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How to Shrink Your Attack Surface During Web Application Development


As web applications increase in popularity and become an integral part of daily business operations, application security becomes critically important. Unsafe applications can cost you money, resources, time, and even your reputation, and today’s web applications are more vulnerable than ever. Nine out of every 10 web applications contain weaknesses hackers can exploit, and these weaknesses only increase as applications become larger and more complex.

To secure your web applications effectively, you must do everything possible to minimize your application’s attack surface. An attack surface consists of any and all points of entry for a potential hacker, and you need to shrink your attack surface during web application development to keep users safe. Here’s how. 

Common web application attack vectors

An attack vector is any path of attack that a hacker can use to breach your attack surface, and there’s no shortage of them in today’s increasingly digital world. The most common ways hackers can compromise a web application are:

  • DDoS attacks: A “Distributed Denial of Service” (DDoS) attack completely freezes your application’s functions. Typically, an attacker uses botnets—a remotely managed group of malware-infected machines—to bombard your application with requests, messages, and malicious packets. This in turn overloads your application, preventing end-user requests from processing and inducing latency to the point of halting operations. 

  • Password theft: Password theft is a tried-and-true attack vector. Despite how common password theft is, 35% of people never change their passwords or only do so when prompted. This makes it far easier for a hacker to get lucky with a brute force or dictionary attack.

  • Session hijacking: While a user is logged into their account, a hacker launches an IP spoof in the backend of the application. This enables them to imitate the user’s legitimate IP address and disconnect the original user, thus hijacking their session. Session hijacking is also called cookie hijacking or side-jacking, as the attacker depends on your session cookie.

  • XXS or cross-site scripting: If your application is code-based and uses scripts, you’re vulnerable to XSS attacks. During these attacks, a hacker exploits existing scripts using an application that pulls confidential information from cookies. By tricking applications into thinking these scripts can be trusted, cross-site scripting can wreak havoc on your application. For example, a script could access all sensitive information like cookies and session tokens, or even rewrite HTML.

The typical hand-coded solution comes with around 13 issues or bugs per 1,000 lines of code, and dead code can open up backdoors for hackers if left unaddressed. 

Unfortunately, these four common attack vendors only scratch the surface. Today’s hackers get savvier and more sophisticated each day, and they’re constantly working behind the scenes to find vulnerabilities in your web application’s attack surface. If you build your application with code, your attack surface becomes even larger. The typical hand-coded solution comes with around 13 issues or bugs per 1,000 lines of code, and dead code can open up backdoors for hackers if left unaddressed. 

Shrinking your attack surface

Since your web application’s attack surface is composed of every entry path a hacker can exploit, the best course of action is to shore up your defenses. This means making your attack surface as small as possible, both during development and once the app is live. To effectively minimize your attack surface, make sure you perform at least these four tasks: 

1. Use role-based access controls

Role-based access controls restrict access to certain features or systems based on the roles individuals have within the enterprise. For example, RBAC ensures that junior engineers have all the access privileges they need to effectively do their jobs, but not the high-level access privileges that a CEO might have. By restricting access to sensitive information by role, you reduce the potential for a data breach. If a data breach should occur, using RBAC can help mitigate the damage. 

2. Use enterprise-grade encryption

Encrypt data at all times, both in transit and at rest, in order to maintain your application’s data security. Without encryption, hackers can gather sensitive information, eavesdrop on confidential communications, and generate fraudulent activity from sources that appear legitimate. Look for a no-code platform that offers AES 256-bit encryption and temporary encryption keys to best protect your application.

3. Set up two-factor authentication

Also known as “two-step verification” or “dual-factor authentication”, this security method makes end-users verify themselves in two separate ways. This often involves combining a possession factor like a password, with a biometric verification factor like a fingerprint or signature. Even if a hacker can guess your password it’s highly unlikely that they’ll be able to steal your biometric verification factor, making two-factor authentication a key way to keep hackers at bay.

You can strengthen two-factor authentication even further by utilizing effective password management. Change your passwords frequently, use random password generators, and don’t share any passwords or credentials online.  

4. Perform regular penetration tests

Penetration testing involves purposefully exploiting attack vendors in order to emulate hackers and solve existing security issues. Pen tests also provide additional context into vulnerabilities, showing you how far a hacker could potentially take an attack vector. Regular pen testing keeps your application secure and keeps you up-to-date on any vulnerability you need to be aware of. 

With these four security measures in place, you can shrink your application’s attack surface from the very beginning of development and throughout your application’s lifecycle. 


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Close the gap with Unqork

With an enterprise no-code platform like Unqork, you can implement the aforementioned protocols and check all the boxes necessary to reduce your application’s attack surface. The Unqork team handles all back-end security for you, so you can trust you’re building the most secure application possible. 

As an added layer of protection, Unqork is built on a single-tenant infrastructure that doesn’t let your data mingle with others in the cloud. Only your products, your customers, and your rules will live inside your instance, which increases security and boosts performance. With Unqork, it’s easy to feel confident in your application’s security, safety, and efficiency. Check out our security and compliance pages for an in-depth look at what we offer. 

Schedule a personalized demonstration with our in-house experts today, and see how Unqork can increase your application’s protection against hackers. For more info on no-code and its role in cybersecurity, sign up for the Unqork newsletter.

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