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10 Step Guide to Cybersecurity Essentials for Web Developers

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Guide to Cybersecurity Essentials for Web Developers

Application development has become a faster affair than it ever was. The DevOps environment ensures that apps are developed and updated with new features at an incredible speed.

Once your web application is in production you use a bunch of metrics to analyze every minute aspect of the user journey and come up with more ideas on making the user experience better, retaining them for longer periods of time, and converting more leads. Now, amongst all of this, security takes a back seat and your web application effectively becomes a sitting duck waiting to be shot down.

It doesn’t have to be that way. With some effort, you can incorporate solid security practices in the DevOps structure without losing a lot of pace. This article helps you identify cybersecurity essentials for web developers to go alongside offensive security measures like penetration testing and vulnerability assessment.    

How important is it to protect a website?

90% of all websites are vulnerable to attacks. That means hackers can easily find a way into your systems and access admin level privileges. An attacker can steal data, stop your services, and ruin your online presence.

A security vulnerability puts a lot more at stake than just money. Getting hacked can sabotage the reputation you have built over years and strains your relationship with customers. 60% of the small and midsize businesses that experience a data breach never recover.  

Before getting to the cyber security essentials for developers, let us wrap our heads around some critical vulnerabilities mentioned in the OWASP top ten.

Top 10 vulnerabilities listed by OWASP

  1. Broken Access Control: Access control refers to the policies set to stop unauthorized access to sensitive information. The broken access control vulnerability makes it possible for malicious actors to gain unauthorized access.
  2. Cryptographic Failures: Cryptography deals with cyphers or encryptions employed to protect data. A cryptographic failure is a condition where the encryptions are easily breachable.   
  3. Injection and Cross-Site Scripting: Injection attacks occur when a malicious actor supplies unauthorized code input to your systems and an interpreter processes the malicious input as part of the command or query.  
  4. Insecure Design: Insecure design refers to the security flaws inherent in the application created by non adherence to a security best practices.
  5. Security Misconfiguration: Developers and network admins often alter security controls for temporary convenience and forget to reset them. That is one of the many ways how security misconfigurations occur.
  6. Vulnerable and Outdated Components: A web application relies on a bunch of external components like plugins and libraries. The vulnerabilities present in such elements are just as dangerous for the application.
  7. Identification and Authentication Failures: The lack of identity and input validation measures exist as a critical vulnerability in a lot of web apps.
  8. Software and Data Integrity Failures: This type of attack targets the integrity of software and data, resulting in the manipulation or deletion of information.
  9. Security Logging and Monitoring Failures: When a website does not have an alert system to flag malicious activity from a certain IP, it results in the security logging and monitoring failure vulnerability.
  10. Server-Side Request Forgery: An attacker can use this vulnerability to connect a server to internal-only services or force the server to make HTTP requests to arbitrary external systems.

10 Ways to Protect Your Website from Attacks

So, we have covered some of the most dangerous vulnerabilities. And now it’s time to learn how to protect a web application from these potential breaches. Just know that most of these vulnerabilities can be avoided by adhering to some cybersecurity essentials for developers.

1.     Establish strong policies for password validation

A staggering 30% of all breaches are caused by weak passwords. And all you need to do to prevent this from happening is to make users and employees create long and complex passwords that are difficult to crack.

You need to place certain rules to ensure that the passwords being used are strong enough. You should also review the policies periodically, and make the users change their passwords once in a while.

2.     Use a strong firewall

This is hardly something you didn’t already know. You have to put up a firewall to prevent certain actors from accessing your website. You can block certain IPs, or countries. The firewall can flag malware, and notify you whenever there is a suspicious activity on your network. The real trick is ensuring that the firewall is up to date and gives your website the protection it needs. You need a strong firewall like the one by Astra Security to strengthen your defenses.

  1. It is important to keep regular backups of your website

Backing up your website on a regular basis ensures that you have a recent version of your original website in case your production site is hacked and damaged beyond repair. You must store the backup website securely as an offsite server.

  1. Protect your data in transit

Make sure you use transport layer security (TLS) to encrypt the data in flight between systems or between your device and the internet. Whether your data is in flight or at rest, it is very important to encrypt it.

  1. Harden your servers and applications

Unnecessary features and plugins can slow down your website and create security threats. It becomes difficult for hackers to breach a website that is lean and tight.

  1. Build up company wide awareness

You have to treat cybersecurity as more than just an IT issue, because it is not. A security breach affects each and every aspect of a business, hence it is important to imbibe security best practices in the organization culture. Educating employees from all the different departments on cybersecurity will pay dividends.

  1. Adopt two factor authentication

A two factor authentication requires the user to provide another piece of information alongside their username and password to log in. This makes it harder for the hackers to launch a social engineering attack. 

  1. Stay on top of new security threats

With the amount of information and awareness running around cybersecurity at present it is not too hard to keep a tap on the new vulnerabilities. For instance, a vulnerability that got famous recently was the Log4J. And thanks to the quick response by security researchers around the world, most websites are now protected from it.

9.     Perform regular vulnerability scans

It is not too hard to leave a port open here or a security misconfiguration there given the pace at which web applications develop and evolve. Conducting regular vulnerability scans helps you stay updated about your organization’s security posture, and doesn’t let you be an easy target for hackers.

  1. Conduct Penetration Testing

Penetration testing a team of security experts who try to exploit certain vulnerabilities safely to understand how much damage those vulnerabilities can do. It gives you a true understanding of your security posture and helps you take appropriate measures to remediate the situation. Learn about the best penetration testing tools that you can use for this purpose.

Let’s talk some more about Penetration Testing

Penetration testing is an offensive security measure where security experts apply hacker-like tactics to unveil vulnerabilities in your system and exploit them to an extent to gain insights about their risk and exploitability. Penetration testing is one of the most effective ways of evaluating your organization’s security posture since it simulates an actual hack.

Different approaches to Penetration Testing

Pentesting or penetration testing is generally divided in three categories. Black box, White box, and Gray box Penetration testing. These categories are distinguished by the amount of knowledge the pentester comes in with.

Black box penetration testing

This approach emulates the hacking process very closely as the tester, not unlike a hacker, approaches the target website with very little information about its structure and assets.

White box penetration testing

In this approach, the security expert gains complete knowledge of the target system and prepares to make an in-depth analysis of the code.

Gray box penetration testing

Gray box penetration testing is a cross between black box and white box pentesting. In this case, the pentester comes in with partial information about the target system.

Black box pentests are very useful to test your security measures against a real-time attack, while white box and gray box pentests give you a more in-depth understanding of your security posture.

Having an effective pentest partner is a great boon for developers

Your choice of a pentest partner may make or break your security efforts. Before you choose a penetration testing company to help you with vulnerability assessment and penetration testing, you must take care of the following factors.

  • A pentest partner that lets you keep a tap on their progress is always preferable. It is just awesome if you can look at the vulnerabilities as they are discovered.
  • Remediation assistance from the security  experts is a major deciding factor when it comes to choosing a pentest partner.
  • The pentest timeline should not be too long.
  • You need to work with experienced security engineers who can guide you in reproducing the exploits.
  • The pentest certificate you get should be publicly verifiable as it helps you build trust.

Conclusion

Being security conscious entails more than just putting up firewalls and conducting vulnerability scans. Yes, those are very important things, but there is something more that you need. In a fast paced environment it is important to look at software development from a security perspective right from the beginning.

Security has to be embedded in the process from the earliest stages of planning an application. It is the easiest to track and manage security efforts if the developers conduct the threat modeling by themselves while designing the software.

Once security awareness enters every department, it will be incredibly difficult for the hackers to breach your applications. Till then, stay safe.

Ankit Pahuja is the Marketing Lead & Evangelist at Astra Security. Ever since his adulthood (literally, he was 20 years old), he began finding vulnerabilities in websites & network infrastructures. Starting his professional career as a software engineer at one of the unicorns enables him in bringing “engineering in marketing” to reality. Working actively in the cybersecurity space for more than 2 years makes him the perfect T-shaped marketing professional. Ankit is an avid speaker in the security space and has delivered various talks in top companies, early-age startups, and online events.

Cyber Security

Breaking Barriers: Bridging the Cybersecurity Gender Skill Gap 

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Bridging the Cybersecurity Gender Skill Gap

A perfect storm is brewing in the cybersecurity sector where an increase in cyber threats is compounded by a major skills shortage and lack of women representation. 

Cyberattacks can shut down infrastructure, close businesses, drain bank accounts, and more. Protecting systems and data from sophisticated hackers has never been so important, and the value of the global cybersecurity market is predicted to reach an eye-popping £340 billion in 2030.  

Despite the industry’s apparent wealth, a worrying dearth of cybersecurity professionals, especially women, currently exists. A mere 24% of the global cybersecurity workforce are women. 

From recruitment challenges to the gender pay gap, cybersecurity services provider, ramsac, is exploring reasons for the glaring absence of women in cybersecurity, and why solving this problem could go a long way to plugging the skills gap and improving diversity. 

Gender Bias Towards Men 

Discrimination against women – both conscious and unconscious – appears rife in the cybersecurity industry in 2024. Studies have found that 51% of females who work in cybersecurity have experienced some form of gender discrimination compared to just 15% of men. These figures further prove how deep-rooted discrimination towards women is in cybersecurity, and why it’s likely to be off-putting for females considering a career in the industry. 

Gender Pay Differences 

Alongside the cybersecurity skills gaps is a significant gender pay gap where male cybersecurity workers are paid more than their female counterparts. In fact, the latest figures reveal that in the technology and cybersecurity industry, a staggering 91.1% of companies with 250 or more employees pay their male workers more than their female staff for performing the same job. This makes the tech industry one of the worst offenders when it comes to delivering equal pay, with the gender pay gap standing at 16%, much higher than the UK national average of 11.6%.  

Absence of Female Role Models 

The apparent lack of women in cybersecurity perpetuates the general view of it being a male-dominated sector and a bit of a ‘boys’ club.’ With just one-in-four cybersecurity workers being female, opportunities for women in this growing tech space have been limited – despite the continued growth of the global digital landscape. With only a small number of female figureheads to aspire to in cybersecurity, the perception of it being an industry mostly for men will continue until attitudes change. 

Recruitment Challenges 

Recruitment teams have been guilty of taking a narrow view when it comes to filling roles in cybersecurity. What does this mean? That recruiters only look for male candidates whose skills and technical experience exactly match those of the current workforce. This myopic approach and reluctance to hire women who require training – despite the general cybersecurity skills shortage – denies women the opportunity to learn new skills and launch a career in the field. 

How Can the Cybersecurity Industry Encourage More Women to Join? 

Develop More Cybersecurity Apprenticeships 

Apprenticeships are a great way to bolster an industry’s workforce, and the same is true of women in cybersecurity. Schemes like the UK Government’s cybersecurity qualification offer a significant starting wage that rises when candidates secure a permanent job. Not only do apprenticeships help to create a diverse pool of talent within the sector, but they also give women greater opportunities to gain practical experience within a working environment and learn the essential skills they’ll need for a future in cybersecurity. 

Deliver Equal Pay for Women  

As mentioned, the tech industry is notorious for paying women employees less than males. However, a recent survey of UK cybersecurity workers revealed that salaries for females in technology are increasing and that the gender pay gap is slowly narrowing. This suggests tech employers are working hard to bridge the gender pay gap by introducing standards for determining salary structures based on experience, relevant skills, and performance across all roles. 

Work Closely with Schools 

The UK Government is determined to engage with schools and support girls considering a career in cybersecurity. For example, more than 12,500 girls across the UK recently entered the National Cyber Security Centre’s 2023/24 CyberFirst Girls Competition which aims to encourage those aged 12-13 years to pursue an interest in technology and cybersecurity. An incredible 3,608 teams from more than 750 schools across England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland were involved, and the competition continues to grow each year. 

As you can see, the gender skills gap remains a serious problem in the tech and cybersecurity industry, with a lack of female workers and pay inequality among two of the biggest challenges facing employers. However, governments and cybersecurity companies realise they are missing a trick by excluding women from the cybersecurity workforce, and that female tech employees can provide an obvious solution for filling the skills shortages while making cybersecurity an inclusive space for everyone. 

Thoughts on this matter. 

Commenting on this, Rob May, the Executive Chair of ramsac – the secure choice, said “In the face of a burgeoning cybersecurity crisis, the underrepresentation of women in this sector is not just a missed opportunity—it’s a pressing challenge we must address. We are working in an era where cybersecurity threats loom larger and more complex, it’s clear that diversifying our talent pool is more than a matter of fairness—it’s a strategic imperative. By actively recruiting, retaining, and promoting women within the cybersecurity field, we’re not just closing the gender gap; we’re opening a gateway to enhanced innovation, perspective, and resilience in protecting our digital worlds.

Diversity by every measure will result in diversity of thought and that is a brilliant tool for any of us in the cybersecurity industry. As industry leaders we all need to champion change and create a cybersecurity workforce that is as diverse as the challenges we face.” 

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Cyber Security

The Five Essential Cybersecurity Measures Every Construction Company Needs

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cybersecurity in construction

Recent high-profile cyber-attacks on the construction industry have highlighted the vulnerability of businesses of all sizes to cyber threats. As the industry adopts digital ways of working, it’s crucial to understand these threats and protect your business.

Construction businesses are seen as easy targets by cyber criminals due to their high cash-flows and the extensive use of sub-contractors, making them susceptible to spear phishing. Even if they don’t store financial information, construction businesses still have valuable data that can be misused for unfair advantages or identity theft. A data breach or ransomware attack can cause business disruption, reputational damage, and potential investigations from the Information Commissioner’s Office.

The building industry faces numerous digital threats, from phishing to extortion:

Email Phishing

A staggering 83% of firms in the construction field have encountered phishing attempts. These often masquerade as urgent messages from high-level executives, pressuring recipients to act hastily by sending money or key financial data.

Information Theft

Construction companies harbour a wealth of sensitive data, from financial records to subcontractor details, making them prime targets for cybercriminals. Data breaches can be particularly challenging to resolve. The RMD Kwikform case from December 2020 came as a stark warning to the construction industry that they weren’t immune from high profile cybersecurity attacks.

High Fraud Prevalence

In 2022, construction businesses were among the most frequent victims of fraud, with about 5% affected. Shockingly, 79% of the industry still lacks adequate cybersecurity measures, and 26% fail to keep their devices updated.

Covert Data Collection

Spyware can silently infiltrate systems, siphoning off sensitive information without detection. It often arrives disguised in seemingly harmless emails or on websites that seem legitimate.

Service Disruption

Approximately 21% of construction companies have faced sophisticated attacks like Denial of Service, which can render devices unusable or crash networks and websites.

Protecting Construction Firms from Cyber Threats

Construction firms need to be aware of the risks and prepare their technology and people when it comes to cybersecurity. You can invest as much money as you want in advanced technology, but one click on an email could evade all these technologies and put your firm at risk.

Investing in reputable construction software can help mitigate the impact of a cybersecurity breach, but that’s just one piece of the puzzle. To truly safeguard your construction company, every employee must take proactive steps to bolster your organisation’s overall cybersecurity posture.

To safeguard construction businesses, executives and leaders should:

1. Implement Cybersecurity Measures Throughout All Project Stages 

During the design stage, architects and engineers should be aware of who they are sharing work with and utilise access management principles to ensure that only those who need to see work, do. Throughout construction, contractors must safeguard digital assets, such as blueprints and project management software, using tools like multi-factor authentication to help reduce hackers being able to access. As the project nears completion, handover documents should be securely transferred to the building owners and those who will be maintaining it to avoid sensitive documents being in the wrong hands.

2. Develop Contingency Plans

Developing comprehensive contingency plans is crucial for minimising the impact of cyber incidents. These plans should outline step-by-step procedures for detecting, containing, and recovering from various types of cyber-attacks. This should be shared with all employees and any third parties you work with, as well as your IT provider.

3. Regularly Train and Inform All Staff 

As a C-Suite leader, you should develop clear guidelines and policies for data handling, device usage, and internet safety. Regular training sessions should be conducted to educate all personnel about potential cyber threats and how to recognise and respond to them. These best practices should extend to contractors and subcontractors, ensuring that all parties involved in the project adhere to the same high security standards. By fostering a security-conscious workforce, construction firms can create a human firewall that complements technical security measures.

4. Approach Cybersecurity Strategically

By treating cybersecurity as a strategic priority, construction firms can integrate it into their overall risk management framework, ensuring that it receives the same level of attention and resources as other critical business risks. Cybersecurity has to be given the time and dedication to ensure that any breaches that do occur can be dealt with efficiently and effectively.

5. Invest In Reputable Software Solutions

When selecting software, it’s important to prioritise companies with a strong track record in security and compliance, and who can demonstrate continuous compliance as well. Are they compliant with relevant ISO certifications or government standards such as Cyber Essentials?

By adopting these measures, construction firms can better defend against the evolving landscape of cyber threats.

The construction industry’s adoption of digital technologies has exposed it to significant cyber threats, making robust cybersecurity measures essential. Protecting sensitive data, training staff, and treating cybersecurity as a strategic priority are crucial steps to defend against these risks. By doing so, construction firms can safeguard their operations, reputation, and data from the evolving landscape of cyber threats.

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Cyber Security

Going beyond Zero Trust: How far should organisations go to protect their information?

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information security

Organisations are under extreme pressure when it comes to protecting data. The range of cybersecurity threats is constantly evolving as the world becomes increasingly reliant on technology.

Cybersecurity breaches are now so commonplace that in the UK an alarming 59% of medium businesses, 69% of large businesses, and 56% of high-income charities have experienced an attack according to latest government figures spanning a 12-month period.

As cyber-criminals use more and more sophisticated methods including Artificial Intelligence (AI) to exploit vulnerabilities in systems and networks, cybersecurity must keep up to date with the latest developments to nullify these threats. From encryption to access control and human firewalls, cybersecurity experts, ramsac, are highlighting how effective solutions such as the Zero Trust security model help businesses enhance cybersecurity in the workplace.

What is the Zero Trust security model?

Businesses and organisations used to assume that most elements of your network were safe, so they focussed on protecting access with VPNs (Virtual Private Networks), firewalls, and on-site equipment. However, as data footprints spread outside company networks and began living in the cloud, the Zero Trust security model offered a more holistic approach.

With Zero Trust, everyone and anything is treated as unknown, forcing legitimate users to authenticate and be authorised before they’re granted access.

The main principles of Zero Trust

There are three main principles of a Zero Trust cybersecurity model that will help protect assets from data breaches and cybercrime, and all of them can be applied across any IT estate to reduce security risk.

Robust user verification:

Zero Trust teaches organisations to authenticate and authorise access to networks and systems based on all available data points such as the user’s identity, location, and device.

Least privilege:

User access should be restricted to only what is necessary based on risk-based adaptive policies. In other words, users should only be granted minimal access to the resources they need to do their jobs in order to safeguard data and sensitive information.

Damage limitation:

Organisations can minimise any damage caused by a data breach or cyberattack by segmenting access via devices and improving application awareness. This helps restrict lateral movement in the event of an attack, while all sessions should also be encrypted end-to-end for greater security.

Using Zero Trust in the workplace

Zero Trust addresses many of the weaknesses that existed with traditional cybersecurity. Historically, users who signed in through single sign-on are gained access to all company networks which could cause widespread problems in the event of passwords being stolen or unauthorised access.

With a Zero Trust approach everything in your IT estate is protected by verifying every device and user identity. Not only that, but it also helps secure remote system access, smartphones and other personal devices, and relevant third-party apps.

For the best cybersecurity results, Zero Trust should be fully integrated across all company architecture including network access, user identities, data, endpoints, infrastructure, and apps. There are many reasons for this including:

Identity:

Identities are the foundation of any strong Zero Trust policy. The highest level of authentication, authorisation, and verification should exist for both human and non-human identities when connecting to company networks from both personal and corporate endpoints with approved devices.

For example, multi-factor authentication (MFA) should always be enforced to reduce the likelihood of a cyberattack, while users could also be required to follow passwordless authentication such as biometrics and facial recognition when signing in. Many companies hire an identity provider for identity support to protect their cloud apps and on-site infrastructure in this way. It also allows for real-time user analysis, device activity, and location to spot suspicious activity and limit any damage caused by a data breach.

Endpoints:

All devices and endpoints should be registered with your identity provider in order to heighten security. Smartphones, mobile devices, tablets, laptops, desktop computers, and even servers can be managed and monitored using a service such as Microsoft Endpoint Manager.

In addition, company devices should be encrypted while workstations and servers should be secured. An Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) solution is also beneficial for the early detection of any unusual activity across a network, and the emergency response to keep all system and reputational damage to a minimum.

Apps:

Companies can benefit from strong threat protection and detection across their entire app ecosystem with a Cloud Access Security Broker (CASB). This allows you to expand all security controls to any app in any browser, in real-time.

Companies should start by identifying any cloud-based apps their workers are using and take steps to deny any unsanctioned apps that have not been officially improved and could contain viruses and cyber threats. Again, all apps should only be made available with the least amount of privilege access applied to users, and ongoing verification in place.

Digital infrastructure

Runtime control – the ability to make changes to a running system – should be activated across the full company infrastructure under Zero Trust. This typically involves managing permissions and access across environments alongside the configuration of servers.

Combined with real-time monitoring and app identity, this approach will identify abnormal behaviour on a network, send out alerts, and take action to mitigate the risks.

Data

Under Zero Trust, all data should be classified in order to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. The use of sensitivity labels and encryption should be applied to emails, files, documents, and any form of data that could become vulnerable to a cyberattack.

Smart machine learning models allow companies to strengthen data classification so that networks and data are protected by the very latest tools. Not only that, but data loss prevention policies can also be put in place to limit the risk of a data breach.

Network

Devices and users should not be trusted just because they’re linked to an internal network. Therefore, before access is granted to any private or public network, traffic filtering and segmentation is applied when implementing a Zero Trust policy.

Cyberthreat protection can be further enhanced by leveraging machine learning to encrypt all traffic, activity, and internal communication on workplace systems alongside limiting access and running real-time threat detection.

How to implement zero trust

It is important to understand that Zero Trust is not a product, it is not something you can buy off the shelf, but it is a strategy and among the most robust and effective cybersecurity strategies available today. Not only does it minimise your attack surface and reduce the risk of a data breach, but it also gives you greater control over your network and cloud environments and mitigates the impact of successful attacks, thus saving time and money.

Organisations can implement Zero Trust in the workplace in the following ways:

Monitor networks and devices

It’s crucial to gain full visibility of network traffic and connected devices so that users, laptops, smartphones, and other equipment are continuously verified and authorised.

Update devices always

Organisations with Zero Trust policies can restrict access to vulnerable devices at risk of a cyberattack. Similarly, all identified weaknesses and vulnerabilities should be immediately patched up and fixed to maintain maximum security.

Implement Least Privilege Practices

As previously mentioned, everyone from company executives to IT departments should have the least amount of access they need to limit any potential damage if a user’s account is hacked.

Break up the network

Partitioning the network into smaller sections will help contain any breaches and minimise damage before it escalates.

Adopt MFA security keys

Hardware security tokens that leverage encryption algorithms, authentication codes, or a secure PIN to complete MFA or 2FA prompts are significantly more secure than soft tokens such as one-time passcodes sent via email or SMS.

Focus on threat intelligence

As cybercriminals are constantly refining their nefarious tactics, it’s vital to utilise the latest threat intelligence data feeds to stay ahead of the game and identify security risks early.

Take a pragmatic approach

Making end users re-verify their identities throughout the day via multiple security tools can ironically decrease security. It can produce a similar negative effect as overly strict password protocols that may cause users to recycle the same passwords time and time again.

As you can see, companies with a Zero Trust policy strengthen their cybersecurity as they are continuously authenticating and verifying every user, device, and app trying to access their system. Not only that, but they are also encrypting everything on the network, segmenting it to contain threats and attacks in real-time, and limiting access to only those who need it, so their digital environment receives the highest level of threat protection at all times.

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