Web Security Threats: An Overview
Web security threats are a form of internet-borne cybersecurity risk that could expose users to online harm and cause undesired actions or events. Web security issues can severely damage businesses and individuals.
Common types of web security threats include computer viruses, data theft, and phishing attacks. While they are not limited to online activity, web security issues involve cyber criminals using the internet to cause harm to victims. They typically cause problems like denial of access to computers and networks, unauthorized access to and usage of corporate networks, theft and exposure of private data, and unauthorized changes to computers and networks.
Web security threats and approaches have evolved in sophistication with the rise of faster mobile networks and smart devices. Increased web adoption through popular communication and productivity tools, as well as the Internet of Things (IoT), has outpaced the security awareness and readiness of most businesses and end-users.
These web security issues will only increase as people become more reliant on the web, creating new vulnerabilities for attackers to exploit.
Business Impact of Web Security Breaches
Web security threats can have a significant impact on enterprises of all shapes and sizes. In fact, global cyber crime is expected to inflict damage worth $6 trillion in 2021, which would make it the world’s third-largest economy if measured as a country.
The most significant impact that web threats can have on businesses include:
The knowledge that web security threats abound forces businesses to enhance their defenses, keep their data and users secure, and put in place tools and processes that can mitigate any damage caused by an attack. This means paying for cybersecurity expertise and technology solutions, public relations support, and insurance premiums.
In the event of a successful attack, organizations are also likely to incur more financial costs to:
- Fix the damage caused by an attack
- Pay ransom fees to retrieve frozen or stolen data
- Notify affected parties in the event of a breach
Other costs include fines from regulatory bodies if organizations fail to comply with data privacy and security legislations. When this happens, they also have to pay for legal assistance. Web security issues can likewise result in organizations losing revenue as customers move their business elsewhere.
Disrupted Business Operations
Web security threats can cause significant disruption to regular business operations because of threat actors infecting networks and systems with malware, deleting critical business data, and installing malicious code on servers. As a result, online stores can be taken offline, rendering customers unable to purchase products. Business disruption is a popular tactic of hacktivists, who aim to breach the networks of top corporations and government agencies, usually to make a point.
A successful attack can also cause significant reputational damage. This type of damage may be harder to quantify, but web threats in network security that result in data loss can lead to customers no longer trusting an organization and moving to a competitor—which in turn results in a loss in market value.
Intellectual Property (IP) Loss
Companies’ most critical and valuable assets include IP like corporate strategies, product designs, and technologies. This information is valuable to attackers, who often use web security threats to steal or sell corporate IP.
What Websites Are Commonly Targeted?
Attackers frequently target popular websites that rely on open-source content management systems (CMS), such as Joomla, Magento, and WordPress. For example, in June 2020, a cyberattack targeting 1.3 million WordPress sites was discovered in an attempt to download configuration files and database credentials.
Web Security Threats in Network Security: Common Attack Methods
Cyber criminals use a wide range of methods to exploit web security. Some of the most commonly deployed types of web security threats include:
Phishing attacks involve attackers targeting users through email, text messages, or social media messaging sites. They pose as a sender the user trusts to trick them into giving up sensitive information like account numbers, credit card data, and login credentials. A successful phishing attack can also result in cyber criminals gaining unauthorized access to corporate networks, enabling them to steal business data.
Phishing is most commonly committed through email, which remains the most significant attack vector.
Ransomware is a form of malware that results in an attacker holding their victim’s data or computer hostage. The attacker threatens to block access to, corrupt, or publish the data unless their victim pays a ransom fee.
Ransomware attacks are typically initiated through phishing emails that contain malicious attachments or links that lead the user’s computer to download malware. The device gets infected by the malware, which looks for files to encrypt and prevents users from accessing them. Ransomware is also spread via drive-by downloading, which occurs when users visit an infected website that downloads malware onto their device without them knowing.
Structured Query Language (SQL) is a computing language used to search and query databases. SQL injection is a web security threat in which attackers exploit vulnerabilities in the application code. Attackers achieve this by inserting an SQL query in standard online form fields, such as login boxes on a website, which are passed to the application’s SQL database.
SQL injection attacks have succeeded in exploiting vulnerabilities on shared codebases like WordPress plugins. A vulnerability in the code can lead to hundreds of thousands of websites using the code being hacked. Attackers use this web security issue to steal corporate data, such as customer files and financial information.
Cross-site scripting (XSS) is a form of web security issue that enables attackers to execute malicious scripts on trusted websites. In an XSS attack, web applications or pages are used to submit malicious code and compromise user interactions. The attacker can then seize a user’s identity to carry out malicious activity, gain authorized access to corporate information, or steal their data.
The script used in XSS attacks prevents users’ browsers from identifying malicious activity. The attacker is therefore free to browse the user’s cookies, sensitive data, and session tokens stored in their browser.
Distributed Denial-of-service (DDoS) attack
A DDoS attack is a web security threat that involves attackers flooding servers with large volumes of internet traffic to disrupt service and take websites offline. The sheer volume of fake traffic results in the target network or server being overwhelmed, which leaves them inaccessible.
DDoS attacks are often carried out by disgruntled employees or hacktivists who want to cause harm to an organization by taking their server offline. Others are done for the fun of exploiting cyber weakness, and many DDoS attacks are financially motivated, such as certain organizations stealing information from their competitors. They can also be used as part of a ransomware attack.
Viruses and Worms
Viruses and worms are malicious programs that spread through computers and networks. Both exploit software vulnerabilities that allow an attacker to steal data from systems. Viruses and worms also install backdoors into systems that an attacker can use to gain unauthorized access, corrupt files, and inflict broader damage to a company.
Worms, in particular, eat up vast amounts of computer memory and network bandwidth, which leads to servers, systems, and networks overloading and malfunctioning. Worms can operate independently, enabling them to spread between systems, but a virus requires a host computer to carry out malicious activity.
Spyware is a form of malware that gathers data from users and their devices then sends it to third-party individuals without consent. Spyware typically collects sensitive information and shares it with advertisers, data collection firms, and cyber criminals, who can use that data to make a profit. It is also used to steal and sell user data like bank accounts, credit card numbers, login credentials, and internet usage information—or to commit broader identity fraud and identity spoofing.
Spyware can be difficult to identify and can cause severe damage to devices and networks. It can also leave a business vulnerable to data breaches, affect device and network performance, and inhibit user activity.