Web Application Vulnerability Assessment Essentials

Conducting Your Vulnerability Assessment: The First Steps

There are a number of reasons your organization may need to conduct a vulnerability assessment. It could be simply to conduct a checkup regarding your overall web security risk posture. But if your organization has more than a handful of applications and a number of servers, a vulnerability assessment of such a large scope could be overwhelming. The first thing you need to decide is what applications need to be assessed, and why. It could be part of your PCI DSS requirements, or to meet HIPAA requirements. Or the scope could be the web security of a single, ready-to-be-deployed application.

Once you've figured out the scope, you need to prioritize the applications that need to be assessed. If you're accessing a single, new application, that decision is easy. But if you're on the precipice of accessing every web application in your architecture, you have some decisions to make. Whether you're looking at the web security of applications you own, or only those that take part in online sales transactions, you need to inventory and prioritize the applications to be assessed.

Depending on the scope and purpose of your vulnerability assessment, it makes sense to start looking at the web security of your crucial applications first - for instance, those that conduct the most transactions or dollar volume - and work down from there. Or it could be starting with all applications that touch those that process and store sales transactions.

No matter your scope, or the purpose of your vulnerability assessment, other aspects of your architecture always need to be considered when listing and prioritizing your applications. For instance, any externally facing applications - even those that don't contain sensitive information - need to be given high priority. The same is true for externally hosted applications, whether they are Internet-facing or directly connected to back-end systems. Any applications that are accessible by the Internet, or hosted by others, should be subject to a vulnerability assessment. You can't assume that an application is secure just because it is hosted by a third-party, just as you can't assume that just there is no risk just because a web application, form, or entire site doesn't handle sensitive information. In both cases, any web security vulnerabilities could very likely lead an attacker directly to your most critical network segments and applications.

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About the author

Caleb Sima United States

Caleb Sima is the former co-founder and CTO of SPI Dynamics, which was acquired by HP Software...

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