Web Application Hacking 101

Web Application Hacking

Web Application Hacking 101

As more and more business operations move online, the importance of web application security for organizations has become increasingly vital.

This guide will provide an overview of the different types of web application attacks, the techniques used to prevent them, and the tools used by hackers. We will also discuss the challenges organizations face in protecting their web applications and the importance of working together with hackers to improve web application security.

Listen to our audio to get a 30-second overview of Web Application Hacking:

What is Application Hacking?

Application hacking is the process of exploiting security vulnerabilities in a computer application to gain unauthorized access. It involves bypassing authentication, authorizations, and other security controls to access confidential data or modify existing application functions. An application hack can be done with malicious intent to steal data or damage software. Conversely, a hack may be executed with good intentions to protect a system proactively.

Types of Web Application Attacks

There are many different types of web application attacks that exploit various vulnerabilities. Some of the most common include:

  • SQL injection: This attack involves injecting malicious code into a web application’s SQL database to gain unauthorized access or extract sensitive information.
  • Cross-site scripting (XSS): This attack involves injecting malicious code into a web page viewed by other users to steal their information or execute malicious actions on their behalf.
  • Cross-site request forgery (CSRF): This attack involves tricking a user into performing an action on a web application without their knowledge or consent.
  • File inclusion vulnerabilities: This attack exploits vulnerabilities in a web application’s file management system to gain unauthorized access to sensitive files.
  • Remote code execution: This attack involves injecting malicious code into a web application to execute arbitrary commands on the server.
  • Broken authentication and session management: This attack exploits vulnerabilities in a web application’s authentication and session management system to gain unauthorized access.
  • Insecure Direct Object Reference (IDOR): This attack involves exploiting vulnerabilities in a web application’s object reference system to gain unauthorized access to sensitive data.
  • Injection flaws: This attack involves injecting malicious code into web application inputs to exploit vulnerabilities in the code.
  • Improper error handling: This attack exploits how a web application handles errors to gain unauthorized access or extract sensitive information.

Techniques for Preventing Web Application Attacks

Organizations can use various techniques to protect web applications from these attacks. Some of the most effective techniques include:

  • Input validation and sanitization: This technique ensures that all input data is properly validated and sanitized before a web application processes it.
  • Use of prepared statements and parameterized queries: This technique uses prepared statements and parameterized queries to prevent SQL injection attacks.
  • Secure session management: This technique ensures that sessions are correctly managed and protected, including using secure cookies and session IDs.
  • Regular penetration testing: This technique involves testing web applications for vulnerabilities by simulating attacks.

Tools Used by Hackers

Hackers use various tools to identify and exploit vulnerabilities in web applications. Some of the most popular include:

  • Burp Suite: This comprehensive tool is widely used by professional security researchers and ethical hackers for web application penetration testing. It offers a variety of features, such as intercepting and manipulating HTTP/HTTPS traffic, automated scanning, and manual testing capabilities.
  • OWASP ZAP: This open-source tool finds vulnerabilities in web applications. It offers automated and manual scanning, spidering, and proxy functionality. Additionally, it has a unique feature of an active scanner that can find vulnerabilities that other tools cannot detect easily.
  • Nmap: This open-source tool is used for network exploration and security auditing. It can be used to discover hosts and services on a computer network and identify open ports, operating systems, and software versions.
  • Metasploit: This open-source tool is widely used by penetration testers and ethical hackers to exploit vulnerabilities in web applications and other software. It offers a vast collection of exploit modules and payloads and the ability to integrate with other tools like Nmap for reconnaissance.
  • sqlmap: This open-source tool automates detecting and exploiting SQL injection vulnerabilities. It offers a variety of features, such as automated injection, database fingerprinting, and data extraction capabilities.
  • Wireshark: This open-source tool captures and analyzes network traffic. It is widely used for troubleshooting and analyzing network issues, as well as for identifying any suspicious or malicious traffic.

Challenges Faced by Organizations

Protecting web applications from attacks can be a complex and ongoing process. Organizations may face a variety of challenges, such as:

  • Lack of security education among employees: Many employees may need to be made aware of the importance of web application security or how to identify and prevent attacks.
  • Limited budget for security measures: Organizations may need more resources to implement the necessary security measures.
  • Difficulty in identifying and patching vulnerabilities: Web applications constantly evolve, and new vulnerabilities are discovered over time.
  • Dependence on third-party software: Organizations may rely on third-party software and need more control over its security.
  • Balancing security with usability: Organizations may need to balance implementing security measures and ensuring that web applications are easy for customers and employees.

One of the major challenges organizations face with web application hacking is the need for more financial incentive to invest in better security measures.

As discussed by Benjamin Dean, a fellow for internet governance and cybersecurity, the costs of cybercrime are distributed widely across society and the financial incentives for companies to invest in greater information security are low.

He suggests that government intervention may be necessary to encourage companies to improve their information security. Until then, the burden of keeping applications safe falls mainly on the organizations and motivated, philanthropic security professionals.

Working Together: Hackers and Organizations Improving Web Application Security

Hackers and organizations can work together to improve the security of web applications, much like how a locksmith and a homeowner relationship works.

Just as a locksmith can identify and fix weaknesses in a lock to improve the security of a house, ethical hackers can identify and report vulnerabilities in a web application to the organization, acting as a “locksmith” for the application’s security.

Organizations, much like homeowners, can then take the necessary steps to “fix” and remediate these vulnerabilities to improve the overall security of their web applications.

One effective method for organizations to utilize the skills of ethical hackers is through bug bounty programs, which allow organizations to enlist the help of ethical hackers to identify and report vulnerabilities in their web applications. Organizations can more effectively identify and address potential risks by offering incentives for these hackers to disclose any issues they find responsibly.

Organizations can also benefit from the expertise of ethical hacking companies. These professionals can provide valuable insights and knowledge on identifying and mitigating potential vulnerabilities in web applications. They can also offer a heap of skills, experience, and resources that individual freelancers and crowdsourced hackers might need help to match.

Effective communication and collaboration between security and development teams are also crucial. By working together, these teams can ensure that security is integrated throughout the entire web application development process.

Regular penetration testing and vulnerability assessments are also critical. These assessments simulate real-world attacks on web applications, providing organizations with a clear understanding of their security posture and any areas that need to be addressed.

Finally, organizations must regularly review and update their security measures and protocols to protect web applications against potential threats. This includes staying up-to-date with the latest security best practices, frameworks, and technologies and regularly patching and updating any third-party software used in the web applications.


Web application security is crucial for organizations as more and more business operations move online. Organizations can better protect their web applications by understanding the different types of web application attacks and the techniques used to prevent them.

Regular penetration testing and vulnerability assessments are also important for identifying and mitigating risks. By working together, hackers and organizations can improve the security of web applications and protect against potential attacks.

Keep in mind: security is an ongoing process, and regular reviews and updates are necessary to ensure that web applications are protected against potential threats.