With companies better protecting their computer network perimeters against malicious intruders, a growing number of attacks have begun taking place at the website application and database layers instead. A recent survey shows that more than 80 percent of attacks against corporate networks these days involve Web applications. The survey suggests that a vast majority of Web applications deployed in enterprises contain vulnerabilities that can be exploited by intruders, allowing them to gain access to underlying systems and data. Despite the prevalence of such vulnerabilities, most companies are not addressing the problem due to a lack of awareness or because their budgets do not permit additional expenditures on Web application security, according to the study.
Fortunately for enterprises, a growing number of relatively inexpensive, automated Web application security tools are becoming available to help them probe their applications for exploitable security flaws. The products are designed to help companies examine application code for common errors that result in security vulnerabilities. Using such tools, companies can quickly identify issues such as SQL Injection errors, Cross-Site Scripting flaws and input validation errors, much faster than they would have been able to manually.
Most of the reputable application security testing tools that are currently available can be used to test both custom-developed Web applications and common off-the-shelf software packages. Companies typically run the tools first against their live production applications to identify and mitigate vulnerabilities that could disrupt their operations. Application security tools typically only help identify vulnerabilities. They do not automatically remedy the flaws. In addition to testing production applications, tools can also be used to test code during the application development and the quality assurance stage. Security analysts in fact, recommend that such tools be used during the development life cycle because finding and fixing flaws can be a whole lot easier and less expensive compared to doing it after an application has been deployed. A growing number of such security testing products also support features that allow companies to conduct penetration testing exercises against their application and database layer. Using such products, companies can probe their networks for flaws in much the same way that a malicious attacker would probe their networks.
Until recently, the use of such tools has been considered a security best practice, but that could start changing soon. Already, the Payment Card Industry Security Council, a body that governs security standards in the payment card space, has a rule mandating the use of application security software by all companies of a certain size that accept debit and credit card transactions. Under the rules, covered entities are required to use such tools to identify and remediate security flaws in any applications that handle payment card data. Similar rules mandating the use of such software could start becoming more commonplace as awareness of the issue grows.