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How Penetration Testing Improves Web Application Security


Dmitry Kurskov

Head of Information Security Department, ScienceSoft

Editor’s note: Dmitry overviews the three main approaches to pentesting and describes the vulnerabilities commonly found in web apps. If you want to check if your application is an easy target for hackers, don’t hesitate to contact ScenceSoft for our penetration testing services.

Web application penetration testing is a security review method designed to uncover vulnerabilities in web-based applications. By simulating real-world cyberattacks or delving deep into the software code, pentesters explore the application’s security controls, data protection mechanisms, and potential entry points to discover security gaps and offer actionable remediation advice.

3 Key Penetration Testing Strategies

  1. Black box penetration testing. Pentesters approach the web application as outsiders and attempt to exploit vulnerabilities without any prior knowledge of the target. They use manual and automated testing techniques and employ social engineering to simulate various attack scenarios, identify potential entry points, and evaluate the application’s defenses against attacks from outside.
  2. White box penetration testing. This is the opposite approach: the testers are given full access to the app’s source code, databases, and infrastructure. They explore the target from the inside to thoroughly check its security controls, pinpoint vulnerabilities, and assess potential risks. White box pentesting is particularly effective at identifying weaknesses related to code quality, logic flaws, and configuration issues, but it takes longer due to the broader scope of work.
  3. Gray box penetration testing combines the elements of both black box and white box penetration testing. Pentesters have some insight into the application’s inner workings. This allows them to focus on specific areas of concern while still exploring real-world attack vectors. The combination of external review and limited internal knowledge helps provide a balanced view of vulnerabilities and their potential impact from different perspectives.

Not Sure Which Method Fits You Best? Let’s Find the Optimal Solution

ScienceSoft’s consultants are ready to analyze your unique needs to find the best assessment format. Our team of certified pentesters and security engineers performs comprehensive cybersecurity checks for apps of any complexity and, if needed, can fully remediate the found vulnerabilities.

Common Web Application Security Risks

  • SQL injections occur when attackers paste code in your website’s input fields (e.g., log-in forms) to execute malicious SQL queries. This can lead to sensitive data breaches or data manipulation or even give the attackers complete control over the app. Proper input validation and the use of parameterized queries can help prevent SQL injection.
  • Cross-site scripting (XSS) allows hackers to inject scripts into web pages viewed by other users, enabling the theft of users’ cookies, personal information, or redirection to malicious websites. Proper input validation and output encoding can help mitigate XSS attacks.
  • Cross-site request forgery (CSRF) occurs when attackers use another website’s cookies saved in a user’s browser to trick it into performing actions on that website without the user’s knowledge. For example, a malicious site can change your social media password using the cookie as proof of your request. Preventing CSRF involves using anti-CSRF tokens that ensure that only the real user can initiate web actions.
  • Broken access controls allow unauthorized users to gain access to restricted resources or functionality. This vulnerability occurs when proper access controls, such as user roles and tiered privileges, are not effectively enforced.
  • Similarly, broken authentication allows attackers to bypass authentication mechanisms and gain unauthorized access to web app accounts. This can result from weak password policies, insecure session management, or predictable authentication tokens.
  • Security misconfigurations occur when an application or its infrastructure is not broken per se but is not set up securely. For example, you didn’t update an obsolete protocol in time or didn’t review default access permissions, making a confidential directory available to anyone. Regular security audits and proper configuration management are vital for preventing this vulnerability.
  • Sensitive data exposure occurs when applications fail to adequately protect sensitive information such as passwords or credit card details. Strong data encryption in transit and at rest and secure data storage are critical to managing this risk. Ideally, you want to ensure that even if hackers directly intercept your data, they cannot decrypt it.

Secure Your Web App with Penetration Testing

Penetration testing is an effective tool for uncovering hidden gaps in web app security, helping protect sensitive data against breaches and uphold user trust. If you want to test your app’s defenses, contact ScienceSoft’s team.

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