Types of Website Security Testing: Introduction & Explanation

Alliance  ·  September 13

Website security is vital for any website that has a login page, accepts credit card information, or provides access to sensitive customer data. Website security testing is the process of identifying vulnerabilities and weaknesses in website code and infrastructure design. 

Image source: Astra Security

How does a hacker break into a website?

While today’s frameworks in which websites are built are inherently quite secure, still hackers do manage to break into the website. There are so many moving parts – your server, database, the application language, front end, headers etc. that it’s practically impossible for a small business to ensure 100% security when building a web application.

Hackers often hack websites by using automated tools to scan website code and other infrastructure. Often times the lack of proper website maintenance services can leave a website vulnerable to attacks or exploits of aging software code.  Once vulnerable areas are identified, hackers can launch an attack by exploiting a website’s vulnerabilities in order to gain access to customer data or financial records. Hackers can also use website security testing tools that help identify possible exploits on the website itself such as SQL injection attacks, cross-site scripting (XSS), website defacement, hidden iFrames etc.

Recent website hacks have been damaging to website reputation and website rankings. While initiating a website security audit or pentesting, companies often face resistance from the website owner who is not aware of all types of website hacking techniques or how they manage their own website’s cyber risk profile.

Some recent website hackers include:

  • Bigbasket data leak: Website security breach exposing the personal information of over 17 million customers
  • TIO Networks: A website security breach that led to the exposure of 11 million customers’ records.
  • Microsoft France website defacement after French court rulings on software patents.
  • Google China website hack affecting 30,000 accounts due to an iFrame injection attack.
  • The website of the New York Times was breached by a Chinese hacker in 2013.
  • In 2016, Russian hackers were accused of breaching Democratic National Committee’s website to leak data and emails that potentially affected the outcome of an election.
  • In 2017, website security provider Sucuri identified a major website hack in which hackers were injecting malicious code to generate cryptocurrency.

Website owners must proactively perform website security testing so that hackers do not gain access to customer data or financial records while website owners are also able to identify vulnerabilities in their website’s code and infrastructure design. Website security testing types will be explained below:

Types of Web Security Testing

1. White-box testing: 

White box website security testing is also known as clear box or transparent, because of the detailed insight into the website code that white box website testers have access to during a test. White-box website security testing is typically used by website owners and website developers to test the code of their applications. This type of website security testing is also known as a developer’s perspective because every aspect of the website can be analyzed during white box website penetration tests.

White-box website testers have complete access and control over all data on the website. White-box website security testing is often used when website owners or developers are looking to identify website vulnerabilities and harden the website code against future attacks. White box website penetration tests should be carried out after all components of a website have been designed, built and integrated with each other successfully i.e., before going live on the internet so website owners and website developers can test the security of their website. Though of course, it’s recommended to plan and work with security teams from day one so that security can be incorporated within the SDLC.

2. Black-box testing: 

Black box website security testing is also known as opaque or non-transparent because black box website testers do not have any knowledge of the website code. Black-box website penetration tests are often used by external parties to test how secure a website really is when they don’t know anything about its backend infrastructure and coding language.

Black box website penetration tests are typically used by website security teams to identify website vulnerabilities and find out if hackers can access the website after finding their way in. Black box testing is quite ‘hacker style’ in nature.

Black-box website testing is also a good option for when companies that want to know what would happen if they were attacked without any prior knowledge of the inner workings of their code or infrastructure design. Black box penetration testers have a clear picture of how easy it might be for an attacker to take advantage of these unknown gaps in order to gain entry into various parts of your system – customer data, financial records etc.

3. Gray-box testing: 

Gray box website testing is also known as partial or semi-transparent because gray box website testers have some knowledge of the website code and infrastructure design. Gray-box website security tests are typically used by website owners who want to test how secure their website really is when they know that there might be vulnerabilities in their website’s code but don’t know what these website vulnerabilities are.

Summing Up

It’s not a question of “if” you’ll be hacked, it’s just a matter of when. If you haven’t planned already, now is the time to start planning your website security audit and use automated tools like Astra’s Security Scanner, Nessus, Pentest-tools or other scanners to scan your website for vulnerabilities that hackers could exploit. A few simple steps can help make sure that if someone does hack into your site they won’t find anything juicy worth taking with them. Remember, hacking yourself before hackers do will always lead to better outcomes!

Alliance Interactive is a top-rated website maintenance service provider according to Clutch. Alliance Interactive provides managed support for your website maintenance needs to help your business maintain a great online presence and brand image, as well provide feedback for new improvements that can help drive traffic and improve user experience