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Demystifying Web Application Testing: A Comprehensive Guide

Lorna Jones

Lorna Jones, Senior Cyber Security Consultant
Oct 22, 2023

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A CPA's Guide to Web Application Security Testing

Look at this with us. You started a business after going to business school for a few years. Majoring in accounting, you decided to hit it big and open an accounting firm.
For modern accounting firms, web-based applications like client portals, e-filing systems, and online tax preparation tools are pivotal for efficiency and client service. Imagine all the workload your business could put off with such resources. However, cyber risks facing web apps can seriously undermine account security and data integrity if not correctly assessed and addressed.

Many small and mid-sized firms underestimate threats looming in their web apps and how to evaluate them. According to the Accounting and Auditing Special Report, just 38% of accountants report conducting cybersecurity testing. They lack proper assessments, and vulnerabilities go unseen, allowing data breaches, compliance failures, and financial damage when flawed apps are exploited.

CPAs should thoroughly understand and test web application security controls to protect client accounts. This article demystifies fundamental testing approaches, implementations, and how firms can start maximising web app protections. If these firms do not follow such protocols, they risk. Becoming some statistic on an article or a web report like the following:

"Newcastle Firm Hacked By Malware: In a real-life case study, a two-partner accounting firm in Newcastle experienced a security hack that disrupted their operations for a month. Despite being a 100% cloud accounting firm with strong security measures, the firm was still vulnerable to cyberattacks."

And sometimes, it is the fault of who you choose as a third-party provider for your web app and software. What happened with:

"FreshBooks, a Canadian cloud accounting software company, experienced a security breach in January 2023. Cybernews researchers discovered a publicly accessible AWS Storage bucket belonging to FreshBooks, which contained sensitive employee information and backups of the website's source code and related database.
The breach put over 30 million FreshBooks users in over 160 countries at risk of identity theft and other cybercrime. FreshBooks fixed the issue after being contacted by Cybernews and the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security. FreshBooks has an active information security program to address the problems related to the platform, customers, and employees and maintains an incident response plan."
In this article, we will discuss the risks, best practices, and implementations that your business should follow if they want to overcome this threat and be with the careful 38%. Let's dive in.

Typical Web Application Risks Facing Your Business

Web apps used by accounting firms face many dangers, and these dangers put the firm's reputation revenue in jeopardy (which is not ideal); waking up to a missed call from your accounting business' IT team about some compromisation is not something to mess with these breaches can happen for many reasons. Even newer ways to exploit your business system come out every day. It is why vigilance is a prerequisite. Here are some of the reasons it could go wrong:

- Weak authentication controls enabling account takeovers through stolen credentials or brute force attacks. Attackers can leverage compromised accounts to access sensitive client financial data.

- Input validation flaws like SQL injection that allow attackers to manipulate backend databases to extract information or install malware.

- Broken access controls that properly restrict account privileges can enable privilege escalation to view unauthorised data.

- Vulnerable third-party code like outdated JavaScript libraries containing bugs that lead to system compromise when exploited.

- Improper session management enabling hijacking of active user sessions, bypassing login.
- Cross-site scripting (XSS) permits the injection of malicious scripts into web apps to steal user sessions and data.

- Misconfigured security settings, like improper SSL use, enabling interception of sensitive communications.

Proactively finding and fixing these types of weaknesses is imperative for mitigating catastrophic data breaches and maintaining the integrity of client accounts.

Core Principles of Application Security Testing

Web app testing focuses on identifying vulnerabilities stemming from software flaws, system misconfigurations, or procedural gaps before criminals discover and abuse them. Leading practices include:

- Static Testing – Analyzing source code for security defects through static analysis and manual code review. Reveals flaws within the code itself that could lead to exploitation.

- Dynamic Testing – Testing running web apps through simulation of real-world attacks to uncover vulnerabilities in production. Dynamically interacts with apps and mimics hackers.

- Interactive Testing – Leveraging tools and techniques requiring interaction with an app to probe security. Examples include credential stuffing to test account controls and input fuzzing to overload apps to find flaws.

- Configuration Testing – Assessing web server settings, platform hardening, access controls and other security parameters governing apps are correctly implemented per best practices.
Robust programs apply combinations of these testing practices based on risk, development lifecycles, compliance needs and other factors.

OWASP Top 10 Vulnerabilities

The OWASP Top 10 represents critical web application vulnerabilities accounting for the most severe security risks. Testing focuses heavily on identifying these weaknesses:
- Injection attacks like SQL or OS commands due to unchecked inputs.
- Broken authentication allowing account takeovers through compromised credentials.
- Sensitive data exposure due to lack of encryption or access controls.
- XML external entity (XXE) injection enabling attackers to exploit XML parsers and backends.
- Broken access controls allow unauthorised access to data and functions.
- Cross-site scripting (XSS) enables the injection of malicious scripts into web apps.
- Insecure misconfigurations due to flawed settings, permissions, and platform hardening.
- Cross-site request forgery (CSRF) permitting malicious commands to APIs and sites.
- Using vulnerable components containing unpatched bugs.
- Insufficient logging and monitoring to detect attacks.
Concentrated testing aligned to these critical risks helps accounting firms cover bases efficiently

Implementing Web Application Testing and What Your Business Needs to Do.

Accounting firms looking to implement web app testing should consider a few guidelines:
Conduct Testing Throughout Development – Shifting left by testing earlier in the software development lifecycle helps resolve vulnerabilities cost-effectively before reaching production.

Prioritise High-Risk Apps – Focus initial efforts on apps handling sensitive client financial data and access credentials, posing the most significant risks if compromised.

Validate Production Systems – Flaws caught only in development may not reflect production weaknesses. Testing live systems provide real-world validation.

Employ Automation – Leverage web vulnerability scanners for continuous, automated testing between manual assessments. Enables identifying new flaws faster.

Test Internally and Externally – Conduct inside-out and outside-in testing across internal and external-facing web apps to reflect different threats.

Complement with Pen Testing – Combine web app testing with network and system penetration testing to comprehensively evaluate cyber risks.

Conduct Annual Assessments – Conduct intensive web app testing yearly to audit new vulnerabilities as apps evolve.

Testing should be integrated across the web app security program, not just sporadic one-off exercises.

Checklist for Choosing a Web App Auditor

Most small and mid-sized accounting firms lack specialised internal resources to perform intensive web app testing and benefit significantly from engaging an outside auditor:
Web App Expertise – Seek seasoned auditors focused on web application security versus general IT consultants.
Accounting Experience – Select a firm well-versed in accounting industry web platforms and data security regulations.
Certified Auditors – Demand auditors carry technical certifications like Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) demonstrating skills.
Compliance Alignment – Confirm testing procedures and reporting align with compliance standards like SOC 2.
Actionable Results – Require clear remediation guidance based on risk and best practices versus raw vulnerability data.
Ongoing Advisory – Opt for ongoing security advisory after testing to help implement recommendations.
Partnering with qualified specialists provides CPAs with the web app security assurances needed in today's escalating threat climate.

Our Conclusion on Why Microminder is The Best Choice for Your Business

Web applications form the digital backbone of modern accounting firms but introduce cyber risks if not adequately secured. Proactively identifying vulnerabilities through rigorous web app security testing is a must for risk mitigation. Testing provides insights to target remediation efforts based on real dangers before clients are impacted.

Your business must embed testing throughout the software development lifecycle and across production systems for long-term resilience. While demanding expertise, web app security is increasingly imperative for accounting firms looking to fulfil duties to safeguard sensitive client data and deliver reliable digital services.

Moving to 100% cloud might be the smartest but the riskiest way to scale and grow your business. If you plan to take such a step, you got the best of the firms to safeguard your business infrastructure. Book a call with us now and Join the other nine thousand businesses in safety and scalability. Visit our website and claim your free web app penetration test. 

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