What Is Web Application Security?


Web application security works to safeguard web apps that organizations host in the cloud rather than on user computers and devices. Most applications are created for the web today, creating an attractive landscape of vulnerable targets for criminal hackers.

Threat actors attack web applications to steal customer data and intellectual property, inject ransomware, and slow or deface competitor websites. Because web applications are easily accessible from anywhere, attackers worldwide can reach them. Still, law enforcement has more difficulty capturing perpetrators in foreign countries without extradition rights.

Today, the security of web applications takes the form of web application firewalls (WAFs) and patching web application software vulnerabilities, among other approaches. The recent field of resilience engineering is helping make web applications more secure and improve recovery time.

Organizations and developers can make web applications more resilient by distributing every element of the ecosystem, including load balancers, caches, databases, and security key vaults, so these are redundant in the face of an attack. In this case, one iteration of a system falling under attack does not remove every instance of the system, and the web application continues to function.

The Need for Web Application Security

Enterprises own, use, and service thousands of web applications and their Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). These connect to processes and storage where sensitive data are at risk. Because apps are updated frequently to add features that consumers want, there is always the risk of new vulnerabilities being coded into the apps. Web applications are also subject to third-party attacks on plugins and widgets.

Ultimately, everything is a web application or soon will be. Microsoft’s Windows 11 and Office365 are delivered via the web. Very little software is installed primarily on the user system. Any attack on a web application can lead criminals to discover another vulnerability and another opportunity.

10 Common Web Application Security Threats

Specific threats to web applications include cross-site scripting and forgeries that fool consumers into making requests. Once the criminal has taken over the account, they can steal, change, or delete precious data.

  1. Attackers use bots to automate attacks. Armed with millions of stolen credentials such as usernames and passwords, they quickly employ “credential stuffing,” entering log-in info and hoping for a match. When they gain unauthorized access, they control user access, make fraudulent purchases, or steal user data.
  2. Some criminal hackers use web scraping tools to steal page content to set competitive pricing for other e-commerce sites that compete with the victim site.
  3. Threat actors attack application programming interfaces (APIs) to send malicious code-based attacks through the API into an app or set up a Man-in-the-Middle (MitM) attack, intercepting data.
  4. Third-party and supply chain attacks are common in web applications. Attackers take control using bots and steal the credit card that passes through the system or page for use in fraudulent purchases.
  5. Attackers can use flaws in software and infrastructure adjacent to the web application to get close to it and breach it.
  6. An SQL injection attack inserts malicious SQL query code into backend databases to control it. The attackers take administrative control of the database or the underlying operating system.
  7. Cybercriminals find vulnerabilities that allow them to control and run code remotely. The Remote Code Execution (RCE) attack enables the attacker to take administrative control of the application and do whatever they like. With control of the application, an attacker can drop a backdoor, which keeps access available to the attacker whenever they want to return.
  8. Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks can overwhelm a server with requests until it crashes. They can take control of the server during the crash.
  9. Criminal hackers will locate and exploit memory corruption using code injections or buffer overflow attacks to gain access and control of the software.
  10. Cookie poisoning (or session hijacking) alters or poisons a valid cookie sent back to a server to steal data, bypass security, or both.

Types of Web Application Security Solutions

Solutions for Web Application Security include Web Application Firewalls (WAFs) dedicated to controlling traffic in and out of web applications. A web application firewall (WAF) filters known bad sites and IPs, monitors traffic, and blocks behaviorally suspect or malicious HTTP traffic to and from a website, app, or service. Inspecting HTTP traffic at the data packet level can prevent attacks exploiting a web application’s vulnerabilities, such as file inclusion and improper system configuration.

A cloud service provider often offers a traffic scrubbing service to mitigate DDoS attacks. The service ensures no traffic makes its way to the web application without going through the cloud first. Then, it detects and redirects suspect packets away in real time so that good traffic can get to the web application.

Cybercriminals attack APIs, so organizations should limit the rate of attempts to log in to APIs to deter brute-force attacks. Multi-factor authentication (MFA) makes it harder for attackers to authenticate on an API. Transport Layer Security (TLS) encryption can prevent attackers from breaking into API communications.

With the rise of DNS-based attacks that use DNS traffic to bypass detection by legacy security tools, the Domain Name System Security Extensions (DNSSEC) suite of extension specifications has helped to secure data exchanged with the DNS. DNSSEC adds cryptographic signatures to DNS records, which protect data published in the DNS. With DNSSEC, the DNS resolver checks the signature against an authoritative DNS server to verify its authenticity before serving responses to clients.

Web Application Security Best Practices

As web applications evolve in the application development pipeline, they should be tested early and often for security vulnerabilities. Web application security testing in development can include a Dynamic Application Security Test (DAST), an automated test of internally facing low-risk applications that must comply with regulatory assessments.

Web application developers should test using Static Application Security Tests (SAST) for automated and manual tests to identify security bugs and vulnerabilities in the development pipeline. Penetration testing is another valuable tool for manually discovering vulnerabilities in critical applications. The pen test checks for business logic errors and uncovers how adversaries attack to isolate advanced attack scenarios. The Runtime Application Self-Protection (RASP) test envelopes web applications to test for the execution and blocking of threats in real time.

Developers must build security into the application rather than fasten it on after it has matured with its vulnerabilities intact. Secure design techniques include input validation, where the developer blocks improperly formatted data from being input to the application workflows. It prevents malicious code from entering the application.

Application coders should ensure apps are encrypted in motion and at rest. HTTPS is an example of encryption in motion as it encrypts HTTP communications over port 80.

Securing web applications outside the development environment requires a host of tools. An API gateway can identify shadow APIs built and used without the knowledge of IT.


What is application security?

Application-level security prevents data and code manipulation in an app. These security measures include application testing during development and security measures that safeguard apps in production.

What is an example of web security?

Testing software in development is a great example of web security. Testing helps developers find and fix vulnerabilities so attackers can’t abuse them.

How do I check the security of a web application?

Penetration testing is one common way to check whether someone can hack into an app.


Web applications are subject to threats due to exposure to the Internet-facing world. Organizations can mitigate threats by designing, testing, and building better apps. Patching web apps in development and production eliminates vulnerabilities. Security tools such as WAFs mitigate threats in web traffic in production environments. Applications in production can be protected by using web application security tools designed to deal with active threats.

Experience the World’s Most Advanced Cybersecurity Platform

See how our intelligent, autonomous cybersecurity platform harnesses the power of data and AI to protect your organization now and into the future.