In the rapidly shifting digital landscape, application security is a necessity. One of the most effective ways to bolster your application’s security is by evaluating it with the OWASP Top 10. But what exactly is the OWASP Top 10, and why should it matter to you?
OWASP Top 10: a framework for web security
The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) is a nonprofit foundation that strives to make software on the web more secure. Their Top 10 is a widely recognized report that outlines the 10 most critical web application security risks. It’s essentially a checklist of the most common weaknesses that could make your application a target for cyber threats.
Why should you care about the OWASP Top 10?
The OWASP Top 10 is all about risk management. Addressing the vulnerabilities highlighted in the OWASP Top 10 helps you mitigate the risk of a security breach, develop safer code, and create a more secure application.
Following the OWASP Top 10 is also a smart move to adhere to regulatory standards and give users faith in your commitment to security best practices. If your application handles sensitive data, your users want to know that it is safe.
The OWASP checklist is updated about every three or four years and the last update was in 2021. Some consolidation, renaming, and rearranging occur each time, as vulnerabilities and threats rise and fall in severity. Being aware of current dangers can help you to know where to start and what critical risks need immediate attention.
Let’s take a look at the most recent checklist.
OWASP Top 10 Web Application Security Risks
1. Broken Access Control
Restrictions on what authenticated users are allowed to do are often not enforced. Hackers can exploit these flaws to access unauthorized functionality and/or data. They might be able to access other user accounts, view sensitive files, modify or destroy data, and change access rights. They could even end up with admin rights to the entire system. The OWASP Top 10 stresses one essential rule here: except for public resources, deny by default.
2. Cryptographic Failures
Many web applications don’t properly protect sensitive data, such as credit cards, authentication credentials, health records, and other personal data. Attackers can steal or modify weakly protected data to conduct credit card fraud, identity theft, or other crimes. For businesses, intellectual property and other business secrets need to be kept safe. Make sure to evaluate the protection needs of data in transit and at rest. And regularly assess all protocols and algorithms for weaknesses.
Injection flaws occur when an application sends untrusted data as part of a command or query. Attackers can trick the interpreter into executing unintended commands or accessing unauthorized data, leading to data loss, corruption, or unauthorized access. Source code review will help you here, as will rigorous use of application security testing tools before deploying to production.
4. Insecure Design
OWASP firmly recommends that security needs to start before any coding takes place. Design or architectural flaws can doom an application even if it is securely implemented. This pre-coding phase needs to include more threat modeling, secure design patterns and principles, and reference architectures. It has to involve the balancing of business and technical requirements, alongside a cold, hard look at business risk profiling.
5. Security Misconfiguration
This risk refers to improper implementation of controls to keep application data safe, such as errors in security settings, software updates, server configuration files, or application features and pages. You can go a long way towards mitigating these risks by keeping a tight ship in the form of a minimal platform. Don’t include unnecessary features, frameworks, and components. The bottom line, according to the OWASP Top 10, is to disable default accounts and passwords, make sure that error handling doesn't reveal too much info, and keep everything patched and updated.
6. Vulnerable and Outdated Components
Components, such as libraries, frameworks, and other software modules, run with the same privileges as the application. If a vulnerable component is exploited, an attack can mean serious data loss or even a complete server takeover. You need to know the versions you’re using both on the client and server-side, scan for vulnerabilities regularly, and keep track of security bulletins. But most importantly, OWASP says, don’t just patch every month or quarter, as this leaves your application exposed and at risk.
7. Identification and Authentication Failures
If your application’s authentication and session management functions are not implemented correctly, attackers can compromise passwords, keys, or session tokens, or exploit other implementation flaws to assume other identities. The OWASP Top 10 warns against weak passwords, reusing session identifiers, weak recovery processes, or permitting automated attacks. If you can, multi-factor authentication is the way to go here, along with a range of straightforward, common-sense authentication measures.
8. Software and Data Integrity Failures
Software and data integrity failures can happen when applications depend on untrusted sources, like plugins or libraries. Also, having insecure CI/CD pipelines can lead to unauthorized access or even system compromise. Another risk comes from auto-update features that don’t do enough to verify integrity and insecure ways of organizing data structures. To prevent these risks, your team should use digital signatures. These can confirm the safety of software or data. Make sure to only use trusted repositories for libraries and dependencies. You should also implement software supply chain security tools to check for known vulnerabilities. OWASP suggests maintaining a review process for code and configuration changes and setting up proper access control for the CI/CD pipeline. Finally, don’t send unsigned or unencrypted serialized data to clients unless you’ve checked it for integrity or added a digital signature.
9. Security Logging and Monitoring Failures
Insufficient logging and monitoring, combined with missing or ineffective integration with incident response, allows attackers to attack systems, maintain persistence, pivot to more systems, and tamper with, extract, or destroy data. Among other measures, the OWASP Top 10 suggests that you should log all events like logins and failed logins, warnings and errors should generate clear log messages, and logs should never only be stored locally. Making logging and alerting events visible to a user is also a source of risk.
10. Server-Side Request Forgery
Server Side Request Forgery (SSRF) issues occur when a web app fetches data from a remote source without checking the user-given URL. This can let attackers trick an app into making requests to unwanted places, even past network security measures. OWASP believes that these issues are becoming more common as modern web apps often need to fetch URLs. The risks are becoming more serious because of the use of cloud services and complex systems. Again, the deny by default approach at the network access level is your friend here. And there are a range of application layer measures to take as well.
The OWASP Top 10 is not just a list of problems—it’s a guide to solutions. Each item on the checklist includes a section on how to prevent the vulnerability and example attack scenarios that provide developers with practical steps to improve their application's security. Securing your application is an ongoing process and new threats emerge all the time. By staying vigilant and making security a priority, you can keep your application secure and your users safe.
And for companies, the OWASP Top 10 isn’t just a checklist—it's a conversation starter. It’s a tool that brings security to the forefront of the development process, fostering a culture of security awareness within your organization. By focusing on the OWASP Top 10, you’re not just enhancing your application’s security, you’re making security a core part of your development process.
If you’re a cloud-native company, Aikido now makes it easy for you to scan your development environment for OWASP Top 10 coverage. Our testing tools and security reports give you a clear OWASP Top 10 score and an analysis of the measures taken to prevent each vulnerability. You can share the reports with stakeholders and use them to get a quick snapshot of what security practices you need to focus on.