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What can be the consequences of a security breach in a web application?

consequences of a security breach in a web application

Web applications are a double-edged sword: they are the perfect showcase for potential customers, but they also act as a large window to sneak in and plunder the business. A security breach in a web application can trigger severe incidents.

No one is safe. What would happen if the phone numbers of personalities such as the king or the president of the government were publicly exposed? Harassment. Threats. Identity theft. Account theft. The list of possible consequences goes on and on. Still, fortunately, none materialized when, in the summer of 2021, a security breach in the COVID certificate system in Madrid exposed the contact details of thousands of people for several hours. Among them were King Felipe VI and Pedro Sanchez, president of the government.

This incident was caused by a failure to update the web application, which had passed all security protocols. In a matter of hours, the problem was put to an end, thus preventing this vulnerability from being exploited by third parties.

Cases like this are repeated yearly, but many have different fates. Any security breach in a web application can affect millions in the blink of an eye, posing a constant threat to companies, institutions and users. This is why emphasis must be placed on prevention and seeking quick and practical solutions to minimize damage in the face of adversity.

What are they, and why is a security breach triggered in a web application?

These breaches are nothing more than episodes of vulnerability in a web application that allow unauthorized access to confidential information and data. They can also give control of the infrastructure in which it is hosted or interrupt the correct functioning of the application under attack, thus compromising the system’s security.

Security breaches in web applications can occur for various reasons: attacks, bad practices, design errors in their source code or business logic, incorrect configurations or lack of updates in their components.

The beginning of the end: the consequences of a security breach

Once the breach is open, what can be the repercussions?

1- Loss and theft of data and information

The first thing that comes to mind when we think of the result of a security breach is the loss and theft of data and information.

And it is not surprising since, nowadays, information is one of the most critical assets in the global value chain, becoming the currency of exchange par excellence. That is why it is always in the sights of cybercriminals.

2- Data kidnapping and ransomware

If the stolen data is not an end in itself for the attacker, it can be a means to achieve other objectives. The theft of data and information can lead to episodes of extortion and blackmail, with the possibility of demanding a ransom for the data, thus increasing the economic repercussions caused by the security breach.

3- Economic losses due to suspension of activity

A security breach in a web application can have the purpose of shutting down its operation, which can translate into economic losses for every minute that passes.

Thus, a company whose business model depends on online sales, for example, will stop invoicing when the breach affects its e-commerce service. The economic damage is directly proportional to the time that elapses until the security breach is resolved.

4- Reputational damage

The very existence of a security breach in a web application is enough to damage the reputation of a company or institution.

Although this security hole does not result in any direct material loss, it exposes the vulnerability of the web service provided and, therefore, generates distrust in the user. This results in a loss of reputation and the consequent loss of customers and the detriment of the confidence of stakeholders or investors.

5- Third-party claims

Along the same lines, a security breach in a web application can be a source of lawsuits from third parties since they have the right to denounce and demand compensation for the damages caused.

6- Fines and penalties

In Spain, the Spanish Data Protection Agency (AEPD) ensures compliance with the regulations in force regarding the security of personal data. It can impose fines and penalties on those agents who do not comply with these regulations.

In October last year, the AEPD imposed a fine of more than 6 million euros on the electricity giant Endesa for mismanagement of a security incident, which affected its data protection systems. The passwords of 6 million customers were published on Facebook. The initial inaction and lack of communication with the authorities were the reasons for which the public body finally reprimanded Endesa.

As this example demonstrates, the intrinsic consequences of a security breach in a web application can be compounded by a sanction for a lack of diligence in taking action.

Prevention is everything

How can we act in the face of these security holes? As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure. The most effective thing is excellent and constant previous work, which responds to a robust and updated security policy.

To this end, there are several measures to be taken into account:

– Patching to correct errors.
Periodic pentesting or penetration tests.
– Constant development through updates.
– Secure design of applications from the very beginning.
– The security of the entire infrastructure is included in contingency plans.

The guidelines and recommendations of the OWASP Foundation (Open Web Application Security Project) can be a good starting point when developing a web application. In short, to create a technological environment that is better prepared to face the countless threats circulating on the Web today.

The moral of the story

Again, no one is safe. Suppose we have learned anything from these kinds of incidents. In that case, security breaches can occur in the web applications of any organization, even those with the most advanced and effective means of combating these vulnerabilities.

The variety of attacks and entry routes, coupled with the high motivation of the attackers, represents a constant threat. And a highly evolving one at that. Every day, new threats and attacks emerge on the Internet, potentially triggering severe security crises.

This is why prevention at the source is critical when containing any security breach in a web application. Pentesting, periodic security analysis, internal culture, sound development practices… Every little bit helps to confront hostile actors.

From a small business to a multinational. Anyone connected to the Web is susceptible to a security breach. We see it every day…