Simple mistakes made while developing application security can significantly increase the occurrence and severity of cyber security attacks. As an app developer, it is essential to understand these errors in all their forms to predict the likelihood of their occurrence and create solutions for them.
Contrary to common belief, a vulnerability could be as small as an unrealised bug within the application software. With the constant changes across different areas in the tech industry, it is less a question of what and more of when, as far as cyber security is concerned.
This article explores the eight most common application security mistakes that can leave the final product vulnerable, putting both incoming user data and company information at risk.
Mistake #1: No Penetration Testing
Penetration testing is an efficient method to identify and address possible vulnerabilities or threats. It tests the software before someone with malicious intent can expose vulnerabilities in the system that may have otherwise gone unnoticed. In addition, developers can test designs for weak links by simulating hacking scenarios to discover possible holes and manipulation points.
Penetration testing is a crucial method to ensure credibility in the software. Before making applications and software available to the general public, they always go through these tests. When we say credibility, it speaks to the software’s ability to uphold data confidentiality, availability and integrity. This data could include but is not limited to, the users’ sensitive financial and personal information.
Therefore, penetration testing can assist developers in finding security risks and gaps in compliance. It can also be utilised as a part of a simulation of the potential real-world consequences concerning a large-scale data breach. Additionally, this testing method can be used as part of an exercise to train the defensive security team on how to respond efficiently when a cyber-attack occurs.
Effective penetration testing is undertaken before a program or web application goes into production. Next, it is applied routinely or after significant software code or platform changes. This practice avoids exposing the software to cyber security risks and prepares an organisation for potential real-world threats.
Mistake #2: Untrustworthy third-party code
Building an app from scratch is primarily a thing of the past. As for modern software, it is usually developed using a mixture of proprietary code created by the leading developer and their colleagues, matched with open source or partnered with commercial, third-party software. If third-party code is used, it is essential to remember that these components can be responsible for graphical interface elements, encryption, or other critical activities.
However, the primary issue is that third-party code is often poorly managed and may be at risk of exploitable vulnerabilities. A typical cyber security mistake beginners make is trusting third-party code without running it through security audits. Of course, it is viable not to write code from scratch since multiple alternatives likely exist on the internet. Still, it is equally unwise (and even worse) to only hope that hackers and other intruders won’t discover and attempt to exploit the security vulnerabilities.
Developers can resolve this weakness with complete knowledge of the intended code and ensure it has been thoroughly tested for vulnerabilities. Using reliable code for your software will help avoid unnecessary harm that your app or program could be exposed to in the long term.
Mistake #3: Active Backdoor Accounts
It is widespread for programmers to have backdoor administrative accounts, usually for testing security solutions. Sometimes these accounts are created at the request of seniors or supervisors. While these solutions may be undocumented, it doesn’t mean they will go unnoticed by hackers trying to gain remote access with malicious intent.
Therefore, there is a danger of assuming that the latter developers will only discover remnant account access. Removing unnecessary accounts from the system is vital to ensure your software’s security in the long term, which is often unconsidered.
This common beginner’s mistake can open your program to cyber-attacks. Hackers could even gain root access to the primary servers. Removing backdoor accounts and login credentials is straightforward; do not leave them active. Once you have used them for all the necessary program testing, delete them thoroughly and perform penetration testing to be extra sure.
Mistake #4: Unsecured Data and Encryption
One of the most significant security issues faced in applications is the confidentiality of the data they store, interact with and transmit. Program software requires a lot of user input, and this data requires careful handling. If this data is not encrypted securely, it can easily fall into the wrong hands. Therefore, the matter’s sensitivity leaves a big gap for beginner programmers to slip up.
Secure encryption is the most efficient method of handling any potential problems. While it is expected in software development, it is also a requirement for businesses dealing in e-commerce. During transit or at rest, a security expert must encrypt data to protect passwords, usernames, and personally identifiable information (PII). Such information includes financial details and personal data, which must be protected against unauthorised access.
Failing to protect sensitive data could result in financial losses or an invasion of privacy. Therefore, keep in mind that it is not enough for encryption to merely exist; it also must be of high strength and standard, implemented correctly to withstand cyber-attacks.
In addition to the application level, individuals can improve their security posture and block unauthorised access by deploying a web application firewall or encrypting traffic through a virtual private network (VPN) service. However, since the encryption is not a matter of ‘one size fits all, it must be rigorously tested to suit the software used appropriately.
Mistake #5: Not checking inputs
SQL injections and remote file inclusion are the most regularly reported tactics for threat actors. In fact, SQL injections were a leading attack vector in numerous major security breaches over the past ten years. This is the result of yet another major mistake made by application developers: placing too much trust in external servers, like from a Web-based form or database.
Through the malicious manipulation of the SQL query submitted to the database by a hacker, the SQL may perform in a manner not intended by the programmer. This results in dropping database tables that could contain login details, financial information, or other personal particulars straight to the hacker’s computer.
However, programmers can effectively mitigate these risks by ensuring that the application accepts input run with the least number of privileges needed to accomplish the task.
Mistake #6: Ignoring layer 8
The unofficially dubbed “layer 8” software of the OSI model is another mistake often made by beginner application programmers, particularly those with outdated software settings. Whether in security courses or the workplace, security guidance emphasises the need to be alert for malicious cyber-attacks and hacking. However, new statistics show that the everyday user and well-meaning administrators are often behind these breaches.
“Social engineering” is when individuals are manipulated to perform specific actions to expose a vulnerability. So comes the question: how can a programmer eliminate this issue? A way “layer 8” can be supported in the system is by re-evaluating the user interface (UI) elements to confirm that they are clear, concise and in line with the user interaction prompts that pop up.
Cyber security does not exist in a vacuum; the vulnerabilities, threats and risks are interconnected, and the same goes for the solutions. However, through comprehensive knowledge of secure coding techniques and coding weaknesses, programmers can meticulously test the software and, thus, prevent this mistake, among others.
Mistake #7: Being lazy about security importance
One of the most dangerous and frequently made mistakes by junior programmers is a lack of consideration for the software’s security. Having a lax attitude when tasked with keeping the application safe from viruses and malware is an invitation to all sorts of malicious intrusion.
Since it won’t be enough to keep hoping that hackers will never spot the weak links in the programming, it is vital to have a conservative attitude towards the application security, to keep it safe from threats.
Implementing updated security solutions relevant to the web apps being created would be investing in the right cyber security tools and developing error-free strategies to keep the hackers out. Additionally, communication skills are fundamental when deploying updated security measures, as all departments should be aware of the implemented protocol.
Mistake #8: Self-developed algorithms
Many app programmers new to the field have a false theory that self-developed security methods and algorithms are safer for the system since intruders would be unfamiliar with their fundamentals.
However, this assumption is flawed since, unlike well-tested security methods, these supposedly “authentic” measures tend to have many more weak links. Therefore, these vulnerabilities are much easier for experienced hackers to detect. Eventually, they can penetrate the system using one of their attacking hosts.
Whether the app’s platform is a computer, mobile or the general web, using a well-tested algorithm is a much more reliable measure of your software’s security. Since such options have been thoroughly evaluated for errors and gaps in security, the credibility of these methods is a testament to the fact that they are better tools to be used than homegrown security techniques.
From a holistic cyber security approach, application defences must be regularly tested, improved, and evaluated from both an individual and a company level. Furthermore, application security cannot be taken lightly since cyber-attacks forms and factors evolve rapidly.
If you are interested in launching into a cyber security career, take a look at our cyber security programs.