Posts Tagged ‘secure development’

The Basics of Secure Web Development

The internet has contributed a great deal to commerce around the world in the last decade, and of course with a whole new generation of people breaking into the online world we’re starting to see just what computers are capable of accomplishing. Particularly when there is malicious intent on the other side of that keyboard.

Hackers and crackers are one of the biggest threats the world has ever experienced; they can take your money, your products or even destroy your business from the inside out – and you’ll never see them do it, they might not leave a trace at all. That is the terrifying truth about the internet; in most cases those with the skills to take what they want have the skills to hide themselves from detection – so what can you do to stop them.

The easiest way of protecting your website is to ensure that your business have a securely developed website. Secure web development is a complex area, and most likely something that you will need the help of a professional in order to fully implement, but it is worth noting that there are three different levels of security to take into consideration for your website and thus three different levels that need to be securely developed in order to ensure the protection of your business.

Consider these levels almost like doors. If your website was a business property you would have three ways in to the top secret bits; a front door, a side door and a back door.

The front door is the user interface; the bit of the website that you yourself work with. Now; the web developer might have made you a big magnificent door, lovely and secure – the sort of user interface that lets you manage your stock, orders, customers and all of the individual aspects of your business effortlessly without giving anything up. However; if your passwords aren’t secure it’s the equivalent of putting a rubbish, rusty old lock on that lovely secure door – completely pointless and insecure. Easy access. This is the first place a hacker is going to look – why would they waste their time hunting down and trying to exploit tiny weaknesses in the back door if they could open the front door with one little shove?

Change your passwords regularly, select passwords that use upper case, lower case, numbers and punctuation. Do not use the same password for everything.

The side door is the programming. The code used to construct your website puts everything in place and says who can do what and when; everything is controlled with the code, so an opening here can cause big problems if a hacker finds it. There are a number of different potential security risks when it comes to the code; there are bugs, which are just general, little faults with the website that occur when something didn’t go quite as planned or something was missed in the development stage. They always happen and there isn’t a single piece of software that doesn’t have bugs, the secure ones are just those that resolve the bugs as soon as they’re found, which stops them from being exploited.

Another risk to that side door is an injection; sort of like a fake key. This is something some of the smarter hackers can accomplish by injecting their own instructions into your system when it sends off a command or query – they can intercept your command or query. For example; let’s say you perform a simple PHP query that will fetch the products from the database when your user selects a product category. Normally this sort of script would be accessed through the URL with a category id.

For example;

Let’s say you did a regular sql database select query looking for the category ID, your category information and URL command might look something like;

c.category_id = ‘ . $_GET[‘cat’] . ‘LIMIT 10’;

Now; obviously this example suggests that the clever programmer has included a limit to prevent what is going to happen next – but this won’t protect him. Poor clever programmer is about to be outsmarted.

First of all; the only thing the thing the hacker needs to do is find your product list page and look for everything, example; or 1=1-

Doesn’t look like anything special right? Well, with this alone the hacker can now see every single one of your products. Depending on how secure your website is this might let them find faults in the products, but it’s probably still not that dangerous right? Well, what if they did this;

/productlist.php?cat=1 or error!;#$

Yep – bet you’re horrified now, because this will typically reveal the DBMS version of the query, and sometimes expose your table and column names. Not dangerous enough for you? With the tables and columns are revealed the hacker can move on to attacking the user table, all thanks to exploiting a weakness in the products table.

/productlist.php?cat=1 and (select count(*) from users) > 0

Creating a new query inside the existing one means that they don’t need to verify the database connection; they’re using yours. They have access to your database not and their using it to find your user table, which can progress to finding how many users you have, and even finding the information within the user table. I’m quite sure I don’t need to specify why having access to your user database is such a bad thing.

So – if you want to avoid the injections you need to ensure that every bit of input data gets validated, reduce the amount of information shown when an error displays, really limit the database permissions to prevent php queries from being able to pull any more information than they absolutely need to and use parameters in your queries.

Finally – the back door. This is the server. You need to ensure that the server you use to host your information and website is secure. There have been a number of cases where highly secure websites were eventually hacked by first hacking a much lower security website that shared the host server. If you want to avoid this you can consider a dedicated server for your website, you should also consider keeping to companies hosting companies that offer support and security as part of the hosting package. Ask them what software their servers are running; this will give you an idea of how regularly they are updated – up to date servers are the most secure. Older software has had longer to be exploited and thus more of the weaknesses in these are already known to hackers.



Kate Critchlow is a young and enthusiastic writer with a particular interest for technology, covering everything from secure development to the latest gadget releases.

Data and Web Security in Business

Not all businesses are aware of just how much of their data is potentially at risk within their own systems and even their website; there simply isn’t the education in place to identify the flaws in one’s system before it’s too late in most cases, which results in compromised data, stolen data, loss of trust from customers and potentially a loss of funds or profits for the business in question; usually because of issues that could have easily been avoided.

First of all you need to secure the internal workings of your business; which means users and data storage. One of the biggest threats to your computer and data security systems is actually the people that you give access to those systems; the human element is less predictable so be sure to take the necessary precautions that will prevent or limit damages should an employee choose to act maliciously. Start by ensuring logins are required and are unique to each user, this allows you to control exactly what each person has access to, and means that it is easier to trace who is responsible if damage is caused. You should also be very careful about providing permissions to these users; consider what they absolutely must have access to, and why, and consider whether or not they really need access to everything they can access. Limitations are the first step towards protection.

Once you have this much protected you can start to think about how to avoid unauthorised access; password protecting everything is a good start, and encrypting sensitive information can be a fantastic way to avoid giving away data that is particularly valuable to your company. These are generally very easy systems to implement, and most security organisations you may choose to work with will help you to set up systems for encryption, data recovery, remote destruction (allowing you to delete data on a stolen device), as well as other aspects of data protections that can be very important to your business. These are important if your business handles a great deal of sensitive information, and of course if that is the case and security is of particularly importance you will want to get a security firm to help you protect it, however in a lot of cases your own IT department can set up the encryption, passwords, firewalls and defences needed to protect basic levels of data against reasonably tough attacks.

Of course your online systems can require something a little different in order to keep them safe, and this is true of your website as well as any online content management, project management or other systems you might be using in the day to day running of your business. Again it is important that everything is password protected to keep things safe and secure as far as your users and their access levels are concerned, but you should also ensure that the development of the websites and tools are done with a certain level of security in mind. There are some rules to this, but in general it isn’t too difficult if you can already develop a website.

No WordPress. If you want a secure website to handle lots of valuable data then WordPress isn’t for you, no matter how easy you think it makes your life. The problem with WordPress is that literally anyone can get it, and they all get the same version. Within a short time the vulnerabilities of that version will have been discovered and likely shared among hackers and other such people, meaning that you can either update or remain vulnerable – your only hope is that WordPress and you update often enough to stay one step ahead of the hackers. This is an issue that exists with a variety of similar platforms and would be difficult to keep yourself secure using these platforms – the best option is to use a secure platform and your own web development team or company.

The variations in the programming that come from using your own team help to create diversity online, which means that it is much harder for hackers and malicious users to find the ways into your system; thus keeping you protected for longer. Of course even with your own website you are likely to be working with systems like Magento for database integration and content management, which will need to be updated every so often but are considerably more secure than systems like WordPress, and you will have to keep certificates up to date, particularly your SSL certificates.


Kate Critchlow is a freelance writer with a passionate interest for technology covering everything from web development to IT security services.