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Security is one of the crucial components of application development that cannot be ignored nowadays especially due to the tremendous increase in the rate of cyber attacks on various applications. Having a secure application ensures having a stable business. Once the application or the system is compromised, the entire business will start to collapse. Hence it is extremely important to take note of certain security mechanisms that should be implemented as a security policy while developing any application. In this blog certain topics are discussed that can be taken into consideration while building your business empire.

  • Proper Authentication Mechanism

A proper authentication mechanism is necessary while developing any kind of application, whether it is a web application or an android application. Methods such as password-based authentication which utilizes username and password are one of the legacy approaches. The password-based authentication mechanism is also one of the most vulnerable methods that can be implemented as people tend to use easy passwords such as ‘1234’, ‘abcd’, etc. However, it can be secured by using a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters which can increase the complexity of a password. Users can make use of a 3rd-party password (be cautious while choosing the platform) manager that can store unique passwords along with generating complex passwords in a matter of seconds. Some of the trusted password managers would be Bitwarden(Opensource, Free/Paid, Cloud-based), 1Password(Proprietary, Paid, Cloud-based), KeePass(Opensource, Free, Only on Windows), KeepassXC(Opensource, Free, Cross-platform).

However, it is not only the requirement of the user to use a strong random password, but also the necessity of the developers to use a non-legacy authentication mechanism to safeguard the applications from unauthorized entry. For instance, developers can utilize regular expression-based password checking to ensure the users provide the required password complexity. A real-time password strength feedback is an extra add-on that will enable users to be more cautious while inputting passwords. For example, zxcvbn is an open-source library developed under Dropbox which can be used for password strength analysis on any platform. Moreover, the username revealed during user password reset should be removed at all costs as one of the major vulnerabilities is username enumeration which enables the attacker to easily propagate a brute force attack. Brute force attacks can be prevented by imposing a strict IP-based user login limit rate along with a CAPTCHA test. 

  • Multi-Factor Authentication

Multi-factor authentication is a technique that uses multiple means of authentication mechanisms to keep a user account safe from unauthorized access. In this technique, a two-stage verification is performed, one would be the initial user-provided credentials which comprises username and password. The second would be a random verification code generated by a 2FA(2 Factor Authentication) application and in certain cases through SMS or mail. Nowadays, more secure techniques which comprise Captcha tests, fingerprint, facial, and voice 2FA methods are being used. 

While developing an application, it is necessary to implement a multi-factor authentication mechanism to increase the confidentiality of the users. It also acts as a defense mechanism towards automated password attacks and bot attacks. Some of the most trusted libraries and applications include Twilio 2FA (Library), Authy (App, cross-platform), Google Authenticator (Only on mobile devices), Microsoft Authenticator (Only on mobile platforms), etc.

  • Usage of Third-Party Libraries with Precaution

Every developer loves to use libraries, it makes the life of a developer easier. However, third-party libraries should be approached with caution, especially while working with user data as there might be vulnerabilities that may affect the application negatively. Not only will it affect the performance of the application, but that vulnerability can become the application vulnerability itself. For example, malicious code execution that can grab the keystroke while using the application, clickjacking, Cross-Site scripting(XSS), and the list goes on. Sometimes, the open-source label might attract the developer even without verifying the library. Open-source contributions have been done in the past that compromised the library as well as all the implemented applications. Nowadays, proper code review, automated vulnerability assessment, dependency analysis, and tests are performed on third-party applications. For example, one can make use of Synk to get vulnerability notifications and code assessments for security risks. Dependabot is another trusted application that will enable developers to keep track of outdated dependencies used in an application and automatically update the vulnerable versions of dependencies.

  • Restrict User Privileges

Security policies for restricting users are not only done in the network layer of the OSI model but also the application layer. There may be various user types that are incorporated into the application, however, only limited users might have the privileges to perform certain tasks or use certain functionalities. This is because of the use of permissions and security policies implemented in the application. Hence it is necessary to add security measures to both implement user restrictions and test user restrictions before deploying the application into production. For example, super users will have all the privileges in the application, whether they have to generate a forgotten password token or delete a user, the majority of the control will be for this user. Now in the case of less privileged users, there are regular end-users who will be able to use all the functionalities provided by the application and the different staff(less privileged than superuser) users for moderating the application. Apart from these users, some intruders bypass the security measures to gain access to the application to sabotage the functionality or even steal the delicate data from the application. Hence it is extremely necessary to add application user privilege to ensure the integrity of the application.

  • Securing the Keys Using Hashing Mechanisms

Authentication verifies a user, however, if the credentials are stored in plain text on a .txt file or even in the database, there is no use in having the authentication as anyone can access the user account easily. Moreover, one would say that an encryption mechanism can be implemented to keep the passwords or keys safe. But that is not the best approach while dealing with a large user base. Encryption requires complex algorithms to be imposed in the backend in an application and the security of the algorithm depends upon the complexity of the key that is used for the encryption and decryption process. However, when a developer considers the architectural design of an application, the time required to encrypt and decrypt will be huge and it is not at all the feasible solution for securing the keys. To have a safe as well as a fast approach, hash algorithms are being used by developers to keep the passwords and keys secure. 

The hashing algorithm is a cryptographic technique that converts the input into a hashed text that has no resemblance to the original input. The logic behind the algorithm is not to convert the password into a secure mean but to convert the password into an irreversible form. This way, to verify the key or the password, a comparison has to be performed along with the hashed text. The certificate or public key is paired with the host and ‘pinne’ once the certificate or the public key is known or visible. 

  • Certificate Pinning

Certificate pinning or pining is the process of mapping a particular host with their corresponding X509 certificate or public key. The certificate or public key of a host or service can be introduced to an application during development or when the certificate or public key is first encountered. Preloading the certificate or public key out of band usually means the attacker cannot manipulate the pin, therefore adding at development time is better. Key continuity occurs when the certificate or public key is added on the first encounter. If the attacker holds a privileged position during the first contact, key continuity may be compromised.

Pinning takes advantage of the user's prior relationship with an organization or service to assist in making better security-related decisions. The application does not need to rely on generalized procedures to address the key distribution problem because it already has information on the server or service. That is, it does not require DNS or trusted CAs for name/address mappings or bindings and status. When there is no key distribution, there are no problems.

  • Use HTTPS for Communication Over the Internet

HTTPS (hypertext transfer protocol secure) is a secure version of HTTP, which is the most common protocol for sending data between a web browser and a website. To strengthen the security of data exchange, HTTPS uses the encryption method. This is especially crucial when users send sensitive information over the internet, such as when login into a bank account, email service, or health insurance provider, etc. HTTPS can be used on any website, however the major priority should be provided to those which require login credentials. Websites that do not employ HTTPS are marked differently in current web browsers like Chrome, Firefox and Safari than those that do. A green padlock in the URL bar indicates that the webpage is secure. And a broken red padlock illustrates no HTTPS is available for the website. HTTPS is taken seriously by online browsers, with Google Chrome and other browsers flagging any non-HTTPS websites as insecure.

HTTPS protects websites from having their data broadcasted in a way that anyone spying on the network can access it. When data is transferred via standard HTTP, it is split down into packets of data that can be easily "sniffed" with free softwares. As a result, communication over an insecure channel, such as public Wi-Fi, is extremely sensitive to eavesdropping. In fact, all HTTP communications are in plain text, making them extremely accessible to anyone with the right tools and open to on-path assaults.

In order to make sure the domain and the website is secure, one can make use of the default domain provider to incorporate the SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate which enables HTTPS on a website. Otherwise, a separate SSL certificate should be purchased to ensure the integrity of the website. 

  • Code Obfuscation

It is the technique of making programmes difficult or impossible to decompile or disassemble, as well as the recoverable application code. This technique is majorly applicable in case of mobile applications as well as desktop applications or executable files. Obfuscation is part of a larger shielding approach for mobile apps. The purpose of code obfuscation is to prevent unauthorized parties from accessing and understanding an application's logic, preventing them from extracting data, altering with code, exploiting vulnerabilities, and so on. Hackers can easily access and examine the source code of your mobile applications using freely available disassemblers and/or decompilers, allowing them to reverse engineer the application. Hackers can then steal intellectual property, clone apps, extract sensitive data, harvest credentials, identify weaknesses, add dangerous code to apps and repackage them.

In order to secure the applications from reverse engineering as well as hacking, code obfuscation should be used by developers. The code should be hardened at various layers by compressing or removing the white space between the codes and optimizing the code in a certain way so that the requirement of certain statements can be ignored.

  • Runtime App Self-Protection(RASP)

When a programme is in production, RASP tools block potentially dangerous activities. RASP monitors a company's application in real time, examining both its behaviour and the context in which it happens. If RASP detects a security event, such as an attempt to launch a shell, open a file, or call a database without authorized access, it will attempt to stop it. RASP protects against cross-site scripting (XSS) and SQL injection (SQLi), as well as attempted account takeovers and other zero-day vulnerabilities, in online applications. RASP can also help organizations with limited security resources by automatically detecting and blocking threats without the need for human participation.

As web application attacks become more common, businesses are finding it difficult to properly secure all of their applications. Some of these applications may contain vulnerabilities that were not identified or mitigated early in the software development lifecycle (SDLC) or through various types of application security testing.

As a result, embedding security within the application itself can help firms better combine security needs with the need to release products quickly. For example, Rapid7 provides all the necessary security features required to identify threats during runtime.

  • Proper Penetration Testing

Penetration testing (also known as pen-testing) is a security method in which a cyber-security professional tries to discover and exploit vulnerabilities in a system, a network, or in an application. The goal of this simulated attack is to find any potential vulnerability in a system's security. Large corporations hire security researchers or contractors who have little-to-no prior knowledge about the system’s security to identify vulnerabilities and blind spots in the system or applications.

After performing a thorough penetration testing on the system/application. The security researcher will communicate their findings with the target company's security team. The security team ensures the credibility of the vulnerabilities and informs it to the development team who will make the necessary patches to resolve the flaws. These patches can include rate limiting, new WAF rules, and DDoS mitigation, as well as tighter form validations and sanitization.