The Complete Guide to Web Application Penetration Testing
If you are a web security professional, web penetration tester, or web application developer, this article is for you. This article will help educate and inform you about commercial Web Application Penetration Testing (WAPT) techniques and tools; Explain how to test your web applications for vulnerabilities; Provide advice on how you can improve the security of your web application with WAPT.
Web Application Pentesting
Web Application Penetration Testing (WAPT) is a method of identifying and preventing web application security issues. WAPT involves the use and understanding of web application vulnerabilities, tools, techniques and procedures to identify security issues in web applications that could be exploited for malicious purposes by hackers or other unauthorized persons . Web applications are programs designed to run on web servers such as Internet Information Services (IIS), Apache Tomcat, etc. which includes many different services running simultaneously: authentication systems, databases, websites, etc.
Performing an effective web application slope test requires a thorough knowledge of the technologies used in web applications such as web servers, web application frameworks, and web programming languages.
What are the benefits of performing web application penetration testing:
Web application penetration testing is the most effective way to detect vulnerabilities and security issues in web applications. With WAPT, you can find out whether your web applications are hackable or not, i.e. whether they have vulnerabilities that can be exploited for malicious purposes by hackers or other unauthorized persons; You can test web applications in a secure environment without worrying about bringing down production systems during penetration testing; It helps identify problems before attackers do, allowing you to take action before user data is compromised. Web Application Pentesting can help web security professionals understand how web applications work, the technologies used in web applications, and the web application vulnerabilities exploited by attackers; It gives you a better understanding of your application’s attack surface so that appropriate countermeasures can be put in place.
How Web Application Pentesting works:
Web application penetration testing is performed by web security professionals who are responsible for the security of web applications. Web security professionals use various tools and techniques to run WAPT on web applications; they also develop custom test cases that mimic real attacks against web applications with predefined goals.
Web penetration testers typically follow these steps:
Here is what web penetration testers usually do:
- List web applications and web servers;
- Identify the target application, its technologies (servers, frameworks) and its programming languages;
- Use automated scanners like Netsparker or HP Web Inspect to identify known web server and framework vulnerabilities. Automated WAPT tools can also be used to exploit web application vulnerabilities found during the manual testing phase of pentests;
- Carry out Web application source code analysis if necessary so that you can address security issues by implementing appropriate filters on input data before it reaches web application web servers;
Tools used in Web Application Pentesting:
There are many open source and commercial web application security assessment tools available to perform web application security assessments, such as
- Acunetix WVS/WVS11;
- Netsparker Web Analyzer;
- IBM Rational Appscan Standard Edition;
- HP Web Inspect Professional;
- Proxy Paros, etc.,
but manual web application penetration testing is another great alternative to these automated techniques that provide more flexibility when performing the tests. There are different steps when manually assessing the security of a web application. This ranges from reconnaissance to exploitation based on your testing objectives (for example, to exploit vulnerabilities).
How to perform web application penetration testing:
Once you’ve identified the target of your web application security assessment, it’s time to conduct a reconnaissance. You should do your best to gather as much information about your target as possible that will help you plan our next steps during the pentest; such as identification of all publicly available systems, software platforms used, etc. should also search for downloadable web application files that contain sensitive information such as usernames and passwords.
Now is the time to discover the technologies used by your target by browsing the source code of the application or other resources available online; this is a very important step as it will help plan our next steps during the penetration testing process, especially if you are using automated tools as they can only detect framework/language based vulnerabilities specific web applications, etc. We always recommend using Penetration testing methodology from the outside in (i.e. from public web servers), because this way one can see how the attackers make their attacks and what techniques they use to compromise the web applications.
Tips to improve WAPT results:
Web application penetration testing requires a lot of planning and preparation before you start your testing, you also need to understand that web applications are very complex systems consisting of many technologies used like web servers/application servers, web application frameworks or languages, etc., so it is important to identify the technology used in the target web application.
Some tools support only one type of web application technology, for example:
- Paros supports PHP applications but does not support ASP based applications;
- Acunetix WVS can automatically identify the type of application server (i.e. Apache or IIS) running on Windows machines, but does not for Linux boxes because they require manual configuration during the installation process, unlike Windows where everything is detected automatically.