Overview of Web Application Security Testing & Compliance

In the modern age the software applications has become an integral part of an organization. Due to their so much involvement in this area they have become the new arena for security domains. As the need of software applications is rising so as the users using them.

These applications must be available 24/7 & keep offering the proper access to the end customers, suppliers, employees & others. They have become permanently a weak link in the application layer. If any malicious user or say attacker gets access to these applications they also get access to all the back end data of the customers & the company itself.

Because of this reason the need to secure the web applications is increased so much. The web application security testing is the need of the hour. Therefore testing web application security is considered as a high priority for the enterprise today.

There are a variety of web application security products that have been proposed as effective solutions, but they frequently require a significant capital investment in hardware or software. Moreover they must be frequently maintained and upgraded in order to keep up with the evolving threat-space.

What is it?

Payment Card Industry & Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) is an information security standard which is made for those organizations that handle & process the card holder information for the major debit, credit, prepaid, e-purse, ATM & POS cards. It is defined by Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council.

This standard was created to ensure user’s data is not exposed to any third party knowingly or unknowingly for any malicious purposes or any card frauds like credit card fraud. The compliance is validated by some external Qualified Security Assessor (QSA) which generates a Report on Compliance (ROC). The organizations that handle large volumes of card transactions this test is done once in a year & automated softwares are used in that. For smaller organizations where the amount of data transactions is not so much some Self-Assessment Questionnaire (SAQ) are designed.

The current version of PCI DSS standard is 2.0 which were released on 26 October 2010. All the organizations that involve any kind of card transactions are liable to adopt this standard from January 1, 2011.

For a technical worm and from the technical point of view the web is an environment which has the highest level of the programing scripts and executions which allows large amount customization in the web applications through the immediate implementation of a large and diverse range of web applications to billions of global users. Two important parts of today’s web browsing are flexible web browsers and secure web applications.

The Web application security is a part of Information Security that deals mostly with security of websites, web applications and web services or whatever used to browse over the web. At another level of testing the Web application security acts on the principles of application security but applies that to specifically the internet web access tools and web servers or web support systems. Mostly the web applications are developed using the programming scripting languages such as PHP, Java, C#, VB.NET or Classic ASP, python , Ruby, ASP.Net.

Why It Exist

In the modern digital phenomenon Web application security and compliance should be a top priority for enterprise which intents on protecting sensitive company, customer, and employee data, on meeting regulatory and corporate compliance requirements.

This is required also for defending against the high cost that can be caused due to a data breach. Web sites and their applications provide an easy & direct route to corporate or personal information including the customer details. Hence they became an easy target for the hackers as they are keen on attacking the vulnerable organization.

Compliance with data security standards can bring major benefits to businesses of all sizes, whereas failure to comply can have serious and long-term negative consequences. Enabling compliance in your web application means that your applications & systems are secure. So the customers can trust you with their sensitive payment card information. Gaining there trust means they are likely to take up your services further as well. Also they will recommend you to other consumers as well increasing in your overall sales ratio.

In addition, Compliance improves your reputation with acquirers and payment brands which are the partners you need in order to do business. This is an on-going process which does not occur for one time only. So it does protect you from payment card data frauds not just today but in upcoming years as well. Staying compliant & tested means you are becoming a part of the solution yourself.

Therefore we can eventually say that Web application security testing & compliance helps IT and security professionals to protect against the threat of attacks and data breaches. As a user of Web applications to collect or exchange sensitive or personal data the motive is to keep the data that is being exchanged or placed on the servers. So it is always better to make a Quality Assurance & development in the security testing process resulting in higher-quality& secure applications.

Some Web site compliance solutions automate content scanning and analysis to help ensure compliance with privacy, accessibility, and key industry regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPAA, as well as internal Web quality standards.

How to be Compliant?

There are some workbenches which are decided by the standard which have to be fulfilled in order to be compliant. The very first thing is you need to do is that you need to identify those applications that need to be compliant with PCI & tested for Application Security. These are those applications that have custom code & they handle credit card data (internal and external websites) or likewise applications that require maintenance, patches, updates and upgrades& involving payment gateways.

The very first requirement says you to build a secure system & then maintain it. For that you need to install a firewall in your system to protect the card holder’s data from moving out to illegitimate sources. After that you need to you need to perform a risk-based vulnerability assessment before applying any patches/upgrades.

According to standard you have to take action to eliminate specific known vulnerabilities, including misconfiguration, URL access rights, Common flaws such as SQL injection,cross-site scripting, poor input validation and broken authentication conditions etc. OWASP (Open Web Application Security Project) compiles & maintain a top 10 list of Application Security Risks that make it possible for attackers to easily infiltrate these applications to disrupt application availability and destroy or steal sensitive and private information like credit card data. Also, vulnerable web applications not only allow these miscreants to steal and manipulate information within that application,but also to use it as an entry point to the corporate network and back-end applications.

After that all custom application code has to be reviewed either manually or using automated softwares for common vulnerabilities by an organization that specializes in application security. Only experts should be hired for auditing code for the security flaws in this domain.

Apart from all this a vulnerability management program should be maintained which includes use & regular updates of anti-virus& anti malware softwares on all the systems in the organization which can be affected by the viruses or Trojans.A strong access control mechanisms must be implemented by assigning unique identifiers to the users of the computers. The networks should be regularly updated & monitored for any unwanted changes in the application. An address information security policy should be maintained for proper auditing & bookkeeping of the system under scrutiny.

Benefits & Weakness

For attackers web applications are an easy as well as a worthy target. If you are using web applications which are properly tested & compliance check is done against them then it is more likely that your customer end is more satisfied. Customer satisfaction is the key to gaining more & more business in this time. If you fail to secure your customer’s data than it is very likely that reputation of your company will also go down.

Through the efforts to comply with PCI security standards you can be prepared to be complied with other regulations & standards as well as they are coming along like HIPPA, SOX, ISO etc. You will also have basis for your corporate security strategy with which you can create a win-win situation with your secured web applications. You will also find more ways to increase the efficiency of your Information Technology infrastructure.

Unfortunately, becoming PCI DSS or ISO 27001 compliant does not come as cheap as it should have. Its cost is affected by many factors including the type of your business, the volumes of card & payment transactions that you process annually, your existing infrastructure & what are the current policies that you are using for credit/debit card processing & storage practices. A recent study by Ponemon Institute highlights that merchants which undergo audits to ensure compliance with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards are paying an average of US$225,000 each year.

Not being compliant & tested also leads to many situations that you could have & you should have avoided otherwise. The data that is compromised by the attacker can affect the customers & merchants & financial institutions negatively. One such incident is enough for damaging the reputation of the company along with the data which can be now rendered to misuse by the attacker.

This can also affect your ability to conduct business effectively in the near future.Any data breach involving the compromization of account information can lead to sharp loss of sales, relationships & standing in your community. The negative consequences that can occur are lawsuits, insurance claims, cancelled accounts, payment card issuer fines, government fines etc.

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These days the cyber-crimes are on a huge rise. The need to protect customer data is more crucial than ever in this scenario. Those web applications that use payment gateways & credit/debit card transactions are even more vulnerable to getting the hacker attack on them.

Therefore proper compliance should be applied on the payment gateways. Standards are maintained which are specifically given to provide security to end user data. In a nutshell We would recommend you to have your web application properly tested for security flaws. The applications can be secured for the flaws.

Common standards like PCI DSS & ISO 27001 should be applied & followed for protecting the customer data.

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