Developing a web application can be a tedious process. The developer hopes to build a product that satisfies performance, end user and security expectations. The first two are usually fairly straightforward since they are directly driven by the client’s explicit requirements. Security is a little more abstract since the client is sometimes not even aware of what could go wrong.
Fortunately, many of the principles governing secure applications are universal. As long as you adhere to them in the entire development cycle, you’ll substantially reduce the risk of a successful attack. We look at the most common mistakes developers make when it comes to web app security.
Allowing Invalid Input
Invalid input is a popular entry point for hackers and malware. A malicious third party can use the application’s response to invalid data to launch an SQL injection, command injection or cross-site scripting attack.
To prevent this from, the developer should establish each field’s data entry rules that reject all data that does not conform to a predefined set of parameters. For example, you should force users to pick a date from a calendar as opposed to keying it in directly. Similarly, the application should reject any input with alphabets where only numbers are expected.
Focusing on the Components and not the Whole
This is a common problem in large projects where development is broken down to modules that are then assigned to different teams of programmers. Each team may establish rigorous security mechanisms within their module. However, excellent security in each module will not necessarily translate into excellent security for the application as a whole.
Data transfer from one module to the next is especially vulnerable if the overall project manager doesn’t ensure consistent authentication and security controls in the entire data management process. Therefore, security testing must be commenced from scratch once all the application modules have been brought together.
Leaving Security to the Last Minute
Ensuring the application does what it’s end users expect it to do is often the first priority of web developers. However, focusing on the application’s core functions may cause the web developer to neglect the security aspects of the application and leave it until the last minute.
This is a potentially catastrophic mistake because even for simple web applications, the possible vulnerabilities are numerous. Instead, security should be part and parcel of application development from the get go. It is not only cheaper to integrate security at the start but it also makes it easier to incorporate a simple way to monitor your metrics.
Overly customized security controls
Why is it a bad idea for anyone to try and reinvent the wheel? Because for you to start building a wheel from scratch, you’ll forfeit the advantage of hundreds of years of research and testing that has culminated in today’s wheel systems.
Similarly, overly customizing the security controls of your web application (instead of following long established security principles) will cause you to lose out on the efficiency that comes with following tried and tested methods.
Some businesses opt for customized solutions in the hope that hackers aren’t familiar with them but the result is vulnerabilities that are easily exploited. To make matters worse, a customized method won’t benefit from regular updates.
Failing to encrypt passwords and other sensitive data
Encryption is an added layer of security that ensures sensitive data is difficult to access even if an unauthorized third party does penetrate the web application’s database. Many of the most famous hacking incidents can be traced to a failure to encrypt confidential information.
Passwords are the single most important piece of data on in any system and they must be accorded the highest possible level of protection. Anyone who can access administrator passwords would have the power to change the system at will.
Inadequate security can undermine the usability and efficiency of a web application. By steering clear of the above security pitfalls, you increase the chances of your application working as expected.