Did you know that the average cost of a data breach to companies worldwide is $3.86 million? And worst of all, cybercrime was up by a staggering 600% in 2020 (largely as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic).
Keeping these statistics in mind, it’s easy to see why businesses want to avoid a data breach. Not only can this cost the business a huge amount of money, but it can be very stressful for everyone involved in dealing with the fallout.
For this reason, businesses and their teams must do all they can to strengthen their cybersecurity and protect their data.
But how do they go about doing this?
Well, penetration testing is one way to bolster your cybersecurity and, more specifically, OWASP penetration testing.
If you’re not sure what this is or you’ve only heard the term used loosely before, don’t panic. To help you out, we’ve put together this guide to penetration testing (OWASP) for businesses.
What is OWASP penetration testing?
Let’s first start by looking at what OWASP penetration testing actually is.
First and foremost, we’ll define penetration testing. In a nutshell, a penetration test (also referred to as a pen test) is a simulated cyberattack against your business’ computer systems and devices to check for and then exploit any vulnerabilities. The idea behind this being to show you ways that cybercriminals might try to gain access to your data, so you can address the problems.
Then there’s OWASP, which stands for the Open Web Application Security Project. This is an online community that creates lots of content in the field of web application security, such as articles, methodologies and tools that most people can access freely.
Part of this content is the OWASP top ten guide. When you then combine the two aspects, you get a penetration test for web applications designed to highlight any vulnerabilities as outlined in the OWASP top ten guides.
The reason for this is to help businesses identify any vulnerabilities in their web applications in the most effective way, so they can address these issues as quickly as possible.
Who carries out these tests?
If you’re considering running an OWASP pen test on your systems and applications, you might be wondering where to even start. Well, when it comes to testing, there are several ways this can be done. Firstly, if you’ve got the knowledge, you could do this yourself.
Secondly, you might have a dedicated cybersecurity or tech team that can do this for you. Or thirdly, you might want to outsource the job to a professional penetration tester or ethical hacker. What you choose to do will totally depend on your knowledge and circumstances.
How do you conduct an OWASP penetration test?
We are now going to look at how you go about conducting an OWASP penetration test and the different steps involved. This can be useful if you’re going to be part of the testing phase yourself, but even if you’re not, understanding the steps can better help you understand how and why you should run these kinds of security tests in your business. In order to conduct an OWASP pen test, you need to:
The first step in your test is to gather as much information as possible regarding the infrastructure and web applications of your business.
It is so important that you complete this stage because, without a strong understanding of the technology involved, you could end up missing out on important sections when running tests later on.
Conduct threat modelling
Armed with a better understanding of what infrastructure and web applications are involved, you can now use this information to run tests on the various systems and web applications you have. During this stage, you must look out for any obvious vulnerabilities.
And this is where the OWASP top 10 comes into play. Some of the key vulnerabilities that a pen test can help you to identify, as outlined in the top 10 guidance, include:
- Injection flaws
- Broken authentication
- Sensitive data exposure
- Using components with known vulnerabilities
- Insufficient logging and monitoring
- XML External Entities (XXE)
- Broken access controls
- Cross-site scripting (XSS)
Exploit any vulnerabilities
During this next stage, testers attempt to exploit any of the vulnerabilities that they have highlighted during the threat modelling stage.
These exploitations may or may not work, but either way, this gives the tester a better idea of the risks and how to better protect their cybersecurity.
Re-assess vulnerable applications
If any vulnerabilities are discovered, you need to take action right away. For example, if your test highlights that there are programming errors, weak passwords, unauthorized logins or injection flaws, you need to use this information wisely.
At this point, you should reassess your current systems and put changes in place to bolster your company’s cybersecurity.
Retest any updated applications
If you’ve made positive changes or updates to any of your systems and applications, it’s always a good idea to retest these once you’ve improved them. This will allow you to check that the vulnerabilities are actually fixed.
Deal with the fallout
There is one slight issue you need to address, and that is that if at any point during your testing you successfully exploited a vulnerability, you might have accidentally disclosed some sensitive information.
In this case, you need to go through and contact the relevant company or individual to let them know what has happened and explain you were running a test.
Get a strategy in place
The last thing you need to do is reevaluate everything you’ve learned from your OWASP penetration test and make sure you get a strong cybersecurity strategy in place for the future.
What are the benefits of using an OWASP penetration test?
Finally, now that we understand how an OWASP penetration test works, we’re going to take a look at why you should use this technique. There are several ways that these tests can really benefit your business and these include:
- Allowing you to identify and address any vulnerabilities within your web applications before cybercriminals can take advantage of them
- Drastically reducing the risk of a data breach which could cost your business money and a damaged reputation
- Giving you a detailed overview of how effective your current security systems are
- Supporting more informed decision-making when it comes to your cybersecurity efforts, not just in web applications but across the business as a whole
- Offering insights that help your team to improve the development of new software in the future
Keeping all of the above in mind, is it time that you ran an OWASP penetration test to help bolster the cybersecurity efforts of your business?
About the Author:
Stuart Cooke is the Marketing Manager at Evalian a data protection and cybersecurity consultancy that helps businesses protect their data.