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8 Types of Web Application Attacks and Protecting Your Organization

May 10, 2023
Vitaly Unic

What Are Web Application Attacks? 

Web application attacks are malicious activities that target web applications by exploiting vulnerabilities in their design or implementation. These attacks can result in unauthorized access, data theft, or other harmful consequences. 

Common types of web application attacks include SQL injection, cross-site scripting (XSS), cross-site request forgery (CSRF), and file inclusion attacks. Attackers may use automated tools or manually craft their attacks to bypass security measures and gain access to sensitive information or systems. 

Organizations can prevent or mitigate web application attacks by implementing strong security measures, such as input validation, user authentication, and regular vulnerability testing.

This is part of a series of articles about security testing.

In this article:

What Are the Consequences of Web Application Attacks? 

Web application attacks can have a wide range of consequences for organizations, users, and other stakeholders. Some of the potential consequences of web application attacks include:

  • Data breaches: Attackers may gain unauthorized access to sensitive data, such as personal information, financial data, or intellectual property, leading to data breaches. This can result in severe financial, reputational, and legal consequences for the affected organization.
  • Identity theft: Attackers may steal personal information during web application attacks, leading to identity theft. Victims of identity theft may face financial losses, credit issues, and time-consuming recovery processes.
  • Financial loss: Web application attacks may lead to direct financial losses for businesses, either through theft of funds, fraud, or the costs associated with remediation and recovery.
  • Damage to reputation: A successful web application attack can damage an organization’s reputation, leading to loss of customer trust, negative publicity, and reduced business opportunities.
  • Legal consequences: Organizations that fail to protect their web applications may face legal consequences, such as fines, lawsuits, or regulatory penalties, particularly if the attack results in a data breach involving personal information.
  • Business disruption: Web application attacks can disrupt business operations by causing system downtime, impacting the availability of online services, or compromising critical infrastructure.

Learn more in our detailed guide to mobile security.

Common Types of Web Application Attacks 

1. Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)

Cross-site scripting (XSS) is a type of web application attack that involves injecting malicious scripts into web pages that are viewed by other users. This is typically accomplished by injecting the script into a form input field or URL parameter that is then stored in the web application’s database. 

When another user views the page that contains the malicious script, the script is executed in their browser, allowing the attacker to steal data or perform other malicious actions on the user’s behalf. XSS attacks can be prevented by properly sanitizing user input, using content security policy (CSP) headers, and escaping untrusted data.

2. Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF)

Cross-site request forgery (CSRF) is a type of web application attack that tricks a user into executing an unwanted action on a web application that they are already authenticated with. This is typically accomplished by sending a specially crafted link or script to the user, which then performs the unwanted action when clicked. 

For example, a CSRF attack could be used to make unauthorized purchases or change account settings. CSRF attacks can be prevented by using anti-CSRF tokens, which are unique tokens that are generated by the web application for each user session and must be included in every request to the application.

3. XML External Entity (XXE)

XML External Entity (XXE) is a type of web application attack that involves exploiting vulnerabilities in XML parsers used by a web application. This can allow an attacker to read sensitive data or execute unauthorized actions on the web application’s server. 

XXE attacks typically involve injecting specially crafted XML payloads that exploit the XML parser’s ability to read external entities. XXE attacks can be prevented by disabling external entity parsing or using secure XML parsers that properly sanitize input data.

4. Injection Attacks

Injection attacks involve inserting malicious code into a web application, typically in the form of input data such as SQL queries, commands, or scripts. Injection attacks are successful when an application fails to properly validate and sanitize input data. These attacks can be prevented by properly validating and sanitizing input data and using parameterized queries to access databases. 

5. Fuzz Testing (Fuzzing)

Fuzz testing, also known as fuzzing, is a technique used to discover vulnerabilities in a web application by sending it random or invalid input data. The goal of fuzz testing is to identify how the web application responds to different inputs and to find errors and crashes. 

Fuzz testing can be performed manually or with the help of automated tools. Fuzz testing can uncover vulnerabilities that may not be detected by other security testing methods such as penetration testing. To perform effective fuzz testing, a tester needs to understand the web application’s input and output mechanisms and the types of data that the application processes.

6. DDoS (Distributed Denial-of-Service)

A Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attack is a type of web application attack that involves overwhelming a web application with a large volume of traffic from multiple sources, such as botnets or compromised devices. This can cause the web application to become unavailable to legitimate users. 

DDoS attacks can be prevented by using network security devices, such as firewalls and intrusion prevention systems, that can detect and block malicious traffic. Additionally, web application developers can use content delivery networks (CDNs) and load balancers to distribute traffic across multiple servers to help mitigate the effects of DDoS attacks.

7. Brute Force Attack

A brute force attack is an automated method of guessing a username and password combination to gain unauthorized access to a web application. Attackers use software tools to try different combinations of usernames and passwords until they successfully guess the correct one. 

To prevent brute force attacks, web applications can implement rate-limiting and account lockout policies. Rate-limiting limits the number of login attempts from a single IP address, while account lockout temporarily blocks access to an account after a certain number of failed login attempts.

Related content: Read our guide to websocket security.

8. Path Traversal 

Path traversal is a type of web application attack that involves manipulating file paths in a web application in order to access unauthorized files or directories on the server. Path traversal attacks typically occur when a web application does not properly validate user input, allowing an attacker to traverse up and down directory structures to access sensitive files. 

Path traversal attacks can be prevented by properly validating user input and sanitizing file paths, as well as using secure file access methods that restrict access to sensitive files and directories.

Web Application Security Strategies 

Here are some web application security strategies that organizations can implement to protect their web applications:

  • Secure coding practices: Adopt secure coding practices, such as the OWASP Top 10 guidelines, to ensure that web applications are built with security in mind. This includes measures like input validation, output encoding, and secure authentication mechanisms.
  • Regular security testing: Perform regular security testing, such as penetration testing and vulnerability scanning, to identify and address security vulnerabilities in web applications.
  • Access control: Implement access controls to ensure that only authorized users can access sensitive data or functionality within web applications. This includes measures like role-based access control and multi-factor authentication.
  • Secure communication: Use secure communication protocols, such as HTTPS, to ensure that data transmitted between web applications and users is encrypted and protected from interception.
  • Server and network security: Implement server and network security measures, such as firewalls and intrusion detection systems, to protect web applications from attacks like DDoS and SQL injection.
  • Regular updates and patches: Keep web applications and supporting software up-to-date with the latest security patches and updates to address known vulnerabilities.
  • User education: Educate users on best practices for safe web browsing, such as avoiding clicking on suspicious links or downloading attachments from unknown sources.
  • Incident response planning: Develop and test incident response plans to ensure that web application security incidents are identified and addressed in a timely and effective manner.

Learn more in our detailed guide to web application security 

Security Testing with Bright Security

Bright Security helps address the shortage of security personnel, enabling AppSec teams to provide governance for security testing, and enabling every developer to run their own security tests. 

NexPloit empowers developers to incorporate an automated Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) solution into their unit testing process so they can resolve security concerns as part of their agile development process. Bright’s DAST platform integrates into the SDLC fully and seamlessly: 

  • Test results are provided to the CISO and the security team, providing complete visibility into vulnerabilities found and remediated
  • Tickets are automatically opened for developers in their bug tracking system so they can be fixed quickly

Bright Security can scan any target, whether Web Apps or APIs (REST/GraphQL) to help enhance DevSecOps and achieve regulatory compliance with our real-time, false positive free actionable reports of vulnerabilities. In addition, our ML-based DAST solution provides an Automated solution to identify Business Logic Vulnerabilities.

Learn more about Bright Security testing solutions

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