Application Development
April 29, 2024

Top 10 Common Application Security Threats And How To Mitigate Them

Cogent Infotech
Location icon
Dallas, Texas
April 29, 2024

Applications serve as the backbone of business operations and personal interactions, ensuring robust application security is paramount. Application security encompasses the measures taken to protect software and applications from threats and vulnerabilities that could compromise data integrity, confidentiality, and availability. With increasing global digitization, application security is at the center of business success.

According to recent studies, the frequency and severity of application security threats have been on the rise. There was a 25% surge in the count of new vulnerabilities listed in the U.S. government's National Vulnerability Database from 2021 to 2022, as compared to the previous year.

Understanding Application Security

Application security, often abbreviated as AppSec, is the practice of protecting software applications from various threats and vulnerabilities throughout their development, deployment, and maintenance lifecycles. Application security aims to mitigate risk associated with unauthorized access, data breaches, and other security incidents, protecting software application code and data against cyber threats.

Here are the key focus areas of application security:

1. Web Application Security

Web applications, which run on web servers and are accessed via an internet connection, are inherently vulnerable because they accept connections over insecure networks. Given the critical nature of many web applications that house sensitive customer data, they become lucrative targets for attackers, emphasizing the importance of strong cybersecurity measures to protect them.

2. Mobile Application Security

It is mainly concerned with ensuring the safety of mobile applications, addressing challenges specific to mobile platforms, and safeguarding sensitive data stored on or transmitted from these devices. As mobile devices increasingly become a primary means of accessing online services and conducting transactions, securing mobile applications is essential to protect user privacy and prevent unauthorized access.

3. API Security

Application Programming Interface (API) security entails securing the interfaces through which applications communicate and share data, as well as preventing unauthorized access and data breaches via API endpoints. With the widespread adoption of APIs for connecting diverse systems and services, ensuring the security of API endpoints is critical to prevent data breaches and protect sensitive information.

4. Secure Code Review

Secure code review involves a detailed examination of the source code to identify any security vulnerabilities, coding errors, or non-compliance with best coding practices. By conducting thorough code reviews, developers can identify and address security weaknesses early in the development process, reducing the risk of security breaches and enhancing the overall security posture of the application.

Top 10 Common Application Security Threats

Understanding and addressing application security threats is crucial for maintaining the trust of users and safeguarding sensitive information. Here are the top 10 common application security threats:

1. Injection Attacks

Injection attacks are one of the most prevalent and damaging application security threats. These attacks occur when malicious code is inserted into input fields or data streams, allowing attackers to manipulate the behavior of the application and execute unauthorized commands.

Common examples of injection attacks

Injection attacks are of various types. Some of the most common injection attacks can be explained as follows:

SQL Injection

In SQL injection attacks, attackers exploit vulnerabilities in an application's database layer by inserting malicious SQL code into input fields, such as login forms or search queries. This allows them to bypass authentication mechanisms, extract sensitive data, or even modify database contents.

A zero-day SQL injection vulnerability in the MOVEit Transfer application by Progress Software was exploited by the Cl0p Ransomware group. This resulted in breaches affecting over 2,500 internet-facing servers running MOVEit worldwide. High-profile targets like British Airways and the BBC were also impacted. The attackers potentially gained access to sensitive data and may have used it for extortion attempts.

XSS (Cross-Site Scripting)

XSS attacks involve injecting malicious scripts into web pages viewed by other users. Attackers exploit vulnerabilities in the application's input validation mechanisms to execute scripts in the context of legitimate users' browsers, potentially stealing session cookies, redirecting users to malicious sites, or defacing web pages.

A group known as Team GhostShell employed SQL injection to target 53 universities. By doing so, they were able to steal and publish personal records belonging to over 36,000 students, faculty, and staff members. This incident highlights the potential dangers of such attacks in the educational sector, where sensitive student data is stored.

Strategies to Prevent Injection Attacks

Injection attacks can be prevented by following some strategies listed here:

Input Validation

Implement strict input validation mechanisms to sanitize user inputs and reject potentially malicious characters or scripts.

Parameterized Queries

Use parameterized queries or prepared statements to separate SQL commands from user inputs, preventing attackers from injecting malicious SQL code.

Web Application Firewalls (WAFs)

Deploy WAFs to monitor and filter HTTP traffic, detecting and blocking injection attacks in real-time.

Least Privilege Principle

Limit database and application permissions to ensure that user inputs are processed with the minimum necessary privileges, reducing the impact of successful injection attacks.

2. Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)

In Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) attacks, malicious actors inject harmful scripts into web pages viewed by other users. These scripts execute within the context of legitimate users' browsers, enabling attackers to steal session cookies, redirect users to malicious sites, or even deface web pages. XSS attacks can have far-reaching consequences, ranging from compromising user privacy to damaging a company's reputation and financial losses.

Types of XSS Attacks

There are several types of XSS attacks, each with its characteristics and methods of exploitation:

Persistent XSS

In persistent XSS attacks, the malicious script is permanently stored on the target server, often within a database or a file. When unsuspecting users access the infected page, the script is executed, posing a persistent threat to all visitors.

Reflected XSS

Reflected XSS attacks involve injecting a malicious script into a URL or input field, which is then reflected to the user by the web application. This type of XSS attack requires the user to click on a crafted link or submit a form, making it a more targeted but immediate threat.

DOM-based XSS

DOM-based XSS exploits vulnerabilities in client-side scripts, manipulating the Document Object Model (DOM) to execute malicious code in the user's browser. Unlike persistent and reflected XSS, DOM-based XSS attacks occur entirely on the client side, making them harder to detect and mitigate.

Strategies to Prevent XSS Attacks

Mitigating XSS vulnerabilities requires a combination of preventive measures and security best practices:

Sanitizing Inputs

Implement strict input validation to filter out potentially malicious characters or scripts from user inputs. By sanitizing inputs, web applications can prevent XSS attacks at the source.

Content Security Policy (CSP)

CSP is a security standard that enables web developers to define a whitelist of trusted sources for content, such as scripts, stylesheets, and images. By configuring CSP headers, organizations can restrict the execution of untrusted scripts, mitigating the risk of XSS attacks.

Output Encoding

Encode user-generated content before rendering it in web pages to prevent browsers from interpreting it as executable code. Output encoding helps neutralize XSS payloads and protects against script injection.

Regular Security Audits

Conducting regular security audits and vulnerability assessments can help identify and remediate XSS vulnerabilities in web applications proactively.

3. Broken Authentication

Broken authentication poses significant risks to the security of web applications, potentially granting unauthorized access to sensitive data and functionalities. Weak authentication mechanisms create vulnerabilities that attackers can exploit to compromise user accounts, impersonate legitimate users, or escalate privileges within the system.

Common risks associated with broken authentication include unauthorized access to user accounts, data breaches, and identity theft.

Common Authentication Vulnerabilities

Several common authentication vulnerabilities contribute to the risk of broken authentication:

Password Brute Force Attacks

Password brute force attacks involve automated attempts to guess user passwords by trying different combinations of characters until the correct one is found. Weak or easily guessable passwords increase the likelihood of successful brute-force attacks.

Session Fixation Attacks

Session fixation attacks occur when attackers manipulate session identifiers to hijack users' authenticated sessions. By forcing users to use a predefined session identifier, attackers can gain unauthorized access to the victim's account.

For instance, Uber experienced a data breach in 2022 following a cyberattack on one of its vendors. The perpetrators, operating under the pseudonym ‘UberLeaks,’ posted confidential company data. According to reports, the leaked information encompassed a wide range of sensitive data, including source code, IT asset management reports, and Windows domain login details for more than 77,000 employees.

Strategies to Prevent Broken Authentication

To improve authentication security and mitigate the risks of broken authentication, organizations can implement a range of strategies:

Implementing multi-factor authentication

Implementing multi-factor authentication (MFA) adds an extra layer of security by requiring users to provide additional verification beyond just a password. This could involve using a one-time password sent to the user's mobile device or biometric authentication methods.

Enforcing strong password policies

Enforcing strong password policies helps prevent password-related vulnerabilities by requiring users to create complex passwords that are resistant to brute force attacks. Policies may include minimum length requirements, the use of special characters, and regular password expiration.

Implementing session management controls

Implementing session management controls, such as session timeouts and secure session handling mechanisms, can help mitigate the risk of session fixation attacks. Session tokens should be generated securely and invalidated after a certain period of inactivity to reduce the window of opportunity for attackers.

4. Security Misconfiguration

Security misconfigurations represent a prevalent and often overlooked threat to the security of web applications. Misconfigurations occur when systems or applications are not properly configured to enforce security controls and best practices, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation by attackers. The consequences of security misconfigurations can be severe, ranging from unauthorized access to sensitive data to complete system compromise.

Common Misconfigurations in Web Applications

There are several types of misconfigurations that can occur in a web application. The common misconfigurations in web applications are as follows:

Default Settings

Many web applications are deployed with default settings that are not properly secured, such as default passwords or settings that allow unrestricted access to sensitive resources.

Unnecessary Services

Unused or unnecessary services and features may be enabled by default, providing additional attack surfaces for adversaries to exploit.

Improper Access Controls

Inadequate access controls can lead to unauthorized access to sensitive data or functionality. This includes granting excessive privileges to users or failing to properly restrict access to administrative interfaces.

Findings from research conducted in 2023 by Qualys TotalCloud Security Insights indicate that the primary concern for maintaining the security of cloud environments is cloud resource misconfiguration.

Strategies to Prevent Security Misconfigurations

To secure application configurations and mitigate the risks of security misconfigurations, organizations can implement several best practices:

Regular Updates

Ensure that all software components, frameworks, and libraries used in the application are kept up to date with the latest security patches and updates. This helps address known vulnerabilities and reduce the risk of exploitation.

Secure Configuration Management

Establish robust configuration management processes to ensure that systems and applications are configured securely from the outset. This includes documenting configuration settings, performing regular audits, and implementing change control procedures to prevent unauthorized modifications.

5. Insecure Direct Object References

Insecure Direct Object References (IDOR) occur when an attacker can manipulate an object's reference in an application's code or URL to access unauthorized data. For example, if a website's URL contains a parameter indicating a user's account number, an attacker could change that parameter to access another user's account without proper authentication.

Consequences of IDOR

IDOR vulnerabilities can lead to a range of detrimental consequences for organizations and their users. The consequences of IDOR vulnerabilities include:

Unauthorized Data Access

Attackers can exploit IDOR vulnerabilities to access sensitive information that they are not authorized to view, such as personally identifiable information (PII), financial records, or proprietary business data.

Data Manipulation

This could involve modifying account details, altering transaction records, or deleting critical information. Data manipulation can lead to financial losses, fraudulent activities, and disruption of business operations.

Account Takeover

By exploiting IDOR vulnerabilities, attackers can impersonate legitimate users and take control of their accounts. This could allow attackers to perform unauthorized actions on behalf of the compromised users.

Legal and Regulatory Consequences

Data breaches resulting from IDOR vulnerabilities can lead to lawsuits, fines, and penalties for non-compliance with data protection regulations such as GDPR, HIPAA, or CCPA.

In March 2023, approximately nine million patients had their highly sensitive personal and health information stolen in a cyberattack on a U.S. medical transcription service, marking one of the worst medical-related data breaches in recent past. The targeted company, Perry Johnson & Associates (PJ&A), based in Henderson, Nevada, offered transcription services to healthcare providers and physicians for dictating and transcribing patient notes.

Mitigating IDOR Attacks

Mitigating insecure direct object references requires implementing robust access controls and adopting security best practices:

Access Controls

Implement strict access controls to ensure that users can only access resources that they are authorized to view or modify. These include enforcing proper authentication mechanisms, validating user permissions, and implementing role-based access control (RBAC) to restrict access to sensitive data based on user roles.

Indirect References

Instead of exposing direct object references in URLs or parameters, use indirect references or identifiers that are meaningless to users and cannot be manipulated, thereby adding a layer of security by obscuring the actual resource identifiers and making it harder for attackers to exploit IDOR vulnerabilities.

Input Validation

Validate user inputs to ensure that they are within expected ranges and formats and do not contain any malicious or unauthorized values. By sanitizing and validating input data, organizations can prevent attackers from exploiting IDOR vulnerabilities through injection attacks or other means.

6. Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF)

In a Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF) attack, an attacker crafts a malicious request and lures a logged-in user into unknowingly triggering it. The request, often disguised as a legitimate action, is then automatically sent by the user's browser to the vulnerable website, exploiting the user's authenticated session to perform malicious actions without their consent.

Impact of CSRF

CSRF attacks typically target actions that lead to state changes on the server, such as transferring funds, changing account settings, or submitting forms. The impact of CSRF can be explained as follows:

Financial Loss

CSRF attacks can lead to unauthorized actions being performed on behalf of users, resulting in financial loss through fund transfers or fraudulent transactions.

Data Manipulation

Attackers exploiting CSRF vulnerabilities can manipulate user data, potentially compromising sensitive information or altering critical account settings.

Identity Theft

CSRF attacks may facilitate identity theft by allowing attackers to impersonate users and perform actions that compromise their personal or financial information.

As per the Crypto Crime Report, 2022 marked the highest recorded year for crypto theft, amounting to $3.7 billion. However, in 2023, the stolen funds decreased by about 54.3% to $1.7 billion. Despite this decline in total theft amount, the number of individual hacking incidents increased from 219 in 2022 to 231 in 2023. Most of these attacks are due to CSRF vulnerabilities.

Strategies to Prevent CSRF Attacks

To prevent CSRF attacks, web developers can implement various mitigation techniques:

CSRF Tokens

Implementing CSRF tokens involves including a unique token in each form or request generated by the server. This token is then verified upon submission to ensure that the request originated from a legitimate user and not from a malicious third party.

SameSite Cookie Attribute

Configuring cookies with the SameSite attribute restricts their scope to the same site or origin from which they were set. This prevents the browser from sending cookies along with cross-origin requests, effectively mitigating CSRF attacks that rely on authenticated session cookies. By setting the SameSite attribute to "Strict" or "Lax" for sensitive cookies, developers can significantly reduce the risk of CSRF vulnerabilities.

7. Insecure Deserialization

Deserialization is the process of converting serialized data, often in the form of JSON, XML, or binary data, back into objects or data structures in memory. When deserialization is performed without adequate safeguards, attackers can manipulate serialized objects to execute arbitrary code or perform unintended actions on the target system.

Attackers can exploit deserialization vulnerabilities to achieve various malicious objectives, including remote code execution, denial of service (DoS) attacks, and data tampering. By injecting malicious payloads into serialized data, attackers can bypass security controls, escalate privileges, and compromise the integrity and confidentiality of the target system.

Impact of Insecure Deserialization

The risks associated with insecure deserialization can be explained as follows:

Remote Code Execution

Insecure deserialization vulnerabilities can enable attackers to execute arbitrary code remotely on the target system, potentially leading to complete compromise of the system's security.

Denial of Service (DoS) Attacks

Attackers may exploit deserialization flaws to orchestrate DoS attacks, causing system instability or downtime by overwhelming resources or triggering unexpected behaviors.

Data Tampering

Malicious payloads injected into serialized data can be used to tamper with sensitive information, compromising the integrity and confidentiality of the data stored or processed by the application.

Security Bypass

Deserialization vulnerabilities allow attackers to bypass security controls and escalate privileges, granting unauthorized access to sensitive resources or functionalities within the application or system.

Insecure deserialization vulnerabilities have also targeted online games. Some Minecraft server versions were susceptible to attacks where manipulated data packets containing malicious code could be exploited during deserialization, potentially compromising the server or allowing attackers to gain unauthorized control.

Strategies to Reduce Insecure Deserialization Risk

There are several strategies to reduce the risks:

Input Validation

Validate and sanitize serialized data inputs to ensure that they conform to expected formats and do not contain any malicious or unexpected content.

Using Safe Deserialization Libraries

Use secure deserialization libraries and frameworks that incorporate built-in protections against common deserialization vulnerabilities. These libraries often include features such as input validation, type checking, and sandboxing to mitigate the risks associated with insecure deserialization.

Applying the Principle of Least Privilege

Limit the privileges granted to deserialized objects and data structures to reduce the potential impact of deserialization attacks.

8. Using Components with Known Vulnerabilities 

Third-party components, such as libraries, frameworks, and plugins, are commonly integrated into applications to expedite development and enhance functionality. However, failure to manage these components effectively can expose applications to various security vulnerabilities.

Impact of Using Components with Known Vulnerabilities

As open-source and commercial software libraries continue to proliferate, developers often rely on pre-existing code to expedite development and reduce costs. Here are some of risks associated with using components with known vulnerabilities:   

Compromise of Integrity

Attackers can manipulate or tamper with data processed by vulnerable components, compromising the integrity of the system and potentially causing erroneous or malicious outcomes.

Denial of Service (DoS)

Known vulnerabilities in components can be exploited to orchestrate DoS attacks, disrupting services or rendering systems inaccessible to legitimate users.

Reputation Damage

Instances of security breaches or service disruptions resulting from using vulnerable components can tarnish the reputation of organizations, leading to loss of trust among customers and stakeholders.

For example, the widespread exploitation of the Log4Shell vulnerability (CVE-2021-44228) in late 2021 demonstrates the risks of using components with known vulnerabilities. Many organizations were impacted due to outdated software or slow patching processes.

Best Practices for Vulnerability Management

To alleviate the risks associated with using components with known vulnerabilities, organizations should prioritize vulnerability management as part of their software development life cycle. Best practices for vulnerability management include:

Regular Updates

Stay informed about security advisories and updates released by component vendors and promptly apply patches to address known vulnerabilities. Regularly updating third-party components helps ensure that applications remain protected against the latest security threats.

Vulnerability Scanning

Conduct regular vulnerability scans and assessments using automated tools to identify and prioritize vulnerabilities in third-party components. By systematically scanning applications for known vulnerabilities, organizations can proactively identify and remediate security weaknesses before they are exploited by attackers.

Dependency Monitoring

Maintain an inventory of all third-party components used in applications and regularly monitor them for security vulnerabilities. Implementing robust dependency management practices helps ensure that organizations are aware of the potential risks associated with each component and can take appropriate action to mitigate them.

9. Insufficient Logging and Monitoring

When logging and monitoring practices are inadequate, security incidents may go undetected or unaddressed for extended periods, leaving organizations vulnerable to persistent threats and unauthorized access.

Risks Associated with Insufficient Logging and Monitoring

The impact associated with insufficient logging and monitoring can be explained as follows:

Delayed Incident Response

Without comprehensive logs and real-time monitoring, security teams may struggle to promptly detect and respond to security incidents.

Increased Attack Dwell Time

Attackers can persist undetected within the network, escalate privileges, and exfiltrate sensitive data due to the lack of timely detection and response capabilities.

Exacerbated Impact

The delay in incident response amplifies the impact of security breaches, potentially leading to greater data loss, system compromise, and operational disruption.

Regulatory Non-Compliance

Inadequate logging and monitoring may result in non-compliance with regulatory requirements, exposing organizations to fines, penalties, and reputational damage.

Impeded Forensic Investigations

Insufficient logging hampers forensic investigations, making it challenging to identify the root cause of security breaches and prevent future incidents.

Many cyberattacks go undetected for weeks or months, highlighting the importance of robust logging and monitoring practices. Security researchers often discover breaches based on leaked data or attacker activity, not necessarily from the victim organization itself.

Strategies to Improve Logging and Monitoring Capabilities

To improve logging and monitoring capabilities and enhance incident response readiness, organizations can implement several strategies:

Implement Centralized Logging

Consolidate log data from disparate sources into a centralized logging platform to facilitate real-time analysis, correlation, and alerting. Centralized logging enables security teams to gain comprehensive visibility into security events across the organization's infrastructure.

Set Up Alerts

Configure automated alerts for suspicious activities and security events to notify security teams of potential threats in real-time. Alerts can be triggered based on predefined thresholds, anomaly detection algorithms, or specific security indicators, enabling proactive incident response.

Conduct Regular Log Reviews

Establish processes for regularly reviewing and analyzing log data to identify anomalous behaviors, security incidents, and indicators of compromise. Regular log reviews help ensure that security events are promptly identified and addressed, reducing the risk of prolonged security breaches.

10. XML External Entity Injection

In XML External Entity (XXE) attacks, attackers exploit the ability of XML parsers to interpret external entities, such as files or URLs, referenced within XML documents. By injecting malicious external entities into XML input, attackers can manipulate the application's behavior, exfiltrate sensitive data, or execute arbitrary code on the server.

Risks Associated with XXE Injection

The risks associated with XXE injection attacks are multifaceted and can have severe consequences for the security and integrity of the target system. These can be explained as follows:

Sensitive Data Exposure

XXE injection can lead to the disclosure of sensitive information stored within XML documents, such as credentials, personally identifiable information (PII), or confidential business data.

Server Side Request Forgery

Attackers can exploit XXE vulnerabilities to trigger SSRF attacks, allowing them to make unauthorized requests to internal or external systems, potentially bypassing firewalls and accessing sensitive resources.

Denial of Service (DoS)

Malicious XML payloads exploiting XXE vulnerabilities can consume excessive server resources, leading to system instability, slowdowns, or crashes, resulting in denial of service for legitimate users.

Remote Code Execution (RCE)

In certain cases, XXE injection can enable attackers to execute arbitrary code on the server, leading to complete compromise of the system's security and allowing for further exploitation or unauthorized access.

Strategies to Prevent XXE Vulnerabilities

To prevent XXE vulnerabilities and mitigate the associated risks, organizations can implement several techniques:

Disabling External Entity Processing

Disable external entity processing in XML parsers to prevent the interpretation of external entities within XML documents. By disabling this feature, organizations can effectively mitigate XXE vulnerabilities and prevent attackers from exploiting XML parsers to access sensitive data or execute arbitrary code.

Input Validation

Implement strict input validation mechanisms to sanitize and filter XML input from untrusted sources, ensuring that it conforms to expected formats and does not contain any malicious external entities. By validating XML input, organizations can prevent attackers from injecting malicious payloads and exploiting XXE vulnerabilities.

Using Safe XML Parsers

Use secure XML parsing libraries and frameworks that incorporate built-in protections against XXE vulnerabilities. These libraries often include features such as entity expansion limits, whitelisting of allowed entities, and strict parsing modes to mitigate the risks associated with XXE injection attacks.

Wrapping up

Organizations can strengthen their defenses against potential vulnerabilities and minimize the likelihood of security breaches by incorporating techniques such as input validation, access controls, encryption, and monitoring. Additionally, fostering a culture of security awareness and accountability within organizations is crucial for ensuring that all stakeholders play an active role in maintaining the security of applications and systems.

The latest developments in application security and a proactive mindset toward risk management can help organizations stay one step ahead of potential threats and protect their digital assets effectively. Recognize that security is not a one-time task but a continuous journey that requires commitment and vigilance.

Cogent Infotech help organizations in application development, cloud services, and application security. Check our website to read more informative articles on various interesting topics.


No items found.


Real-World Journeys

Learn about what we do, who our clients are, and how we create future-ready businesses.
No items found.

Download Resource

Enter your email to download your requested file.
Thank you! Your submission has been received! Please click on the button below to download the file.
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form. Please enter a valid email.