10 Common Web App Attacks and How to Prevent Them
Published at March 09, 2023

Web applications have become an important part of people's daily lives. The use of web apps is extending beyond just purchasing items such as vegetables, clothing, and electronic gadgets. Financial transactions and sharing of sensitive data are now commonly done through web applications.

These applications handle a large amount of user data, making them a prime target for attackers who seek to reveal or steal such information. In essence, web apps operate using a client-server mechanism where the server employs its database and resources to fulfil client requests.

Unfortunately, attackers frequently exploit system weaknesses caused by improper validation or inadequate filtering of untrusted inputs, resulting in the injection of malicious code or script. These attacks are particularly dangerous and widespread.

Therefore, it is essential for organisations to be aware of the common web application attacks and implement effective preventive measures. In this article, we will discuss the ten most prevalent web application attacks and provide guidance on how to protect your web applications from them.

What is a web app attack?

Before discussing the ten most common web app attacks and ways to prevent them, we’ll look at the definition of a web app attack.

According to Acunetix, a web app attack refers to a security breach in which an unauthorised person gains access to the sensitive information contained within a web application's database. Such attacks can be highly harmful, especially when the stolen data is highly confidential, such as personal information, financial data, or sensitive business information.

Cybercriminals often exploit vulnerabilities and weaknesses within the application, such as coding errors, software bugs, or misconfigurations, to gain unauthorised access. When such attacks occur, the consequences can be severe, both for the victims and the organisations hosting the web app. Customer’s personal data may be exposed, leading to identity theft, fraud, and reputational damage for the organisation. The exploitation of these vulnerabilities can also result in financial losses, lawsuits, and compliance issues.

10 most common Web App Attacks and ways to prevent them

It is therefore imperative for web app developers to take proactive measures to prevent and detect such attacks. Without further ado, let's explore the ten most common web attacks and how to prevent them according to Tripwire, as follows:

1. Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)

This attack tricks a browser into sending harmful scripts to the victim's browser. When the victim's browser receives these scripts, it automatically runs them. This type of malware can steal data, install other malware, or send the user to a fake website.

How to prevent: To prevent this attack, you can clean up the data input. This means not allowing special characters or symbols so that code cannot be injected. If you don't fix XSS attacks, it can cause other problems like session hijacking, form action hijacking, and server-side request forgery attacks.

2. SQL Injection

This attack allows cybercriminals to take control of a server's cookies, web forms, or HTTP posts so they can get sensitive data from the database. SQL injection attacks are very successful ways of attacking online systems. Attackers use input fields (like those in an online form) to put in malicious code that tricks the server into giving out private information that's not protected.

How to prevent: To prevent SQL injection attacks, you have to be careful with data input and only allow certain functions to be used through SQL commands.

3. Broken Authentication

According to the Verizon 2022 DBIR report, 67% of data breaches occurred because someone's login information is stolen. When someone illegally logs in to a system, it's called broken authentication. This can happen in different ways, like guessing the password, using stolen login info from other sites, or trying a lot of different passwords.

How to prevent: To stop broken authentication attacks, you can make a really strong password, or you can use tokenized Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) which is more secure.

4. Drive-by Download

A drive-by download is when a harmful program is downloaded onto someone's computer without them knowing, just by visiting a website. This can happen when someone is downloading something else or when they open an email, click on a pop-up window, or just look at a web page. Drive-by attacks take advantage of security problems in apps, web browsers, and computer systems.

How to prevent: To avoid this, it's important to keep your computer up-to-date and not install too many web plug-ins and apps because that makes it easier for attackers to get in.

5. Password-based Attack

There are many ways attackers can steal your password, and they don't always fit into the “broken authentication” category. Some examples include stealing your computer's memory to find your password, guessing your password through trial and error, or using stolen passwords from other accounts to log in to your account. There's also a technique called “Pass the Hash” where attackers steal your encrypted password and use it to log in as you.

How to prevent: To protect yourself, you can use code signing, create strong passwords, use Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA), and limit how much access other people have to your account. These steps will help prevent attackers from stealing your password.

6. Fuzzing 

Fuzz testing is when you put a lot of random data into an application to see if it crashes. Then you use a special tool to find any weak points in the app's security. If there are any, attackers can use them to break into the app.

How to prevent: To avoid this, make sure you keep your security software and other applications up to date. This is really important because attackers can use old security problems to break into your computer if you haven't fixed them yet.

7. Vulnerable Components

Modern software is often composed of several parts and comes from a long chain of sources. This means that a vulnerability or attack hidden in one of the parts can lead to a security breach in the final product.

How to prevent: To prevent this, companies need to check the security of their third-party suppliers before partnering with them. They are also using code signing, quality control policies, and internal threat detection to protect against any weaknesses that may go unnoticed.

8. DDoS

A DDoS attack happens when someone sends too many requests to a website, so the website can’t handle it and stops working. Usually, a group of computers infected with malware (a botnet) sends these requests. Sometimes attackers use DDoS attacks to distract people while they try other attacks.

How to prevent: To protect your site from a DDoS attack, you should use a Content Delivery Network (CDN) to handle traffic, a load balancer to balance traffic, and scalable resources. Also, you should use a Web Application Firewall to protect against other attacks, like injections or XSS, that the DDoS attack may be hiding.

9. MiTM (Man-in-the-Middle)

Man-in-the-middle attacks happen when someone intercepts data being sent between two parties, like a user and a website. This kind of attack is common on websites that don't encrypt their data. If the data isn't encrypted, the attacker can see the sensitive information that's being sent.

How to prevent: To prevent a man-in-the-middle attack, you can use an SSL certificate. This certificate encrypts the data, so the attacker can't read it. Many hosting providers offer an SSL certificate with their hosting package.

10. Directory Traversal

This attack focuses on accessing unauthorised files or directories outside of the targeted folder by manipulating the server directory. These attacks can be harmful, as they can give attackers access to important files, databases, and other websites on the same server.

How to prevent: To prevent these attacks, it's important to make sure user inputs are safe and not accessible on your server. This can be done by building your codebase in a way that doesn't allow user information to be passed to the filesystem APIs.

Wrapping Up

In summary, a web application attack is a severe security breach that can have significant consequences for both victims and organisations. By implementing adequate security measures, web application developers and organisations can reduce the risk of such attacks and ensure the protection of sensitive data.

Overall, VirtualSpirit can help you build secure web apps by providing you with the necessary tools, guidance, and expertise to identify and mitigate security risks throughout the development lifecycle. Book a call now!

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