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Application Security Checklist

Summary

IT article on application security checklist for website owners. Detailed pro tips.

 

Since web application security contains many tiers and steps, it is convenient to have a checklist to ensure all security properties are satisfied. A checklist is supported by industry standards, laws, and a history of known attacks, and will bring your security to the next level.

 

Database

Whenever a company collects any data about its clients, suppliers, or any other businesses they interact with, there is a responsibility to prioritize database security. Adequate security actions help businesses avoid a data breach, which could result in serious damages to corporate reputation, as well as financial losses.

  • Ensure encryption for sensitive data (payment card information, social security numbers, emails, application attributes, etc.) over a secure channel.
  • Encryption should take place at every stage of the backup process.
  • Apply the principle of least privilege for users, as only system administrators would need full functionality.
  • Rather than executing SQL statements directly, use prepared statements to mitigate SQL injections.

Development

Every part of the development process must be accompanied by building the right level of security. The final product will only be secure if it was a priority since the project initiation.

  • The application should be tested for weaknesses after every new change is pushed to production.
  • The attitude toward developing systems security should be as demanding as it is for all production systems.

Authentication

As attacks and breaches get increasingly more complicated, the traditional username + password form of authentication becomes outdated. There are, however, advanced techniques that do not involve as many risks.

  • Use cryptographic hashing for more secure password storage and adopt best-known practices instead of inventing your own.
  • Use multi-factor authentication as dynamically generated passcodes are safer to use than fixed (static) log-in information. One-time passwords (OTP), which are a part of multi-factor authentication, can be safely sent by text or email to confirm an action.
  • Enforce simple but suitable password rules so that users won’t set weak passwords for their accounts.

Validation and Encoding

An inability to validate input leads to almost all of the major vulnerabilities. In many cases, encoding has the potential to defuse such attacks.

  • To ensure a robust application, do not trust user input by default. Always validate user input before it is sent to a browser to ensure that it is well-formed and that any illegal character sequences are detected.
  • Use the whitelisting method to narrow down the criteria for data input. Blacklisting can also be applied, but only as a complementary measure.

Web Traffic

The server and the clients are not the only ones vulnerable to data compromise, as the transit between the endpoints is prone to eavesdropping. When data is being transferred, it also requires appropriate security measures.

  • Provide a secure connection using Transport Layer Security (TLS) for all browsing sessions.
  • Implement a cookie Http header flag with Http only to avoid vulnerability to Cross-Site Scripting.
  • The content security policy should not allow any of the unsafe-* sources like unsafe-eval or unsafe-inline.
  • Enable X-Frame-Option (clickjacking protection) and X-XSS-Protection (XSS filter) headers in client responses.
  • Use Cross-Site Request Forgery tokens to protect against forged POST requests.

Configuration

Communication channels across on-premise, private, and public clouds should be backed by an intricate, multi-tiered, distributed, and interconnected structure.

  • Any unused services and servers should be disabled on the host level. The fewer running services there are, the fewer opportunities threat actors have to exploit them.
  • The general rule should be that ports are closed until particular ones are opened on demand. Otherwise, it exposes those services that are listening on those ports to possible exploitation.
  • Only specific internal networks should receive access to data that is not supposed to be publicly available.
  • Block outbound traffic in order to mitigate advanced persistent threats, which pose a high risk to financial institutions, transportation, health care, manufacturing, etc.
  • Use IAM roles to give the user administrative privileges instead of root user credentials. The latter allows full access to all resources in the account.
  • Regularly change IAM user access keys to minimize the chance of being compromised. Passwords and access keys will then only have a limited period of validity.

Infrastructure

Intrusions and disruptions in one infrastructure might lead to unpredictable failures in others. Therefore, in order to keep up the normal order of business, the infrastructure has to be dependable and responsive.

  • Updates should take place automatically, in a safe and timely manner. Security breaches and compliance violations are very often caused by outdated software.
  • Use a tool such as Terraform to apply changes to your infrastructure with minimal human interaction. Infrastructure should be described code so it can later be shared and re-used.
  • Build a centralized logging application to simplify managing logs across multiple hosts. Log retention should abide by the organization’s policy regarding data retention, storage, and destruction.
  • If you need to use Secure Shell (SSH) on any AWS (Amazon Web Services) service groups, avoid using passwords in favor of private SSH keys. An SSH key is automatically generated, and even server breaches won’t grant access to the account.
  • Adopt immutable servers to improve the reliability of server infrastructure. Mutable updates present an array of potential problems and failures and having a configured, and setup server eliminates many of them.
  • Use an Intrusion Detection System to monitor for malicious actions or policy violations. The results from these assessments can help to understand risk and how best to reduce it.

Testing

Security testing is an extensive systematic process that begins with scoping the entire application, followed by planning multiple tests.

  • If you find a previously unnoticed issue during the testing, step back and put the testing on hold until it is resolved.
  • Authorize penetration testing. Don’t only perform a simulation attack on yourself, but have other teams do it as well. Additionally, as time goes on and new software is deployed, or changes are made, they will need to be tested or retested as well.

Conclusion

Community-approved requirements help developers apply the best methods of ensuring security functionality. This is a better alternative to developing a custom plan. Since the checklist is derived from attacks that have previously taken place, similar breaches will be prevented from happening again.

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