Why you should be Vigilant against Top OWASP Security Risks

May 19, 2016
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We live in a digital age wherein businesses are increasingly reliant on relevant data for success. If your business has the right customer data, you can target the right audience, get to know them better, and build your products in sync with their preferences. Otherwise, you lose out on the ability to make good data-driven decisions, which is essential in today’s competitive marketplace.

We live in a digital age wherein businesses are increasingly reliant on relevant data for success. If your business has the right customer data, you can target the right audience, get to know them better, and build your products in sync with their preferences. Otherwise, you lose out on the ability to make good data-driven decisions, which is essential in today’s competitive marketplace.

However, data-dependency comes with a number of potential challenges, and as a business, you will need to overcome or mitigate these in order to leverage user data effectively. One of the key problems with data is that it is the chief target of malicious hackers and competitors aiming to capitalize on your customer data. A single data leak can set your business back in terms of profit, growth and user base.

Security is an ongoing activity, and businesses should never stop at ensuring the integrity  of their data and platforms. Of course, implementing preventive measures will be better than fending off attacks on a reactive basis. This means you need to be aware of the top security risks that can potentially affect your business, which include data exposures, forgeries, security misconfigurations, scripting attacks and data injections. The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) classifies these as some of the most common dangers that businesses have to face, and which often translate into costly lawsuits and significant losses.

Following are some practical tips and solutions on how to guard yourself against the OWASP top 10 security risks and why you should do so on a high-priority basis.

Prevent sensitive data exposure. If your business handles user data, it goes without saying that you need to keep these secure, as a matter of compliance and to protect the integrity of your brand. Sensitive data leaks can end up damaging your brand’s reputation, resulting in significant losses. The damage in long-term growth and erosion of user base are additional setbacks which typically occur in the wake of a data leak. A notable example in this regard is that of retail giant Target, which incurred $148 million in losses following a major episode of sensitive data exposure.

Watch out for attack vectors. SQL injections are among the most common method through which the security of user data is compromised. All it takes for a hacker is to send a malicious string of data which can consequently wreak havoc on your database if you haven’t secured yourself against it. Similarly, cross-scripting or XSS attacks can trick a business application into parsing through malicious data and yield sensitive information to the hacker. Insecure object references also open up a potential security flaw which a hacker can easily exploit.

One of the best ways you can counter such vulnerabilities in your business apps is by including iterative security in the application development lifecycle. You can ensure this by implementing static application security testing (SAST) which essentially allows developers to self-test their code well ahead of compiles and the app’s actual launch, thus ensuring the integrity and secure handling of the applications­.

SAST is an excellent methodology, in that it lets you preemptively secure yourself against potential data hazards in the future. Checkmarx, a company that enables developers and AppSec professionals to conduct static testing throughout the application lifecycle, even helps developers improve on their code by providing recommendations on how to patch these up.

Secure app components. This involves ensuring that libraries and other components used in your business applications are fool-proof and completely secure. At the very least, such components shouldn’t have known security flaws. Whether the app components are open-source or proprietary, adding these arbitrarily into your own development libraries might result in hazards. An insecure app component puts your app, your data and your business at imminent risk and any hacker with rudimentary knowledge of the insecure component may be able to break through your business’ security.

Have a plan B. When all is said and done, even the most secure businesses in the world might suffer leaks and data exposures in one form or another. While prevention is certainly the best cure, you must have a plan B in place in case your business suffers a data leak. A good way to go about it is to urgently patch up vulnerable points once discovered, be sincere and open with the customers, contact the authorities for help and share updates with your customers in real-time.

For instance, the International Association of Privacy Professionals recommends a security breach response plan toolkit that helps organizations comply with legal requirements in the event of such a breach. This requires you to have a definite set of protocols and procedures in place which must get into action as soon as a data leak happens. Time is the key here and the sooner you get into your plan-B mode, the less will be the damage your business incurs.

Securing your business and its data at the right time means that you avoid the millions of dollars in lawsuits, dilution of your brand image, loss of loyal customers and other damages in the long run. Taking the right security measures and having a well-planned backup in case a data leak occurs is critically essential in today’s data-rich business environment.