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Attaining perfect web security

In reality, having perfect web security is nigh-on impossible. Even for the most skilled and specialised security expert, designing, maintaining, and operating the perfect security system is a big undertaking.

This is because web security, in particular, has no standard measures or methods, and secure environments are built according to the particular situation. The types of security solutions are so vast and diverse it is often difficult to find just the right one for a specific use case.

For proper web security, corporate security administrators must first understand the IT system structure to apply effective security to the system.

How is the IT System Structured?

Generally, the IT system of a company is composed of three layers-- the networks, systems, and applications layer. Various server system architectures generally follow this structure.

The lowest, networks layer is in charge of communications relating to the transmission and reception of data. The systems layer acts as a platform for operating systems such as Windows and Linux so that it can run multiple applications. The applications layer has several functions and provides application services and protocols.

The applications layer can be seen as the most important of the layers as hackers mainly attack the system through it, yet it is often neglected. This may be due to the fact that while establishing security for the network is relatively simple and straightforward, establishing security for the applications layer can be confusing and daunting. To establish proper web security, all three layers of the IT system must be built securely, with special attention given to the applications layer.

The Perfect Web Application Security

When building a house, several factors can affect its sturdiness over the period of construction. In the same light, when setting up security at the application layer, all stages, from development, to building and maintenance need to be given attention. If the necessities to build a sturdy house are a proper maintenance crew, quality bricks, cement, thermal protection, etc. the necessities for strong web application security are secure coding, web scanner, web-based malware detection, web application firewall, and data security.

1. Secure Coding

When building a house, the basic necessities are solid bricks and firm foundations. The basics have to be strong and sturdy in order to build a safe home. Secure coding is the first necessity in order to build a secure web application server. Coding standards must be applied during the design phase in order to minimise all kinds of vulnerabilities during the development process.

According to Gartner, a US information technology research and advisory company, security response costs can be reduced by 75 per cent by reducing vulnerability by 50 per cent before software distribution. During application development, a rapid deployment period may be important. However, a secure and systematic development is more important than speed.

2. Web Scanner

After the house has been built, the outside of the house has to be regularly inspected to see if the bricks are giving way, or if the house is starting to slant. Similarly, a web scanner is needed for an application to constantly check for any problems.

The web scanner is often referred to as the “web vulnerability assessment tool”. It is a program that is outside of the web application that analyses potential vulnerabilities in the design or production. There are a variety of web scanners available. The performance and operation of different web scanners may be different, but its core objective remains the same — to regularly and constantly check the application status.

3. Web Application Firewall

Inspection itself is unable to protect the house. It tells you about potential problems, but cannot fight against them. The first line of defence is a wall or fence acting as a barrier around the house. This is to prevent intruders from approaching the house and reduce the risks of undetected internal access.

A web application firewall is a barrier that serves to detect and respond to external intrusions or web attacks that come in via the web. It prevents the external exposure of security vulnerabilities and protects other security solution within the application from external attacks. It also prevents malicious web server codes from being uploaded onto the web server.

The web application firewall does not have to be built within the server, and can be conveniently installed on the outside. Unlike a typical firewall that utilises a list of blacklist and whitelist IP information, the latest web application firewall technology blocks a variety of real-time attacks by logically analysing the threat characteristics.

4. Web-based Malware Detection

The inside of the house also has to be inspected to check for bugs and critters, cracks and rain leakages. To check the internal status of the application, web-based malware detection and malware removal solutions exist.

Web-based malware, often referred to as Web Shell, is malicious code that runs within the application. Through this, a hacker is able to gain access, without authentication, by bypassing the security system. You can get infected with malware if you haven’t been using a web application firewall from the start. If already infected, malware removal solutions must be employed. Just like the web scanner, periodic maintenance and checking are necessary for web-based Malware Detection.

5. Data Security

The final step is protecting any valuables such as cash or bank books within the house. In terms of the web application, the valuables would be personal information, credit card information, account information, and other sensitive data.

In a typical web application environment a database is used to store and manage the data. However, a proper security solution is needed to manage this database. In general, data encryption solutions are used that encrypt the data so that hackers cannot read it. However, data encryption alone isn’t enough. Proper access control and auditing is important to determine who has access to what, and when it has been accessed. More importantly, a good key management system (KMS) is crucial so the encryption key that decrypts the encrypted data can be stored safely.

So, all three layers are protected, and the application has been secured with the 5 components mentioned above. However, perfect web application security is not guaranteed merely by creating a system with all the components. Yes, all components are needed, but it is essential that the security status is accompanied, and kept in check by, continuous management.

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