How to prevent a web app from attacks? Security testing will help

We bet that your app or website processes and stores vulnerable user data. But is it safe? Security testing will help to detect most common vulnerabilities and prevent personal data from leakage.

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Do you care about the security of your personal data? Even if you have never thought much about digital security, you probably prefer at least some of your specific information remains private. You would definitely think twice before sharing your address or banking data.

Everyone wants their personal information to only be available to them. But you have to share some personal data with third parties like e-commerce websites, social media, online platforms and other applications. Of course, they promise to keep your data secure. But none can ensure that such a service won’t be attacked by a hacker.

The data you share can become available to unauthorized users. As a result, you may find your mailbox overrun with spam, or worse – someone else may get access to your bank account. If this has happened to you, you know this type of breach can erode trust in any service that asks for personal information.

That’s painful, isn’t it? Imagine how much harm you can do to your users if you don’t dedicate enough attention to website security. You must secure your website and any data you have to deal with. Proper security testing is the most efficient tool for ensuring all sensitive information is safe.

What is security testing? When should you audit app security?

Security testing is a type of functional testing. It aims to reveal and eliminate software vulnerabilities. Security testing is a complex process that should be present at each stage of the software development lifecycle.

Stage 1. Software requirements

A QA engineer should participate in your project requirements analysis. You may wonder, what will they do if there’s nothing for them to test yet. But actually, there is something job for a QA engineer: audit project requirements and discover any scenarios that might allow a user to illegally access other users’ information or be granted excessive access rights.

It is also crucial to audit authorization and registration requirements, password length and security, password encryption in database, possible URL manipulation, input fields restrictions, and more.

Enlisting a QA engineer until actual development begins allows you to foresee and avoid the most common security issues.

Stage 2. Design

This stage includes planning your product’s architecture and interface and selecting appropriate development technologies. During this step, a QA engineer analyzes possible risks associated with app architecture and audits the vulnerabilities of the chosen technology stack.

A detailed test plan that includes security testing is also important.

Stage 3. Coding and unit testing

Even before the entire system is ready, a QA engineer can perform security testing on developed units. Source code analysis tools for static security testing enable an engineer to identify vulnerabilities before the app is launched on a testing or production server.

This phase is also suitable for dynamic application security testing. This type of security testing helps uncover certain vulnerabilities when an application is only partially ready for user interaction. A QA engineer could, for example, test web app launch on local host.

Stage 4. Integration testing

When the system is launched on a testing or production server, a QA engineer can more closely interact with the product. Security testing at this stage typically includes auditing potentially vulnerable app elements, such as registration/authorization forms, any input fields, URL, reaching the database or attempts to decode stored data.

Stage 5. System testing

In stage 5, interaction with an application becomes more dynamic. The QA team may use vulnerability scanners to localize app security problems. This makes their work more efficient and saves time.

Stage 6. Implementation

In this stage, two approaches are connected:

Penetration testing – a web application is attacked in a controlled environment to discover critical system vulnerabilities;

Vulnerability scanning – special tools are used to provide reports about potential system security issues.

Stage 7. Support

In this stage of the software development life cycle, a QA engineer performs impact analysis for each new release. This is crucial, since any changes can create new vulnerabilities or force old ones to return.

Types of vulnerabilities and where to find them

There are dozens of vulnerability types. A QA engineer’s job is to recognize each and give instructions for efficiently eliminating them. We’ve described each of the most common web application vulnerabilities below.

Buffer overflow

Every application has a dedicated amount of memory to store different user data, files, etc. Storing too much data can cause buffer overflow; this typically results in breakings, data leakage, critical system errors, and more.

It’s important to avoid buffer overflow by limiting the volume of incoming data such as downloaded files and images. You should also enable your backend to control storage.

Unvalidated input

Unvalidated input is one of the most common vulnerabilities. It allows hackers to guess logins and passwords, and can also let them take advantage of database requests and scripts or upload large files to cause system failure.

Such vulnerabilities are often the result of mistakes in product documentation. You can avoid them through proper auditing at the software requirements stage.

Race conditions

A race condition appears when a hacker attempts to alter the order of events for a certain action within an application. This can be quite dangerous, as a hacker can enter a script in one of the input fields and force an application to respond unexpectedly.

Interprocess communication

Most modern applications send data between a client and server. This means both parties must be trusted and regularly checked to prevent a hacker from receiving sensitive information.

During interprocess communication, a hacker inserts themselves as an intermediary between client and server and then accesses personal or any other type of data exchanged between the two parties.

Encryption methods and protocols can help protect the connection from unauthorized parties.

User permissions issues

Applications with multiple user roles sometimes face permission issues. Different roles are assigned specific permissions. For example, an online shop customer can only see product descriptions and place orders. But the admin of that online shop can access much more data and enjoys extended features. For example, he can work with database, create and edit listings, process transactions, and approve orders.

If there’s a lack of roles control, a hacker can use his customer account to access database, important files, transactions and other sensitive data.

Un-encrypted data

If a hacker does manage to access your database, what will he see there? There are two options. First, the hacker could find data displayed in understandable human language. Or, the database could be nothing more than a set of random signs that hides the actual information. Of course, encrypted data is much more secure and can save you from leakage even if a hacker has broken through all other security barriers.

Conclusion

Your customers need to trust that their sensitive information is secure in your hands. How you treat this data defines their loyalty towards your service.

Some companies wait to think about data security until after an issue has occurred, but that’s not how it should work. Security testing should be integrated throughout the whole software development lifecycle and involve both manual and automated testing of your web app’s security.

There are dozens of different threats on the web. Good security testing ensures your website will withstand each of them.

Thanks for reading!

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