Mitigating Cyber Risks with Web Application Security

The advent of the internet allowed computer users to connect, communicate, and share with other people. Technological developments opened more doors to use computers and the internet for a wide range of activities – selling, banking, bills payment, shopping, entertainment, education, remote working, collaboration, and access to other markets and a global workforce. With computers and an internet connection, every person can access the rest of the world.

In the past, using a computer and connecting to the internet was easy, comfortable, and almost uncomplicated. Back then, having a website was a significant achievement. Today, there is a clamor for online presence, making websites ubiquitous. As of June 2021, there are 1.86 billion websites worldwide.

Even if the deployment of cybersecurity applications increases, data security threats are always present. You cannot blame it entirely on the vulnerabilities of applications and security systems because human errors contribute to network weaknesses, primarily due to insecure usernames and passwords.

About 30,000 websites are hacked every day. The most common way hackers do this is through automated tools, which allow hackers to cast their net wider without exerting too much effort. In addition, targeting vulnerabilities in website plugins can escape detection if the website firewall is weak.

Importance of firewalls to secure websites and applications

Vulnerabilities in web applications imply a system weakness or flaw in the application. Many web-based applications have design flaws, but they are not considered priorities. Users fail to sanitize or validate form inputs, while some have misconfigured web servers.

Given the increasing threats to websites, it is critical to look further than the traditional vulnerability scanners to identify gaps in your website application security. If you understand the risks, you can protect your web applications by deploying a web application firewall to inspect and filter traffic between the internet and each of your web applications. A web application firewall (WAF) helps defend your applications from various attacks, including SQL injection, file inclusion, cross-site scripting, and cross-site request forgery.

Most significant data breaches in 2020 and 2021

Security Magazine lists some of the biggest web application attacks in 2020. Topping the list is adult site Cam4, which lost 10.88 billion records that include personally identifiable information (PII) in March 2020.

Around May 2020, the attack on Advanced Info Service (AIS) was discovered. AIS is the largest GSM phone operator in Thailand, with 39.87 million customers. The attack compromised 8.3 billion records.

The Chinese social network site Sina Weibo lost 538 million records when its database was breached in March 2020. While the site did not contain passwords and payment information, it had PII. Even Microsoft couldn’t escape a data breach. It occurred in December 2019 and was reported in January 2020. The servers had 250 million entries, including IP addresses, details of support cases, and email addresses.

In Q1 2021, several cyber attacks occurred globally, such as the attack on Australia’s Channel 9 in March 2021, which prevented the TV network from airing several shows. In addition, it was not able to connect to the internet and had to halt its publishing business as some of the publishing tools went down.

London-based Harris Federation was forced to disable the email systems and devices of 50 schools it manages, affecting 37,000 students who could not access their lessons. Hackers attacked the foundation in March 2021.

Cybercriminals attacked CNA Financial, one of the largest insurance companies in the United States, in March. As a result, it had to halt its employee and customer services for three days to prevent the ransomware attack from doing more damage.

These are just a few of the most significant cyberattacks in 2020 and 2021. As you can surmise, even big companies with sophisticated cybersecurity systems can be a target and victim.

Identifying web app vulnerabilities and risk reduction

Cyber attacks are getting more severe, and almost everything related to online communication and data storage is open to cyberattacks if not protected. Additionally, most web apps are custom-made. Thus, some are not thoroughly tested before deployment. Companies should have a better understanding of the vulnerabilities of web apps they use to prevent–or at least reduce–the probability of web app attacks. Here are some of them.

File uploads. Web apps that allow users to upload files can be an easy target. Most cyber attackers have information about these apps and know the programming languages developers used in creating the apps. As a result, they can easily create a payload with password protection and execute it on the target’s server to open a backdoor, making the target’s machine easy to exploit.

You can prevent this by limiting the people who can upload files. In addition, no executable files should be uploaded, and install a web app firewall to filter the file extension and file types.

SQL injection. In this vulnerability, the attacker intervenes with the queries a web app makes to the database and retrieves and manipulates the data it finds. The attacker does not make any changes to the file, making detection difficult. It will be a breeze to access admin privileges then, as the attacker has the network under control.

Ensure that your web app is programmed not to allow code injection and execution and limiting access to the minimum. Likewise, you should keep your data separate from queries and commands.

Cross-site scripting (XSS). Most web apps have this vulnerability if the web and database servers are improperly configured. An attack can occur when the hacker injects malicious client-side scripts and uses the website to propagate the scripts. The attacker can also modify the website’s content, which forces the target browser to execute the code the attacker provided while the site page is loading.

You can prevent XSS by ensuring that aside from strengthening your web app security with the firewall, you should use frameworks that escape XSS by design. For example, apply context-sensitive encoding when you modify your browser content, ensure the user input is trusted and secure, sanitize user input, and validate input.

Where should you place WAF?

In nearly all application architectures, the web application firewall is best placed behind the load balancing level to maximize performance, visibility, utilization, and reliability. Therefore, it should be between a web client and a web server. The deployment should be in front of the web application so the security service can analyze the bi-directional web-based traffic (both GET and POST requests), detect and block anything fraudulent before it can reach the application server. However, it is possible to place WAFs anywhere in the data path because they are an L7 proxy-based security service.


Cyber threats are not likely to disappear any time soon. To mitigate cyber risks, defense is the best offense. Prevent cyber attacks from taking complete control of your website, web applications, and network. As the reliance on web applications rises, the best defense businesses can do is to deploy a robust web application firewall, to ensure continuous monitoring of your system, and automatic patching of vulnerabilities.


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