Web Application Security Testing Fundamentals

What is security testing?

Security Testing is the process that examines whether the private/classified data stays that way or not, i.e., security testing is useful for making sure that the confidential information of a web application remains undisclosed to individuals/ entities who are not cleared to get that information.

Web applications can be relatively more vulnerable to a malicious organization that tries to breach their security defenses. Therefore extra measures have to be implemented to make your web application free from hackers.

Web security solutions are readily available, but most require significant investment in hardware and software. But there is nothing that can be worth more than the safety of your product.

One other use of security testing is to make sure that the users cannot change the web application’s functionality in an unintended way, etc.

For example, if the users have not subscribed to its premium features, they should be restricted from using them. Security testing makes sure that there is no loophole or trick that can give its premium features for free and make sure its user data and other information are safe.

Why conduct security testing?

One of the most critical characteristics of conducting web application security tests would be the fight against web application vulnerability. When examining web applications, unsanitized input is discovered that is vulnerable to code injection attacks. A particular input can violate the web application’s security and its application components, such as the user interface and the database. The security test, which applies techniques like penetration testing to a running application, is the basis for identifying such vulnerabilities in the operating application. 

The best practices for web application security is to ensure that multiple security layers are incorporated into the app’s development and testing process. By getting everyone on board and making sure they know what to do when they encounter vulnerabilities or other issues, developers can strengthen the entire web application security process and maintain a better understanding of the security-related problems of your web application.

Approaches for Security testing

Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST)

A DAST methodology involves scanning for vulnerabilities in a web application that an attacker could try to exploit. This approach helps find which vulnerabilities an attacker could target and how they could illegally get inside the system externally. 

DAST tools do not require access to the application’s source code; hence DAST is a quick and frequent process. Unlike SAST tools, DAST tools can be viewed as a black-box testing method, where the tester does not have any knowledge about the internal system construction. The tester runs and detects every condition that may potentially lead to a security vulnerability in an application in its running state. 

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DAST tools work on the operating code to detect issues with interfaces, requests, responses, scripting (i.e., JavaScript), data injection, sessions, authentication, etc. DAST tools employ fuzzing: throwing known invalid and unexpected test cases at an application, often in large volume.

DAST web application security testing tools :

  • GitLab.
  • HCL AppScan.
  • Acunetix Vulnerability Scanner.
  • Netsparker.
  • Appknox.
  • CheckMarx.
  • Micro Focus Fortify On Demand.
  • Veracode Application Security Platform.

Static Application Security Testing (SAST)

The SAST methodology follows an inside-out approach; this means, unlike DAST, SAST tend to find vulnerabilities in the web application’s internal code. As it requires access to the application’s source code, SAST can offer a picture into the real-time flow of the web application’s security.

SAST tools can be thought of as white-box testing since it requires access to the source code. The tester is already aware of the internal system or software being tested, including a structural diagram, access to source code, etc. SAST tools examine source code (at rest) to detect and report weaknesses that can lead to security vulnerabilities.

Source-code analyzers can run on non-compiled code to check for defects such as numerical errors, input validation, race conditions, path traversals, pointers and references, and more. Binary and byte-code analyzers do the same on built and compiled code. Some tools run on source code, some on compiled code only, and some on both.

SAST web application security testing :

  • SonarQube.
  • Veracode Static Analysis. 
  • Fortify Static Code Analyser. 
  • Codacy. 
  • AppScan. 
  • Checkmarx CxSAST. 
  • SAST Performance. 
  • SAST Security.

Application Penetration Testing (APT)

Application Penetration Testing can be considered as ethical hacking designed to exhibit the effectiveness of an application’s security regulations by highlighting the threats posed by actual exploitable entities. 

Since this type of testing requires the human factor, a white-collar hacker will try to simulate how an attacker might get into a web app using their personal security knowledge and several penetration testing tools to find exploitable defects. Nowadays, companies and developers also outsource their web applications to a third party if you do not have the in-house resources. 

The primary goal of manual security tests is to detect vulnerabilities and potential vulnerabilities in an application that may not be fully understood or detected by automated security tests alone

Automated vulnerability scanners may not be as creative as humans, but manual penetration tests should always be done

APT web application security testing:

  • Netsparker
  • Wireshark. 
  • Metasploit. 
  • BeEF. 
  • John The Ripper Password Cracker.
  • Aircrack. 
  • Acunetix Scanner. 
  • Burp Suite Pen Tester.

Most used methods in security testing 

1.Password cracking

The Web Application’s security testing can be performed by “Password Cracking.” To log in to an application through an existing user’s account, hackers can either guess the user’s password or use a password cracker tool. This is where the password cracking tools come into play; these types of cracking tools, generally open-sourced, lists common usernames and passwords which are automated and used under every enlisted combination. 

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In order to prevent attacks using password cracking, web applications have to enforce a complex password (which may be a combination of numbers, alphabets, and unique characters) to its users; this will ensure that the password is impossible or will take an unfavorable amount of time to crack.

Suppose a username or password stored in a website’s cookies is not properly encrypting. In that case, an attacker can use a different method to steal the cookies and the data stored along with them like username and password.

2.URL Manipulation Through HTTP GET 

During security testing, a tester has to check whether the application passes important information in the query string or not. This fallacy happens when the application uses the HTTP GET design to pass information between the server and its client. 

The data is passed along the parameters in the query string. The tester can change a parameter value in the query string to check if the server accepts it.

Via HTTP GET request, user data is passed through the server for authentication and retrieving data. The attacker can manipulate and modify the input variable passed from this GET request to a server to acquire the essential information or corrupt and crash the site. Under such circumstances, any unusual behavior by application or web server is the doorway for the attacker to get into an application.

3. SQL Injection

SQL Injection is carried out with the SQL(Structured Query Language) programming language. SQL is used for managing the data held in the back end. Therefore during this attack, this programming language code is being used as a malicious injection.

Sometimes, user inputs are used in framing SQL Statements, which are then executed by the application on the database. Suppose a web-based application did not handle the SQL correctly. In that case, a malicious user/organization could list unexpected inputs to the application. The users’ ill actions can lead the database to frame and execute SQL statements, i.e., that the hacker can modify the database. This is called SQL Injection; even though it may not seem like it, the results of such an action could be alarming.

The SQL injection attacks are hazardous as an attacker can accept and modify essential information from the server database. For checking the SQL attack entry points, testers have to find out the code from the codebase where MySQL queries are executed on the database by accepting user inputs. Therefore, SQL testing is very critical since an SQL breach can not just steal and modify user data; it can alter the whole web application’s code, too, if applied correctly.

4 .Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)

A tester should additionally examine the web application for Cross-site scripting(XSS). Ideally speaking, an application should not accept any HTML. If it is accepting, then the application is prone to an attack by the Cross-Site Scripting method.

When the web applications get some useful information, they pass this information in some variables from different pages.

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The attacker can easily pass some malicious input or <script> as a ‘&query’ parameter, which can explore important user/server data on the browser.

Prerequisites for Security Testing

Security testing’s primary function is to perform functional tests of the web application while respecting and finding as many security issues as possible that could potentially lead to hacking. To prevent the security testing threats and bugs – a good understanding of the HTTP protocol and its use in web applications is required to perform security tests on the web application. In addition to performing useful security tests of web applications, security testers should also know and familiarity with the HTTP protocols before performing a security audit for web applications.

Pros of Security Testing

  1. Security testing helps developers detect and arrange security threats.
  2. Meet monitoring necessities and evade penalties.
  3. These types of attacks help bypass the rate of network downtime.
  4. Protect customer loyalty and company image.
  5. It allows the exploration of real threats and having a spot-on representation of a company’s IT infrastructure security posture at any given time.
  6. It will enable testers to understand the system better; it helps them learn as much as possible about the system and perhaps even come across some other bug or information that can disrupt the system.
  7. It provides the chance to test any system with attacks that are as close as possible to real-world incidents, thanks to specialists who think and strike as most malicious hackers would.

Cons of Security Testing

  1. The process is very costly and sometimes time-consuming.
  2. It is highly doubtful that a tester can find and solve all the potential problems when probing or scanning for vulnerabilities and producing an automated report. It can never be a full security audit.
  3. Tests that are not appropriately done can crash servers, disclose sensitive data, corrupt crucial data, etc.
  4. It is a high-labor intensive and can therefore represent an increased cost, and some organizations might not be able to designate a budget to do this. This is particularly true when a third party firm is hired to carry out the task.

Tips for Web Application Security Testing

  • ¬†Business-critical systems should be tested often,
  • Keep development teams on track by prioritizing remediation and bug fixes.
  • Prioritize usability when comparing solutions; there are many excellent tools out there but can be useless to your project since it could be too complicated or time consuming for your team
  • Understand and assess the company’s security targets and then make a perfect roadmap.
  • Use that product or service before you crack it; the more you know about the product, the better.
  • Use the best default data.
  • Opt for cloud-based solutions if your organization is low on funds.

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