QotW #5: Defending your website

2011-08-12 by . 0 comments

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This week’s post came from this question: I just discovered major security flaws in my web store!, but covers a wider scope and includes some resources on Security Stack Exchange on defending your website.

Any application you connect to the Internet will be attacked within minutes of plugging it in, so you need to look very carefully at protecting it appropriately. Guess what – many application owners and developers go about this in entirely the wrong way, building the application and then thinking about security at the very end, where it is expensive and difficult to do well.

The recommended approach is to build security in from the start – have a look at this post for a discussion on Secure Development Lifecycle. This means having security as a core pre-requisite, just like performance and functionality, and understanding the risks your new application will bring. Read How do you compare risks from your websites, physical perimeter, staff etc

To do this you will need developers to write the application securely. Studies show that this is the most cost effective in the long run, as securely developed applications require very little remediation work (as they don’t suffer from anywhere near as many security flaws as traditionally developed applications)

So, educating developers is key – even basic awareness can make the difference: What security resources should a white-hat developer follow these days?

Assuming your application has been developed using secure practices and you are ready to go live, What are the most important security checks for new web applications? and Testing your web application to gain some confidence that the security controls you have implemented are correctly working and effective is an essential step before allowing connection to the Internet. Penetration testing and associated security assessments are essential checks.

What tools are available to assess the security of a web application?

The globally recognised open standard on web application security is the Open Web Application Security Project, (OWASP) who provide guidance on testing, sample vulnerable applications, and a list of the top ten vulnerabilities. The answers to Is there a typical step-by-step A-Z process for testing a Web site for possible exploits? provide more information on approaches, as do the answers to Books about Penetration Testing.

Once your application is live, you can’t just sit back and relax, as new attacks are developed all the time – being aware of what is being attempted is important.  Can I detect web app attacks by viewing my Apache log file is Apache specific, but the answers are broadly relevant for all web servers.

This is obviously a very quick run-through – but reading the linked questions, and following the related questions links on them will give you a lot of background on this topic.

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