Modern web applications are deeply integrated into the processes of the organizations that use them. These apps operate on critical data, interact with the components of the information system, allow you to perform various procedures, and much more. In general, these are mechanisms characterized by a complex architecture, which may contain vulnerabilities that attackers can use to gain access to confidential data, technologies, payment information, etc.
That is why it is so important for organizations to make sure that their web applications are secure and free of any critical vulnerabilities. For this, such a procedure as a pentest of web applications is carried out. We will talk about this in this article.
Web application pentest
Penetration testing of web applications is the practice of assessing the security of a system, the essence of which is that testers simulate an attack in order to identify problem areas in the security system, as well as assess the real level of security, and the likely damage that hackers can cause in the event of a real attack.
During web application security testing, experts perform similar actions to hackers, but do not cause any damage to the organization. This procedure is part of the required health and safety check of the system.
Which organizations need application pentesting?
It can be argued that web application pen testing, in addition to a systematic information security audit, should be performed by all companies that deal with sensitive customer data, financial data, or have any means of processing payments. In general, the list can be expanded to three items:
- Companies whose nature of activity involves compliance with various regulations and laws, for example, GDPR, PCI DSS, HIPAA, SOX, etc. All of these regulations have sections that deal with information security;
- Companies whose shares are traded on stock exchanges. If the enterprise is attacked and confidential data is compromised, the company’s reputation will be damaged. Accordingly, the value of the shares will drop sharply;
- Companies with an enterprise risk management system (ERM). This system involves building a strategy that affects all company activities and is aimed at managing the risks associated with cyber threats.
It is worth noting that even if your website is purely informational, it is still a good idea to test it, because if hackers break into it, they can ruin it. Which in turn will negatively affect the reputation and image of the company.
To find out if a penetration test is necessary, you can perform a vulnerability scan procedure for free. Our experts will determine the presence or absence of certain vulnerabilities so that you can make an informed decision about pentesting.
Web application vulnerabilities
- Lack of software patches. Vulnerabilities such as lack of OS software or web server patches are the most common in testing.
- Weaknesses in encryption. Encryption configuration and encryption methods must be checked to ensure data protection.
- Input validation flaws. The information that the user enters can be intercepted by hackers. Accordingly, as part of the pentest, vulnerabilities such as cross-site scripting (XSS), SQL injection, XXE, cross-site request forgery (CSRF), server-side request forgery (SSRF) are checked.
- Authentication vulnerabilities. One of the most important attack vectors. Accordingly, testing is thorough and complex.
- Access controls. Checks are made to ensure that the user does not gain access to unauthorized functions or data. The same applies to the access of employees of the enterprise.
- Password policies and storage. The application must strictly control passwords through user account and password storage policies. Password storage mechanisms should also be reviewed.
- Session management. It is very important to provide security in this area, as well as the ability to check the state of the session, reduce the likelihood of interception, etc.
What is the difference between penetration testing and vulnerability scanning?
Many people do not understand the difference, but it is significant. In short, it lies in the fact that vulnerability scanning is carried out in order to assess only the vulnerabilities of the system. At the same time, penetration testing is a more extensive procedure that requires testers to deeply dive into the architecture of the test subject.
Read more about the difference between scanning and pentesting here.
Benefits of pentesting web applications
Performing a web application pen test provides the following key benefits:
- Identification of vulnerabilities. The penetration test allows you to find loopholes in applications, vulnerable routes in infrastructure, etc., which could be exploited by hackers.
- Assessing infrastructure capabilities. Any changes made to the infrastructure can make the system vulnerable. Accordingly, pentest allows you to identify these vulnerabilities.
- Evaluation of the effectiveness of security policies. Pentesters evaluate security policies in real conditions, their effectiveness, and determine the presence of weaknesses.
- Providing reliable authentication, authorization, encryption mechanisms.
- Satisfying the requirements of regulatory bodies. The penetration test is part of the requirements for compliance with such regulations and standards as: GDPR, PCI DSS, ISO 27001, etc.
Web application penetration testing: how does it work?
Web penetration testing is carried out in several stages: preparation and collection of information, analysis of reconnaissance information, test attacks and exploitation, compilation of a report and description of the results. Let us look at these steps in more detail.
Preparation and collection of information
During the preparatory stage, testing scopes, methods, as well as success rates and overall test objectives are agreed upon. Finding vulnerabilities starts with reconnaissance and information gathering. Reconnaissance can be active and passive:
- Passive reconnaissance. A characteristic difference is that pentesters explore public Internet resources, use search engines, Internet services, social networks and much more in order to get all the information available in open sources.
- Active reconnaissance. This variant of reconnaissance differs in that pentesters already work directly with the system to obtain information, and use various specialized scanning tools.
Analysis of reconnaissance information
Pentesters analyze all the information received in order to determine possible attack vectors.
Attacks and exploitation
Attacks are usually coordinated with the technical staff of the customer so as not to lead to failures in the systems. Once infiltrated, pentesters determine how much damage can be done and how long they can go undetected.
As a result, the customer receives a report containing: test methodology, description of attack scenarios; risk assessment, which is based on detected threats; as well as an action plan and recommendations to address these risks.
Web application penetration testing tools
Website penetration testing process is highly dependent on what vulnerabilities were discovered during the reconnaissance stage. Finding the right exploit and gaining access to the system is much easier if you do a thorough research. For this, various scanners and utilities are used. In general, there are thousands of different programs for conducting pentests, which, among other things, are used for exploiting, injections, sniffing, etc. This diversity allows pentesters to flexibly adapt to the goals of website pentesting.
Below are some popular tools that are used for web application penetration testing.
- NMAP. This is not just a “smart” scanner, it is a serious extensible tool that can in some cases work as a password guesser.
- Shodan. A scanner that allows pentesters to obtain extensive information about any IP address.
- Acunetix. Excellent web vulnerability scanner, fully automated testing tool. It can test complex web applications and also provides tools for testing cross-site scripting, SQL injection, etc.
- w3af. Framework for attacking and auditing web applications. It has two types of plugins: detection, audit; and attack, which link any vulnerabilities on the website to each other.
- Metasploit. Another penetration testing framework that contains many specialized modules that pentesters can use to find vulnerabilities.
- sqlmap. One of the best tools for performing SQL injection attacks, which also provides access to compromised data.
- Burp Suite. A set of utilities that help with pentests. The various capabilities of this tool make it a versatile web application security testing tool.
While cybersecurity threats are becoming more and more sophisticated, methods are constantly being developed to counter these threats. If you need to find out if your organization needs a penetration test, please contact us right now using the contacts listed on the website. By working with us, you can improve your security strategy and provide better protection for your assets.
Please also note that our experts are ready to scan your website for free and prepare a report on critical and non-critical vulnerabilities.