The Two Sides Of Cybersecurity: Application And Data Security

For any business, the tools you rely on and the knowledge you have are two of the most important (probably the most important) assets that you have. They must be protected at all costs.

Given their importance, it’s therefore no surprise that these are two of the ways in which hackers frequently attack companies and organizations. With modern business infrastructure reliant on networks, and with more and more data kept online, exploiting vulnerabilities can enable hackers to cause massive amounts of damage.

Disrupting application and data security can be devastating for organizations, whether because of time lost, loss of customer trust, breach of regulatory requirements, or more. As a result, maintaining this security is critical, and should be the cornerstone of any well-executed cyber security strategy.

Going after your weak points

Applications can be split into two broad categories: back-end systems which are rarely seen by the customer, and end-user applications, which are. By attacking web-facing applications, hackers can attack both; finding ways to both impact the front-facing applications you use to show customers and also sensitive back-end systems.

One of the more common cyber attacks is a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack, in which attackers harness a large number of connected devices in what is called a “botnet” to crash a website or web service with fake traffic. A DDoS attack works a little bit like a traffic jam. By overwhelming a system with requests (or, in the case of the traffic jam analogy, vehicles) it makes it impossible for legitimate traffic to get where it wants to go. DDoS attacks can last for days and, during that time, render services totally inaccessible to real users. DDoS attacks have been used to attack popular code repository GitHub, the BBC, Bank of America, Sony, and others.

Other types of web application attacks explicitly go after data. Weaknesses or vulnerabilities let hackers and cybercriminals get access to databases that can provide sensitive data, either regarding the company and its employees or details of customers. This information could be anything from passwords and email addresses to financial details and real world addresses. The average cost of a data breach to a company reportedly exceeds $3.5 million: far from small change.

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SQL Injection attacks and beyond

One of the most common attacks used to steal data is an SQL Injection attack. In an SQL Injection, a malicious SQL statement is indeed into an entry field, such as the place where users would normally be asked to type their username and password. This SQL statement then exploits security vulnerabilities, letting attackers spoof identities, destroy data, make changes such as voiding transactions or altering balances, and more.

Yet another type of attack is a Cross-Site Scripting attack (XSS attack), whereby attackers get around the Same Origin Policy (SOC), a crucial part of web application security that allows scripts on one webpage to access data from another, but only if they’re both coming from the same origin. An XSS attack circumvents that, making it possible for an attacker to insert their own code onto a target’s website. When this code is loaded, it can allow the hacker to read or steal sensitive information; even posing as the victim to compromise their website.

These are only a few of the many, many different types of attack that can be leveled against organizations. Others can be every bit as nasty, such as ransomware attacks, which encrypt information which is only released (so hackers promise!) if you pay them a ransom to do so. However, they serve to underline just why it’s so important to ensure application and data security. Fortunately, as smart as some of the attackers may be, there are just as smart (if not smarter) solutions designed to protect legitimate users.

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Some of the solutions available

One solution is known as data masking. Data masking or data obfuscation is an approach to protecting private or sensitive information from people without the right authority or access to see it. For example, a company working with a contractor to create a database probably does not want that database environment to be visible to the contractors with live, real customer information. Data masking allows companies to use realistic data on their testing servers, but utilizing transformation techniques in order to scramble and hide the original data.

Meanwhile, vulnerability scanning is a method of allowing organizations to discover the weaknesses of a system so as to understand vulnerabilities and their severity, and then take steps to remediate them. Modern vulnerability scanners are most commonly available as SaaS (Software as a service), provided online in the form of a web application.

Just as the cyberattacks listed further up are only a few examples of the vast number of possible attacks, these are just a couple of illustrations of the ways organizations can protect themselves. Protecting against some, or even most, cyber threats isn’t enough. Applications and data are simply too valuable to take any chances. It’s imperative that decision-makers insist on implementing comprehensive cybersecurity systems. That means having a strong understanding of the computing assets they rely on, the compliance requirements they may be legally obliged to follow, and all of the risks that they face.

If you’re not sure, don’t have time, and are not an expert in cybersecurity, strongly consider bringing in the experts to help. More businesses than ever today rely on the security of their data and applications. Investing properly to keep this safe is the smartest business decision you’ll make all year.

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