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Do dynamic web pages increase the risk of cyber threats?
Assessing risk level is a core component of any successful cybersecurity endeavor. In today's blog, our team of ethical hackers details the role dynamic web pages play in cyber-related risk, the differences between static and dynamic web pages, what your team can do to mitigate web risks, and more.
What is a Dynamic Web Page?
A dynamic web page displays different content for different users while retaining the same layout and design. Such pages, usually written in CGI, AJAX, ASP or ASP.NET, take longer to load than simple static pages. They’re frequently implemented to show information that changes frequently, like weather updates or stock prices.
Dynamic pages usually contain application programs for different services and require server-side resources like databases. A database allows the page creator to separate the website’s design from the content displayed to users. Once they upload content into the database, it is retrieved by the website in response to a user request.
Dynamic Web Pages vs. Static Web Pages
When a site visitor requests a static page, say, by clicking a link, selecting a browser bookmark, or entering a URL; the web server sends the page directly to the web browser without modifying the final content of the page.
Do Dynamic Web Pages Increase the Risk of Cyber Threats?
In short? Yes. The "why", however, is a bit more involved:
Although dynamic web pages are helpful for many websites, they can cause difficulties for application security testing teams.
For one, developers struggle to find a consistent form of communication with the different system components, which makes it difficult to do automated testing. This results in extra manual effort and extra costs in tester resources.
Next, since the client and server are closely coupled, it’s challenging to develop, test and deploy them independently. This also poses another issue: more code in one place, which means more clutter, and a higher risk of “spaghetti code”, i.e., code that’s unstructured, convoluted, and difficult to maintain. Furthermore, since server programming and client programming require different approaches, several developers end up working on one codebase, which leads to chaos, not only during development but also during testing.
Finally, dynamic web pages require more in-depth fuzzing and manual testing to understand how untrusted user inputs can enable unauthorized access, and affect back-end operations. For example, a bad actor may execute a command injection attack to execute arbitrary commands on the host operating system via a vulnerable web application. Such attacks are possible when the application passes unsafe user-supplied data, say through forms, which are very common in dynamic web pages.
Similarly, a threat actor may execute an SQL injection attack by inserting an SQL query via the input data from the client to the application. Such exploits can read or modify the dynamic site’s database, execute administration operations on it, and sometimes issue commands to the operating system. All of these are real security challenges with dynamic web pages which cannot be adequately identified or addressed with automated testing or vulnerability scanning.
The Security Advantages of a Static Web Page or Website vs. a Dynamic Web Page or Website
Although dynamic and hybrid websites and web pages will likely forever remain more popular than static sites and pages, here are the benefits of opting for a static web page or website:
Improved Loading Speed
The makeup of a static page prioritizes load speed, resulting in a better browsing experience. Because the content on this type of site is pre-written and delivered directly from the server, caching is more accessible and the content is less likely to load with delays or UX issues, such as broken images. This can also help fortify against cache poisoning.
In general, static websites require less server power, and with no database or client-server infrastructure to run through, they’re also faster. Since page load speed is a vital part of how Google assesses a website's performance (and it seems to be having a more significant impact on SEO and ranking performance, too) this ability should not be overlooked.
Fast Page Creation
When you are thinking about the time it takes to build a web page or website and, when time is an issue, a static website is more accessible to get live quicker. Static websites are faster to create and publish since they are less complex and don’t need to be connected to databases of organized content.
Alongside static pages being simpler and consequently faster to deploy, they are also quicker to take down or archive if needed during a potential breach.
Enhanced Security Potential
In theory, static website pages are potentially more difficult to hack. This is because there are less points to attack them from.
Why? Because static pages don’t connect with a data reserve or use external extensions and plugins... each of which can be common attack entry points. In comparison, dynamic sites are not inherently unsafe, but potential attackers theoretically pose less risk with a static website.
How to Protect Dynamic Web Pages
Here at Packetlabs, we execute a variety of services to help bolster organizations' overall security posture:
DevSecOps: DevSecOps is integrated early in your development cycle and acts as an extension of your development team to flag vulnerabilities within your existing detected management systems
Red Teaming: Red Teaming is a full-scope simulated attack designed to get a holistic review of the level of risk and vulnerabilities across people, processes, and tech in an organization
Purple Teaming: Purple Teaming is our collaborative testing exercise where the Packetlabs red team works with your internal security operations team (or blue team) to bridge the gap between offensive techniques and response efforts
Cyber Maturity Assessments: A Cyber Maturity Assessment supports the tactical direction of your cybersecurity strategy. As the first step in strengthening your security posture, this assessment generates the roadmap to strengthen your overall security program
Compromise Assessments: A Compromise Assessment uncovers past or present threats like zero-day malware, trojans, ransomware, and other anomalies that may go unnoticed in standard automated vulnerability scans
OT Assessments: OT Cybersecurity Assessments simulate the likelihood of an attacker reaching the control centre from an external and internal perspective with production-safe testing
Ransomware Penetration Testing: A ransomware penetration test evaluates the preparedness and risk of a ransomware attack and identifies gaps in people, processes, and technology, to determine the likelihood and readiness for a ransomware attack
Cloud Penetration Testing: Multiple perspectives help with strengthening your security posture. These include Cloud Penetration Testing, which simulates an attacker in the environment, and a Cloud Penetration Review, which provides insights into cloud-specific vulnerabilities originating from an insecure configuration. Each of these services can be conducted separately or, for maximum effectiveness, combined as an enhanced cloud security bundle
Objective-based Penetration Testing: Following a preliminary penetration test, objective-based testing conducts a more advanced simulated cybersecurity attack. The test is conducted by persistent ethical hackers who deploy multiphase attacks to gain access to your organization's data so that you can discover gaps and vulnerabilities unique to your organization and test your ability to detect and respond to threat actor
Application Security Testing: More targeted in scope than a regular pentest, application security testing uncovers vulnerabilities residing in your web and mobile apps. Application Security Testing actively explores your application from an attacker’s perspective
Infrastructure Penetration Testing: An infrastructure penetration testing assessment uncovers vulnerabilities in your IT and network systems and provides a tailored approach to each environment
These are in addition to the Packetlabs Portal, which lets you quickly view findings, prioritize efforts, request retests after remediation, and monitor progress. For issues like how dynamic web pages increase the risk of cyber threats, we recommend a blend of both cybersecurity consulting and Application Security Testing.
From this list, each type of penetration test or assessment can be tailored to your organization's specific cybersecurity wants, needs, goals, and pre-existing vulnerabilities.
When it comes to the question of, "Do dynamic web pages increase the risk of cyber threats?" The answer is, unfortunately, a resounding yes,
However, that doesn't mean all hope is lost. Through a blend of education and cohesive Application Security Testing, even the most involved of dynamic web pages can be fortified against both common and more advanced cyber threats.
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