Assessing the Security of Your Web Applications

An outline of key test areas to identify security issues in a web application and provide measures to minimize them.
Summary

Dynamic content on web sites will continue to enhance the business functionality of web sites; it is supported by a growing number of e-commerce sites. Also, these web applications are increasingly connected to databases that were previously accessible only through internally built custom applications. Malicious individuals can exploit these web-based applications to gain access to privileged information. Several simple methods, such as cookie poisoning and forms manipulation, can be used to exploit poorly designed web applications; most often, just a text editor and a browser are sufficient. The tools used to execute the exploits are easily available and require minimal knowledge. The very same tools and methods may be used to test the robustness of web applications.

An exhaustive testing of web applications will require building test scenarios to identify vulnerabilities. Proper web-application designs, web-server configuration, secure programming practices and good housekeeping are necessary for the security of any web site and a site's privileged resources. Due to the custom nature of web applications, they pose a challenge to the security of web sites. In the future, web applications are expected to be more secure, as certified components used to build applications gain support. For now, we will have to rely on both static and dynamic testing of web applications.

Resources

Nalneesh Gaur (Nalneesh.Gaur@gte.net) is a manager in the eRisk Solutions practice of Ernst & Young LLP in Dallas, Texas. He has specialized in UNIX and Windows NT systems, integration and Internet/intranet security issues for a number of years.

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