August 7, 2020 Last updated August 7th, 2020 871 Reads share

Small Businesses and Web Application Security: Preventing Data Breaches

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We live in a world of digital transformation. The coronavirus pandemic has sped up this transformation, forcing enterprises that were a little reluctant to embrace change to either get on board or risk losing their customers and eventually closing their doors. Unfortunately, with digital transformation comes cybercrime. It is estimated that over the next five years cybercrime will cost businesses over $5 trillion.

Cybercrime’s Effect on Small Businesses

Small business owners may mistakenly believe that their size makes them immune to attack. However, reports show that over 40 percent of cyber-attacks are aimed at small businesses because they present a softer target.

Most small businesses lack internal network security futures or web hosting security on par with what larger organizations can afford. According to CNBC only 14 percent of small businesses have taken the steps to prepare to defend themselves properly. Small business owners must see cybersecurity as a priority and treat it in the same way that larger organizations do. That means protecting their data adequately, investing in solutions that offer top-notch security including highly encrypted web hosting service

This is becoming even more important because of the increasing complexity of the IT structure needed to run even the smallest of businesses. As the IT structure becomes more complicated, so do the tools that cybercriminals can use to carry out a data breach.

Small businesses are exceptionally vulnerable because they lack the financial and legal backing to bounce back from a data breach. Digital incidents are costing small businesses at least $200,000 on average. Research shows that six out of 10 businesses that are the victims of cyber-attacks close their doors within six months.

The Role of Web Application Security in Preventing Data Breaches

All businesses that have a web presence should be concerned about web application security. The global reach of the Internet means endless customers, but it also means that web-based businesses are vulnerable to attacks from a variety of locations that feature various levels of sophistication and complexity. Web application security focuses on the security aspects of web applications, services like APIs, and websites.

Cybercriminals zero in on web applications because their source code is inherently complicated. This means that there is a higher chance of vulnerabilities that can be manipulated to insert malicious code. Web applications are prime value targets because they often house private data that can be easily harvested with proper source code manipulation.

Web applications are targeted because attacks are easy to execute. Many attacks can be automated and launched simultaneously against countless potential victims. Organizations that do not take securing their web applications seriously risk information theft, which can lead to legal proceedings, revoked licenses, damaged client relationships, and loss of capital.

Zeroing in on Web Application Vulnerabilities

Web app vulnerabilities often result from a failure to execute proper input/output sanitization. This creates vulnerabilities that can be exploited, allowing unauthorized access or granting the attacker the ability to manipulate source code. Here are some of the attack vectors that are used.

SQL Injection

This is where bad actors will use malicious SQL code to trick the back end database into giving up information. The hacker can view lists they are not authorized to see, delete tables, and authorize administrative access.

Cross-Site Scripting

This is where malicious code is inputted directly into an application. Reflected cross-site scripting happens when malicious code is reflected from an application onto the user’s browser.

Remote File Inclusion

Hackers can use this technique to remotely inject a web app server. The result is that a malicious script or code is executed within the application. This opens the door for data manipulation and theft.

Cross-Site Request Forgery

This form of attack causes a user’s browser platform to independently perform actions on a site that a user is logged onto. For example, it can lead to unsolicited funds being transfer, data theft, or passwords being changed.

From a purely theoretical standpoint, the above attacks could be mitigated with detailed input/output sanitization. However, in the real world this is impossible because most applications are constantly being updated, so they are in a constant development state. Most web apps integrate with other apps, creating an enormous and complicated coded environment.

Steps Small Businesses Can Take to Secure Web Applications

There are several methods for securing web applications. Organizations looking to protect themselves should have a web security checklist that could include the following.


Applications should be tested for path traversals. Horizontal and vertical access control issues should be identified. Direct and insecure object references and missing authorizations should be addressed.


Check for and strengthen weak algorithms. Are there randomness errors that need to be addressed? All data transmissions should be secured, and specific data must be encrypted.

Information Gathering

Third-party hosted content must be classified. A manual review of the application should be performed to identify entry points and client-side codes.

In order to secure their web applications, an organization has to identify security issues and vulnerabilities in their applications before cybercriminals do. The web application vulnerability detection process should be done thoroughly throughout all the development stages as opposed to waiting until the application goes live. There are multiple ways of detecting vulnerabilities in web applications. A black box scanner can be used. A manual source code audit or an audit along with a penetration test can be used.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution or a silver bullet that will make it easy for you to identify all the vulnerabilities a web application has. For example, an automated tool can discover technical vulnerabilities with greater accuracy. However, automated solutions fall short when looking for logical vulnerabilities. These require a manual audit.

Small businesses that have a sufficient budget and the time may want to use several tools and testing methods. If time and budget are limited, the goal should be to select the most cost-effective solutions that can realistically imitate what a malicious hacker would try to do to a website or an application and then create steps to protect the web app.

Knowledge is a powerful weapon that can help small businesses improve the security of their web applications. Keeping informed about what is happening in the web application security industry and attacks that have been perpetrated on similar organizations will enable small businesses to better protect themselves and secure their web applications.

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Kate Noether

Kate Noether

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