If you have successfully run your dynamic and static scans and implemented a secure development life cycle throughout your web applications development; you might feel pretty confident your web app is secure. But how sure are you? You may have performed automated web application vulnerability assessments and everything looks good, but to be really sure you should hire a professional web application penetration tester who will manually assess your application for vulnerabilities.

Many areas of web application security testing cannot be successfully automated. For example, a vulnerability assessment tool would be able to successfully tell you that a web application has bad HTTPS configuration, or that a web server version is out of date and in some cases software can identify vulnerabilities such as XSS and SQLi when they are obviously vulnerable.

What is web application penetration testing?

Web application penetration testing, also widely regarded as website or web application security testing, is an in-depth assessment of a web application. A skilled and certified consultant will manually assess your web application for security issues and vulnerabilities, often identifying issues that automated software would simply miss. The manual element of the assessment also allows for a tester to combine multiple lower level security issues to leverage higher level vulnerabilities or even compromise the web application.

Parts of a web application have to be assessed manually, for example session management. It‘s not realistic to expect an automated tool to fully assess an applications session management for all areas covered in the OWASP testing framework. The same logic would apply to access control testing, where a penetration tester manually assess that a lower level user cannot access parts of the application or functionality intended for privileged users. An example would using an API function as a low level user and resetting an administrators password simply by modifying the request.

Severity levels can also be manually assessed with a web application penetration test, a consultant can see the full picture and assign a risk accordingly instead of issuing a boiler plate severity that is not based on the circumstance, which automated software would issue.

If you are depending on automate alone to ensure your applications security, it’s simply not sufficient. While manual web application penetration testing does not ensure or guarantee that an application is free of security issues or vulnerabilities it will typically identify far more issues than just performing an automated vulnerability assessment.

How often does MPT need to be performed on an application?
So, now that you seem to have a basic understanding of what MPT entails, the next thing that would need to be figured out is how often an organisation should perform it.

Depending on your risk management deployment and program, it would be recommended that you schedule an annual web application penetration test for your web applications. This is general good practice, web applications are often modified or frameworks and software used by them become vulnerable. And lastly because your application might need to be meet compliance requirements and specific regulatory standards such as PCI DSS may dictate more frequent testing.

A good use case for a web app security assessment is to use it as a final check, after internal developers have completed remediating flaws that would be found through dynamic and static scans. An external 3rd party penetration testing company can assess the application from an outside prospective with no prior knowledge, often providing unique insight and identifying issues your team did not even know exist or could be exploited in such a way.

TIP – When Sourcing Web App Security Assessment Quotes

A common problem when sourcing quotes for web app pen testing are clients and confusing the service with a vulnerability assessment. Due to this kind of confusion arising, pricing for assessment will often appear to be all over the place. Ensure your web application assessment is conducted manually and is closely aligned with the OWAP testing methodology.

How to prepare for a web application penetration test?

  • Leverage dynamic, static, and software composition analysis technologies in order to find known vulnerabilities. This approach would help to yield higher fidelity results.
  • The external 3rd party team should work with you in order to document your specific concerns and needs, discuss any scoping questions, and record and test logistics information.
  • Lastly, a member of the team should also confirm the testing dates and rules of engagement prior to testing.

We hope this has given you some insight as to why it’s important to conduct security and penetration testing against web applications.