As more users require access to the internet, organisations must protect data and internet network resources from web-based threats. “Web security” leverages strategies, infrastructure, training, and monitoring to prevent users from introducing malware and other threats to the network from a malicious website. It’s a critical component in business continuity. Advanced web security blocks many web-based attacks by providing a proxy between users and their browser so that advanced persistent threats and malware cannot reach the internet environment.

Challenges in Web Security

Phishing emails, malicious websites, credential theft, social engineering, insider threats, website vulnerabilities, and malware are just a few challenges administrators face when they build a cybersecurity strategy around web security. Not only are there numerous threats targeting organisations, but threats constantly evolve to bypass the latest cybersecurity protections. These challenges and more are why even the best cybersecurity infrastructure does not completely eliminate risk. That’s why administrators must build cybersecurity in layers.

Traditionally, administrators deployed on-premises infrastructure to overcome many cybersecurity challenges plaguing enterprises. This infrastructure required constant monitoring, patching, maintenance, and updates. To alleviate this overhead, administrators turned to cloud computing to host infrastructure in a data centre so that maintenance overhead was reduced. Although the cloud offers many benefits, it also introduces several new disadvantages, especially for cybersecurity.

The benefits of the cloud are often worth the risk, but administrators should be aware of the new challenges and implement the right tools to avoid a compromise. For example, creating virtual machines in the cloud to host web applications and databases is much more cost-effective than hosting them on-premises. Cloud-hosted infrastructure lowers the cost to house it on-premises, and any hardware and networking equipment is maintained by the provider.

With these benefits, there are still some drawbacks. If administrators aren’t familiar with the way cloud resources should be configured and managed, cloud computing can increase risk. Misconfigurations in the cloud are a primary factor in vulnerabilities. Administrators must also properly configure monitoring and logging solutions to stay compliant and detect ongoing attacks in the cloud, especially if resources are available to the public.

Importance of Web Security

Implementing proactive web security actively detects and stops attacks from happening. Web security strategies involve numerous methods and not just one solution. Cybersecurity involves several moving parts, so it often requires experts to deploy infrastructure, configure it, and ensure it’s working as intended. Any updates and patches should be installed immediately to avoid vulnerabilities from unpatched software.

Advanced persistent threats are difficult for administrators to detect, so cybersecurity must also proactively find any potential vulnerabilities and malware currently on the network. An advanced persistent threat (APT) creates backdoors and spreads across the network so that it’s never completely eradicated. These threats are difficult to contain, so web security must be capable of finding any threat on the network and proactively containing it.

The goal of web security is to protect corporate data and the environment from malware. Even with the best cybersecurity infrastructure in place, organisations can implement common, simple strategies to stop threats. Users must be on board with these strategies to stop insider threats and avoid being a target for an attacker.

A few common web security methods include:

  • Strong passwords: Administrators should have policies that enforce complex, strong user passwords that continually change to reduce an attacker’s window of opportunity after users phished and fall victim to credential theft.
  • Two-factor authentication (2FA): A 2FA system adds another layer of security during the authentication process. Usually, 2FA either sends a personal identification number (PIN) to the user’s smartphone using text messages or the PIN is sent to the user’s registered email address. This strategy stops unauthorized access after credential theft, as attackers cannot authenticate without the PIN.
  • Use a virtual private network (VPN): Any users working from home or remotely should connect with a virtual private network. A VPN encrypts traffic between the user’s device and the internal network, so data is not vulnerable to a man-in-the-middle attack.
  • Training to detect phishing: Human error is the cause for a majority of data breaches, either from intentional actions or mistakes. Organizations should have security awareness training programs in place to educate users to detect phishing, malicious links, and malicious attachments sent in email.

Dangers Web Security Detects and Mitigates

Stopping web threats is a full-time job. The number of threats in the wild continues to rise every day. Every day new zero-day threats are introduced in the wild, and these threats could exploit current infrastructure that doesn’t have the right protections in place.

Here are just a few of the threats in the wild that web security stops:

  • SQL injection: Malformed SQL statements from online forms can correct data, drop (delete) tables, and in serious cases, allow an attacker to escalate privileges on the targeted database server.
  • Cross-site scripting (XSS): When web pages don’t validate user-generated input, malicious code is reflected back to the user. These scripts can perform a myriad of malicious actions, including theft of user cookies and sessions and performing actions on behalf of the user.
  • Remote file inclusion: Web applications using dynamic external scripts and resources are vulnerable to remote file inclusion when the path is generated from user input without validation. These backdoor shells usually download malware to the targeted website.
  • Password breach: Credential theft and brute-force password attacks are common on the web, and administrators must use monitors and intrusion detection to stop them from successfully accessing private network resources. Two-factor authentication also stops unauthorized access after credentials are stolen.
  • Data breach: An organization suffers from a data breach after a compromise where an attacker sends sensitive information to a third party. Insider threats from intentional disclosure of sensitive information or human error are the most common reasons for data breaches.
  • Code injection: Any user-generated input should be validated, or an attacker can send malicious code that could execute actions to open vulnerabilities on the remote server.
  • Malware installation: Once malware installs on a local network, it can cause enormous damage, including data exfiltration, ransomware encryption, and blackmail.
  • Phishing: Most attacks start with a phishing email, so web security must include a strategy to filter out malicious email messages from reaching an employee’s inbox.
  • Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS): Using a flood of traffic, attackers can interrupt services for days and impact revenue and business continuity.

What Technology Is Used in Web Security?

Organisations have several options when searching for a web security strategy. Most strategies involve a mix of solutions that work together to protect users and infrastructure from common web threats. Each technology has its own list of vendors with their own benefits and disadvantages. Administrators should research their chosen solution to ensure it has few false positives and false negatives and does what’s needed to protect the organisation from attacks. Also, your chosen web security must be configured properly to avoid common misconfiguration vulnerabilities.

A few technologies common in web security:

  • Web Application Firewall (WAF): A good WAF stops sophisticated DDoS attacks and blocks malicious code injection when users submit information using online forms. It should not be the sole method to stop web-based attacks but can greatly strengthen your strategies and mitigate attacks.
  • Vulnerability scanners: All software should be penetration tested before it’s deployed to production, but even production software should constantly be monitored for vulnerabilities. Scanners perform basic attacker actions to find vulnerabilities in your software. If you find vulnerabilities before attackers do, you can remediate issues before they become the cause of a severe data breach. Good scanning tools also search for misconfigurations in corporate infrastructure.
  • Password-cracking tools: You won’t know if users create weak passwords unless you crack these passwords using common online tools. Whether it is hashed passwords stored in the database or network credentials, running tests against user passwords can determine if they’re not following policies and best practices for password length and complexity.
  • Fuzzing tools: Fuzzing tools are similar to scanners, but they can be used to assess code as it’s developed in real-time. A fuzzer searches code during testing, after it’s deployed to staging, and when it’s finally deployed to production. Unlike a simple scanner, a fuzzer provides insight on the potential problem to help developers and operations people fix the issue.
  • Black box testing tools: Attackers use several methods to find vulnerabilities in software, and black box testing tools emulate real-world threats to identify vulnerabilities. These tools perform malicious actions against deployed software to identify potential vulnerabilities and use common exploits to help developers remediate issues. The name “black box testing” describes the black-hat hacker methods used to find vulnerabilities.
  • White box testing tools: As developers code their applications, coding mistakes introduce common vulnerabilities. A white box testing tool analyzes code as it’s created and provides insights to developers that help avoid making common mistakes. Think of white box testing as a way to oversee software development so that vulnerabilities are stopped before the code is compiled and deployed to staging and production environments.

What Does Web Security Protect Against?

Web security doesn’t protect against every attack under the sun, but it covers many common threats your organisation will face if internal infrastructure connects to the internet. Think of web security as an added layer that strengthens any current cybersecurity installed within the environment.

A few threats web security stops:

  • Malware: Web security uses antivirus software and other anti-malware infrastructure to stop malware from installing on local machines and other network devices.
  • Data theft: Efficient web security protects data from unauthorized access and eliminates threats that could be used to exfiltrate sensitive information from local network resources to an attacker-controlled server.
  • Phishing: Most data breaches start with a malicious phishing email message, and your web security should filter these messages from reaching the user’s inbox.
  • Session hijacking: Protecting users from stolen cookies from malicious web pages is a component in web filtering and protection, blocking users from accessing websites before these malicious pages can take action on a user session.
  • Malicious redirects: Websites with open URL redirects can be used in phishing attacks to trick users into entering their credentials and other sensitive information, but web security stops these attacks by blocking redirection to known attack sites.
  • Spam: Storage space is expensive, and spam email messages can exhaust these network resources unnecessarily. Web security blocks these messages from reaching the user’s inbox to stop spam and potential phishing emails.
  • Advanced persistent threats: Containing and eradicating sophisticated malware requires advanced security, so your web security infrastructure must monitor and detect malicious activity to stop it early before data exfiltration.
  • Shadow IT: No unauthorized device should be allowed to connect to the network, so a good web security strategy detects these devices and blocks them from accessing sensitive data or resources.

How Proofpoint Can Help

Proofpoint’s advanced web security offers many of the features necessary to protect your entire IT environment from the numerous attacks in the wild. It stops advanced persistent threats that can plant themselves in a network environment and become difficult to eradicate completely. These threats often leave backdoors and download other malware, giving attackers a way to access data even if administrators think it’s been completely removed.

Monitoring the IT environment and allowing visibility into every aspect of the environment is another feature Proofpoint web security products offer to enterprise organisations. Know when your environment is under attack and continually monitor all network resources to detect any suspicious behaviour that could be an attack.

With Proofpoint’s web security proxy, user internet browsing is safe from the many web-based attacks in the wild that could put your organisation at risk of data loss. Our cloud-based management, monitoring, and sandboxing bring data loss prevention (DLP) to our customers to remain compliant while granting users access to the internet for research and increased productivity.