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3 Most Common Web Application Security Vulnerabilities
Almost all organizations today have an online presence, mostly in the form of an official website. While these websites open a window of opportunities for organizations, these same websites are at times a bane to organizations as these are becoming attractive targets for cyber attackers.
What Are Web Application Security Vulnerabilities?
One of the ways by which cyber attackers wreak havoc on corporate websites is by exploiting the security vulnerabilities in web applications.
Web applications, also known as web apps, refer to software programs that run in a web browser. A web application can be as simple as a contact form on a website or a content management system like WordPress. Web application security vulnerabilities, meanwhile, refers to system flaw or security weakness in a web application.
Web applications are gateways to a trove of data that cyber attackers find attractive and easy to steal. Every time website visitors sign up for an account, enter their credentials or make a purchase via an official corporate website, all this data, including personally identifiable information, is stored on a server that sits behind that web application. Exploiting a security vulnerability in a web application allows attackers to access the data stored on that server.
Imperva, in its “State of Web Application Vulnerabilities in 2018”, reported that the overall number of new web application vulnerabilities in 2018 increased by 23%, that is, 17,308 web application vulnerabilities, compared to 2017 with only 14,082 web application vulnerabilities.
Most Common Web Application Security Vulnerabilities
Here are the 3 most common security vulnerabilities affecting web applications:
Based on Imperva’s data, the number one web application vulnerability in 2018 was injection, representing 19% of the web application vulnerabilities last year. In an injection attack, an attacker inserts or injects code into the original code of a web application, which alters the course of execution of the web app.
According to Imperva, the preferred method of attackers last year to inject code into web applications was remote command execution (RCE) with 1,980 vulnerabilities.
Remote command execution allows an attacker to remotely take over the server that sits behind a web application by injecting an arbitrary malicious code on the web app. The Equifax data breach that exposed highly sensitive data of millions of U.S. customers, as well as thousands of U.K. and Canadian consumers, is an example of a cyberattack that used the injection method, in particular, remote command execution.
Attackers gained access to the data of millions of Equifax’ customers by exploiting the vulnerability designated as CVE-2017-5638in the web application used by the company. At the time of the attack, Equifax then used an outdated Apache Struts, a popular open source framework for creating enterprise-grade web applications.
Despite the advisory from the Apache Software Foundation, the organization that oversees leading open source projects, including Apache Struts, to update the software to the latest version, Equifax failed to do so, leading the attackers to breach the sensitive data of millions of the company’s customers.
On March 7, 2017, the Apache Software Foundation issued a patch or security update for CVE-2017-5638 vulnerability. On May 13, 2017, just a few days after the CVE-2017-5638 patch was released, attackers started their 76-day long cyberattack on Equifax, this according to the findings of the U.S. House Oversight Committee.
2. Cross-Site Scripting
The second most common web application vulnerability is cross-site scripting. According to Imperva, cross-site scripting ranked as the second most common vulnerability in 2018, representing 14% of the web application vulnerabilities last year.
Cross-site scripting, also known as XSS, is a type of injection in which malicious code is inserted into a vulnerable web application. Unlike injection in general, cross-site scripting particularly targets web visitors.
In a cross-site scripting attack scenario, an attacker, for instance, embeds an HTML tag in an e-commerce website’s comments section, making the embedded tag a permanent fixture of a webpage, causing the browser to read the embedded tag together with the rest of the original code every time the page is opened, regardless of the fact that some site visitors don’t scroll down to the comments section.
The injected HTML tag in the comments section could activate a file, which is hosted on another site, allowing the attacker to steal visitors’ session cookies – information that web visitors have inputted into the site. With the stolen session cookies of site visitors, attackers could gain access to the visitors’ personal information and credit card data.
3. Vulnerabilities in Content Management Systems
Imperva’s State of Web Application Vulnerabilities in 2018 also showed attackers are focusing their attention to vulnerabilities in content management systems, in particular, WordPress.
Attackers are focusing their attention on WordPress as this content management system powers nearly one-third of the world’s website. Data from W3Techsshowed that as of late December, last year, WordPress usage account for 32.9% of the world’s websites, followed by Joomla and Drupal.
According to Imperva, the number of WordPress vulnerabilities increased in 2018 despite the slowed growth in new plugins. Imperva registered 542 WordPress vulnerabilities in 2018, the highest among the content management systems. The WordPressofficial website, meanwhile, reported that only 1,914 or 3% from the total 55,271 plugins were added in 2018.
Ninety-eight percent of WordPress vulnerabilities are related to plugins, Imperva reported. Plugins expand the features and functionalities of a website. WordPress plugins are, however, prone to vulnerabilities as with this content management system (being an open source software), anyone can create a plugin and publish it without security auditing to ensure that the plugins adhere to minimum security standards.
Web Application Attack Prevention
A web application firewall (WAF) is one of the best cybersecurity solutions that your organization can employ against web application vulnerabilities.
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Steve E. Driz, I.S.P., ITCP