop entirely. Attacks such as DDoS stop users from accessing your service and halt your business to a stop.

Each disruption has a widely negative impact on your web app. You may need to launch retention and customer protection programs, remediate IT, drop employee output or face reduced profits while you recuperate from a security flaw.

Security testing reveals inherent security flows within your application, making sure that regular business operations don’t suffer from a loss of accessibility and unexpected downtime. Therefore, security testing your web application ensures that your business will continue even after it faces cyber attacks.

Build Trust

If your web application comprises customer data only once, it can have an extremely negative effect on your business’s image. Performing security tests on your web applications helps you address any security vulnerabilities your website security may have, helping you avoid data incidents damage your business’s reputation and image.

Avoid Financial Damages

Healing from a security flaw within your web application can be extremely expensive if you discover it late. The longer you wait the greater chance that those costs will increase. Security flaws and associated disruptions in the service or application can have debilitating financial consequences.

Exposed security flaws generate negative press, diminish customer loyalties, and cause unwarranted penalties and fines. Frequent security testing helps businesses avoid these financial setbacks entirely by proactively identifying and addressing threats before any data breach can happen.

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Steps for Implementing Security Testing in Web Applications

Like any other process, testing web applications involves a series of carefully designed tests. Nevertheless, the basic procedure for testing will remain more or less the same.

Understand Business Requirement

The first step of performing any security test is to understand business and its desired security goals. Doing so helps you consider all the security needs of the organization and avoid major vulnerabilities within the application. At the same time, you must recheck for any security need that the company has failed to mention.

Gather Data and System Requirements

To create accurate tests for the application, you must gather information related to the system setup. After that, the team must note down requirements for developing the web app, as well as specifications related to the network operating system, the technology being used, as well as hardware.

Create a Threat List and Prepare Test Plan Accordingly

The next step of this process is to identify all possible vulnerabilities and risks to the web app and write them down in a list. Using the list, you must prepare the threat profile to evaluate the critical nature of each test. Following that, you must create a test plan that addresses all the vulnerabilities within the system.

Create a Traceability Matrix for Every Risk and Vulnerability

A Traceability Matrix is a software document that defines the relationship between two or more entities and how each of the affects the other. To create an effective test plan, it is necessary to track each expected risk and vulnerability in the web. Creating a traceability matrix allows you to assess each risk in detail.

Decide Tools for Testing

It’s not always viable to use manual security testing in every case. This is why you need to incorporate automated testing to test web apps effectively. Likewise, it’s best to create a list of tools you will use in your testing.

Prepare for Security Tests Case Document

This is the point where you have to finalize the software security document. It’s necessary to fill out this document accurately to address every weakness or vulnerability within the web app. You must do it before you start executing tests.

Execute Security Test Cases

At this point, we start executing all the test cases we have prepared before. The goal of this step is to identify all the vulnerabilities the team had planned to check, fix those tests, and then retest.

Execute the Regression Test cases

Regression Testing is a technique for software testing where we re-execute previous tests to find whether a previously affected functionality is still working as it should. This way, we can make sure that introducing new changes doesn’t introduce any new bugs.

Create a Detailed Report

Lastly, we will take note of every vulnerability we found and resolved during our testing. We will also mark risks and vulnerabilities that may still persist within the web application.

Security Testing Best Practices for Web Applications

Data Protection

There are three main ways to enforce data protection within web applications. The first one is diligently enforcing user roles and rights and making sure that all users only access or utilize data they are authorized to use. For instance, the web app should give a sales representative access to available stock, but should stop from seeing how much raw material was acquired fro production.

The web application needs to ensure that all data is stored in the database and the sensitive data is encrypted. To protect confidential data from falling into the wrong hands, the web app must employ strong encryption algorithms, especially for storing data such as banking credentials, login passwords, as well as business-critical information.

Aside from secure data storage, the web app needs to ensure that data is secure during data transfer, especially if it involves confidential or business-critical data. To secure the data, testers must identify whether the data flows between different applications exchanged between different modules of a single web application.

This is why testers must investigate whether the database stores all sensitive information in encrypted form. Therefore, it’s important to verify that billing information, ‘passwords’ related to user account, or other sensitive and business-critical is stored after encryption.

Likewise, the tester may have to verify if the data is transmitted between various forms and screens only after proper encryption is implemented. Furthermore, the tester needs to focus on various ‘submit’ actions and ensure that all encrypted data can be decrypted properly at the destination.

Testers may have to implement salting (append an additional secret value to the input to make it stronger and difficult to crack). Furthermore, the tester needs to verify that the information transmitted via the client to the server doesn’t appear in an understandable format in the address bar. If any of these verifications fail, then the web application has a significant security flaw.

URL Manipulation Via HTTP GET Methods

Testers need to verify whether an application passes critical information in the URL query string or not. This is possible if the web app uses the HTTP GET method to exchange data in client-server communication. Therefore, if the web app uses a clear text protocol such as HTTP to transfer user credentials then the application has an inherent security flaw.

Any input the user gives is passed through the parameters of the query string. Tester can change parameter values to see if they are accepted by the server. When a website uses HTTP GET requests, user information is transferred through the GET request to the server. This means attackers can modify input variables sent through the GET request corrupt the stored data or steal the information they need.

Testers should ensure that confidential data is secured through TLS or SSL tunnel and only transferred via HTTPS. Yet, using HTTPS also increases attack surface and testers must ensure that certificates are valid and server configurations are secure.

Password Cracking

Password cracking is an essential step to ensure the security of your web application. A hacker only needs to guess the user name and password or use a password cracker to log into unauthorized parts of the application. Open source password crackers host a long list of common usernames, as well as potential passwords.

Unless the web application enforces its users to configure a password that uses a combinations of numbers, alphabets, and special characters, then it won’t  take long for a hacker to crack the username or password of any account. Furthermore, if a user stores any confidential information in cookies without encrypting it, then the attacker can easily access that information through various methods.

SQL Injection

If an application encounters a single quote (‘) in the textbox, then the application should reject it. However, if the tester comes across a database error, then the application is likely executing user input in any of its queries. This is a sign that the web application is at risk of SQL injection.

SQL injection attacks are extremely harmful as they let hackers access sensitive data from the server database. To test for SQL injection entry points within a web application, testers must identify the code where direct SQL queries are being executed on the database after certain inputs.

If the user input data is passed on as SQL queries, cybercriminals can inject SQL commands through user inputs to gain critical information from the database. Even after the hacker successfully crashes the application using query error displayed on the browser, he or she can still get access to information they want. This is why it’s important to handle special characters in user inputs properly.

Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)

Cross-site scripting is one of the most common ways to disrupt a web application. If the web app accepts HTML or scripts from <HTML>, <SCRIPT>, etc., then the website can become prone to attacks by Cross-Site Scripting.

These methods can be used to execute malicious URL input or scripts on browsers. It means attackers can utilize scripts from to steal user information stored on the browser such as cookies or the information stored in them.

For instance, attackers can easily manipulate URL parameters such as “&query” to insert malicious scripts or input. Later, the attackers can use these unauthorized queries to steal server or user data.

How PFLB Company Can Help with It?

Security testing is critical for any web application. Without it, your application is always at risk of cyber attacks and data breaches. Considering that it takes 206 days on average to identify a data breach, losing sensitive and business-critical information can cripple your business entirely.

PFLB is a software testing service that has experience of serving over 500 companies across all domains, from finance and healthcare to retail and technology. Our professional expertise allows us to identify underlying security vulnerabilities inside a web application.

With our experienced and dedicated team of 400 specialists, we can ensure that your web application is secure from every major security threat in the market.

To learn more about the company feel free to visit their website at PFLB.

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