In today’s world, customers extensively rely on web applications. Whether it’s an e-commerce platform or a banking portal, ensuring robust security measures is crucial to safeguard user data from malicious attacks. Security testing is the sole means of guaranteeing that your web application conforms to the highest security standards.
What is it and why do we need it?
Security testing, as the name suggests, is a form of testing that examines the security of your application. Its primary objective is to assess whether your software is susceptible to any type of attack. Conducting security tests helps identify and address potential vulnerabilities in your application prior to its deployment, ensuring that your application remains impervious to cyber threats.
In today’s landscape, security testing is indispensable for all types of applications. Safeguarding sensitive information is necessary for every software system. Whether it’s customer personal data or user credentials, any breach of data can have devastating consequences for your application. Thus, security testing is essential to prevent such breaches from occurring under any circumstances.
Steps to perform security testing for web applications
You can utilize both manual and automated testing to perform security testing on any web application. To carry out effective security testing, you can adhere to the following steps:
Identify and create a list of security test cases using threat modelling
The process of threat modelling involves conducting an exercise to identify potential threats and vulnerabilities that the application may face. This involves analyzing the application’s components, data flow, and external dependencies to identify potential attack vectors.Based on the threat modeling exercise, create a comprehensive list of security test cases. These test cases should cover various aspects such as :-
The process of validating if the entered credentials have access to the web application or not refers to authentication verification. You can check that authentication is as expected when the user is creating an account with following test cases :-
a. Password strength : The password should be strong and must have different values like uppercase, lowercase, special characters and sufficient length so that is difficult to hack.
b. Unique username : Validate that username entered is unique and follows the expected rules for a new username.
c. Appropriate error messages : The application should throw appropriate error messages when the username or password is incorrect. It should not allow logging in with any values other than the actual credentials entered during the account setup process.
d. Cookies : Hackers can perform cookie scoping to steal information. Make sure that it is not possible to do so for your web application.
After authentication a user, it is important to check the authorization for an account. It refers to the scope of access for a particular account. A user might have access to one portion of web application but does not have appropriate permission for other parts of it. Validate that the user is only able to access the functionalities in scope for its permissions and not accessing the restricted portions.
3. Input validation
Input validation testing is a technique used in security testing to verify that an application properly validates and handles user inputs. The objective of input validation testing is to ensure that the application correctly handles various types of inputs, including user input through forms, file uploads, API requests, or any other data entry points. Here are some key aspects of input validation testing in security testing :-
a. Boundary Testing : Inputs are tested at the lower and upper limits of their valid ranges and beyond to check if the application handles them correctly. For example, entering very large or negative values when the input should be within a specific range.
b. Data Type Testing : Testers ensure that the application correctly validates and handles different data types, such as numbers, strings, dates, or special characters, without causing unexpected behavior or security vulnerabilities.
c. Error Handling Testing : We test the application’s response to invalid inputs to verify that it provides appropriate error messages and does not reveal sensitive information that could aid potential attackers.
d. Security Mechanism Testing : Input validation testing also involves examining security mechanisms implemented by the application, such as CAPTCHA, rate limiting, or session timeouts, to ensure their effectiveness and correct implementation.
By thoroughly conducting input validation testing, security testers can identify and address potential security vulnerabilities related to input handling, reducing the risk of attacks such as SQL injection, cross-site scripting (XSS), or command injection.
4. Session management
Session management in security testing refers to the process of testing and assessing the security measures and controls implemented to manage user sessions in an application or system. The main objectives of session management testing in security testing are :-
a. Session Tracking and Management : Assess the methods used to track and manage active sessions. Testing session timeout mechanisms ensures appropriate termination of sessions after a period of inactivity. It also involves verifying secure generation, storage, and transmission of session identifiers or tokens to prevent session hijacking or fixation attacks.
b. Session Data Protection : Examine how sensitive data associated with a session is protected. This includes testing for proper encryption and secure storage of session data, such as user preferences, user roles, or any other session-related information. Ensure that session data is not exposed or susceptible to unauthorized access or tampering.
c. Session Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) : Assess how the application handles session-related information embedded in URLs, forms, or cookies to prevent XSS attacks. Verify that session data is correctly encoded and sanitized before being displayed or processed to mitigate the risk of XSS vulnerabilities
5. Security headers
Security headers and their configuration play a crucial role in enhancing the security of web applications. They are HTTP response headers that provide instructions to the web browser on how to behave when interacting with the web application. They help prevent various types of attacks, such as cross-site scripting (XSS), clickjacking, MIME sniffing, and more. Some common security headers and their significance in security testing are :-
a. Content-Security-Policy (CSP) : This header defines the allowed sources for various types of content (e.g., scripts, stylesheets, images) that the browser can load. It helps mitigate XSS attacks by specifying the trusted sources of content and blocking unauthorized execution of scripts.
b. Referrer-Policy : This header controls the information sent in the HTTP Referer header, which specifies the URL of the referring page. It helps protect user privacy by limiting the information shared with external websites when navigating from one site to another.
c. X-XSS-Protection : This header enables or disables the built-in cross-site scripting protection provided by modern web browsers. It helps detect and mitigate XSS attacks by instructing the browser to block or sanitize suspicious content.
d. Strict-Transport-Security (HSTS) : This header enforces secure communication over HTTPS by instructing the browser to always use HTTPS for future requests to the same domain. It helps prevent downgrade attacks and protects against man-in-the-middle attacks.
Security testing of web applications often involves checking the presence and correctness of these headers to ensure the application’s adherence to security best practices.
6. Secure Configuration and Deployment
Ensure that the web application’s servers, frameworks, and software components are properly configured and up to date. Implement secure deployment practices, such as disabling unnecessary services, using secure communication protocols (e.g., HTTPS), and regularly applying security patches. You can document your findings, including identified vulnerabilities, their potential impact, and recommended remediation steps. When we provide a comprehensive report to the development team or stakeholders, we ensure that vulnerabilities are highlighted, and necessary action can be taken to rectify such issues.
Automate the security testing process
Automating security testing for web applications can significantly improve efficiency and coverage. There are various tools available that can help automate different aspects of security testing. Here are some commonly used tools for automating security testing for web applications :
- OWASP ZAP (Zed Attack Proxy) : Many organizations use ZAP, an open-source tool, for automated security testing. It enables scanning vulnerabilities, performing automated security tests, and identifying security issues such as XSS, SQL injection, and more. ZAP provides a user-friendly interface and a powerful API for integration with other testing tools.
- Burp Suite : Burp Suite is a web application security testing tool. It offers a range of features, including a web vulnerability scanner, proxy, spider, and various manual testing tools. Burp Suite helps automate the process of identifying security vulnerabilities and can be integrated with other tools and frameworks.
- Nessus : Nessus is a popular vulnerability assessment tool that can be used to automate security testing. It scans for vulnerabilities in any kind of web applications and provides a nice report with all the details. Nessus supports a wide range of security checks, including known vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, and compliance checks.
- Nikto : Nikto is an open-source web server scanner that automates the process of finding security issues in web applications. It scans for common vulnerabilities, outdated server software, and misconfigurations. Nikto can generate comprehensive reports of its findings.
- w3af (Web Application Attack and Audit Framework) : w3af is a powerful open-source web application security testing tool. It helps identify vulnerabilities by performing various tests, including XSS, SQL injection, directory traversal, and more. w3af provides a command-line interface and can be integrated with other tools and frameworks.
Individuals or teams can use these tools individually or in combination to automate different aspects of security testing for web applications. It is important to note that while automation can enhance efficiency, we should also conduct manual security testing to validate and verify the results obtained from automated tools.