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7 Application Security Vulnerabilities and Defensive Strategies

Shiv Sujir - October 20, 2022

What Are Application Security Vulnerabilities?

An application security vulnerability is a flaw that exposes an application to a cyberattack. Vulnerabilities often result from poor coding practices, neglecting security responsibilities, human error, and unpatched software.

Web applications are especially susceptible to cybersecurity vulnerabilities, given their exposure to the public Internet. Attacks can exploit various vectors, so organizations must identify their applications’ weaknesses and plug potential entry points. Securing applications is an ongoing effort because new vulnerabilities constantly arise.

7 Common Application Security Vulnerabilities and Threats

SQL Injection Attacks

SQL injection (SQLi) attacks can expose sensitive data and allow actors to remotely access and control systems. Common causes of SQLi attacks include inadequate continuous security testing and outsourced web application development and hosting.

Organizations can mitigate SQL injection using vulnerability management and penetration testing. Vulnerability scanners and source code analyzers can detect various application security threats, including SQL injections. Since no single analyzer can uncover all threats, organizations often use multiple analyzers.

Security Misconfiguration

Security misconfigurations can occur due to:

  • Insecure default configurations
  • Incomplete or ad hoc configurations
  • Misconfigured HTTP headers
  • Verbose error messages containing sensitive information
  • Open-cloud storage.

Organizations can mitigate this threat by securely configuring all operating systems, frameworks, applications, and libraries and regularly patching them.

Cross-Site Scripting Attacks (XSS)

Cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks help threat actors forge or steal cookies to impersonate legitimate users. It allows actors to use the compromised privileged accounts to perform various malicious activities, such as modifying content to enable remote code execution.

The three XSS attack types include reflected, Document Object Model-based, and stored XSS exploits. Organizations can prevent XSS attacks by validating user input, encoding output, and escaping special characters.

CSRF Attacks

A cross-site request forgery (CSRF) attack, or reverse XSS, allows an external intruder to impersonate a legitimate user and attack an application or website. The threat actor tricks an unsuspecting authenticated user into executing unauthorized malicious actions, such as sending HTTP requests or allowing systems to return sensitive data to the actor.

Successful CSRF attacks can allow threat actors to modify firewall settings, perform fraudulent financial transactions, or make changes to email addresses. The attack can put an entire application or system at risk when the forgery victim is an administrator. It is difficult to detect CSRF attacks because they are less common, and it can be hard to distinguish between intentional and malicious HTTP requests.

Broken Authentication and Authorization

Incorrectly implemented authentication and session management can allow threat actors to abuse these functions to compromise passwords, keys, and session tokens. Threat actors can use this information to hijack user and admin accounts and compromise an entire system.

Insecure Design

The term insecure design applies to application weaknesses resulting from missing or ineffective security controls—for example, applications failing to include basic security controls to fight off critical threats. Organizations can fix implementation flaws in applications built with secure design, but proper configuration and remediation cannot help fix an insecure design.

Server Side Request Forgery (SSRF)

A server-side request forgery (SSRF) vulnerability can occur when a web application fails to validate URLs inputted by users before it pulls data from remote resources. This issue can negatively affect network access control lists (ACLs) and firewall-protected servers that do not validate URLs.

SAP Application Security Challenges

In almost all organizations using SAP applications, the SAP environment is a valuable, mission-critical resource. Many successful cyberattacks are carried out via phishing or malware, which focus on the application layer of an SAP environment and attempt to compromise privileged user accounts.

It is common for security departments to view the SAP application layer as a “black box” and treat SAP application security as the responsibility of SAP Basis administrators. However, SAP administrators often don’t have the skills, expertise, and tools to properly secure an SAP environment.

In some cases, the organization’s SAP applications are run by a service provider. In this case, the security team might expect the service providers to take responsibility for the security of these applications. However, while providers are responsible for the IT infrastructure layer and are committed to securing the infrastructure, they typically use a shared responsibility model where the customer is responsible for application-layer and data security. This means attacks or data breaches against the SAP application layer are not the responsibility of the provider.

For this reason, SAP application layer security is often a blind spot within organizations. There are many factors that complicate this issue:

  • Small businesses have different needs than medium or large organizations.
  • Organizations might run SAP software on-premises, in the cloud, or in a hybrid model. Auditors might have different expectations of the company based on variables such as its legal and geographic structure, SAP products used, and where they are deployed.

Protecting Against SAP Application Security Vulnerabilities

SAP Application Patching

Threats that are addressed by traditional cybersecurity programs also apply to SAP systems. The challenge facing most organizations running SAP is knowing which patches are needed and applying them consistently. This is a painstaking process that leaves large numbers of SAP systems unpatched for long periods of time. This creates a risk of zero-day vulnerabilities, in which attackers target systems with newly discovered vulnerabilities before they have applied the relevant security updates.

Secure Coding

Code security is another key factor in securing SAP applications. Secure coding is in the hands of developers, who build the code and move it from development systems to production systems, and is often not tested and evaluated for security issues. Code inspection and security testing tools are essential to protect SAP applications from attackers.

Secure Roles and Authorizations

Organizations should never rely on standard SAP configurations. Defining customer-specific authorizations and reviewing access controls can help maintain the separation of duties (SoD) and the principle of least privilege. However, SAP systems allow modifying privileges and roles only through SAP methods.

Here are key practices to use when securing roles and authorizations:

  • Do not allocate multiple authorizations to the same account or user. The only exception is “firefighter accounts” designated for temporary use during emergencies.
  • Perform automated continuous reviews of SAP authorizations to avoid violations. Organizations can use ready-made test cases from the SAP Test Catalog to identify common authorization issues.
  • Use SAP SUIM transactions to perform complex searches across roles, transactions, and users to identify conflicts.

SIEM Integration

After implementing basic SAP security measures, organizations can integrate security information and event management (SIEM) to gain additional capabilities. For most organizations, SAP environments are a separate silo that is not integrated with the organizational SIEM, creating a blind spot and increasing opportunities for threat actors.

Integrating SAP security monitoring into a centralized SIEM can be complex but is very valuable. It can provide valuable insights into cybersecurity, IT operations, systems compliance, and business analytics across the organization’s network by combining data from SAP systems and other IT systems. This can protect against sophisticated threats by continuously monitoring SAP systems for threats, enabling rapid detection of threats, and automating responses.

Leverage Microsegmentation

Microsegmentation enables organizations to divide networks into logical, isolated units. This technique involves applying policies to determine how applications and data should be accessed and controlled.

Traditional network segmentation requires hardware, which is why it is typically used for North-South data flows, such as client-server traffic. Microsegmentation employs software to make this process flexible and easier to operate, which is why it is usually applied for East-West traffic, such as data moving between servers or applications within the network.

Segmenting a network and limiting the traffic allowed to traverse it enables organizations to add another security layer. It helps prevent external and insider threats from obtaining access to sensitive systems and moving laterally across the environment, even when they breach the network.

Microsegmentation can help protect SAP application clusters. Organizations can use this technique to restrict access to a cluster or server, allowing only authorized and necessary connections. Once a monitoring process detects suspicious activity, organizations using microsegmentation can isolate the affected systems to prevent threats from spreading across the SAP environment.

Related content: Read our guide to threat detection and response (coming soon)

Security Vulnerability Management with Pathlock

Pathlock enables you to continually analyze and optimize every level of your SAP application landscape to address vulnerabilities – including in your operating systems, databases, and network configurations – while factoring in critical OSS Notes. It even examines your custom ABAP source code with a simple string pattern match to identify and eliminate potential flaws. The Pathlock vulnerability management solution:

  • Provides comprehensive transparency across system boundaries.
  • Accounts for DSAG’s auditing guidelines, recommendations from BSI, and SAP’s security guidelines.
  • Offers more than 4,000 automated checks and security notes that are constantly updated.
  • Enables automated policy-based auditing of security-relevant parameters and settings.
  • Analyzes all underlying platforms, from SAP ERP to SAP Mobile Platform (running on the latest release of SAP NetWeaver).
  • Offers dashboard-based security reporting that includes clear recommended actions for eliminating your landscape’s vulnerabilities.

Learn how Pathlock can secure your SAP applications against multiple vulnerabilities with a comprehensive, automated solution: Schedule a demo

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