Friday, October 21st 2022

See Yourself in Cyber with OffSec: Web Application Security

As part of Cybersecurity Awareness Month 2022, we share a complete guide to starting a career in web application security with insight into career outlook, essential skills, and much more.

What is Web Application Security?

The world runs on web applications, from online banking and remote work applications to streaming services and e-commerce. Developers tirelessly create new apps, iterate existing ones and quickly deliver updates to meet user expectations. Emphasis on the speed of this process makes it challenging for developers to adhere to security principles strictly, and security weaknesses can slip through the cracks. 

These weaknesses, paired with the fact that many web apps by design need to be externally exposed, make them a prime target for malicious actors to try and breach.

And new application exploits emerge every day. Attackers exploit APIs, open-source code, third-party widgets, and access control weaknesses. With the growing dependence of organizations on web apps, the demand for professionals to secure their apps continues to soar. 

If you see yourself working in one of the most in-demand roles in information security and securing web apps that enable today’s global interconnectedness, specializing in web application security can be a perfect career path. 


Web Application Security Engineer Tasks and Responsibilities

As the threat landscape changes and apps are increasingly targeted, web application security engineers are responsible for addressing security requirements during all aspects of the application development process. They’re tasked with finding, validating, and fixing security vulnerabilities by performing white box and black box testing, code review, threat modeling, and pentesting of web applications.

Web app security engineers are usually part of the information security team at an organization or are brought in as consultants to perform web app security assessments. 

Some of the main tasks and responsibilities of web app security engineers include:

    • Evaluating the security of web applications to identify vulnerabilities and security flaws through code testing and manual inspection
    • Performing design reviews to ensure adherence to information security best practices, policies, and standards
    • Conducting web app security assessments, pentesting, and vulnerability scanning for web applications, and provide supporting documentation that includes the methodology and findings
    • Working with developers to integrate security best practices in the code development process
    • Finding and remediating application vulnerabilities by reviewing source code
    • Proactively working with team members to address security and compliance issues promptly
    • Developing and implementing technical solutions and security tools to help mitigate security vulnerabilities and automate repeatable tasks
    • Reviewing findings from scanning tools to address issues pinpointed.


Why Choose a Job in Web Application Security?

Data breaches caused by attacks on web apps have increased from 31.5% in 2020 to 53.6% in 2021 and will continue to grow. Equally so, the expansion of web apps won’t slow down any time soon. This makes web application security a career with an excellent future outlook.

Look at any of the world’s top software vendors; many of them will have dedicated application security teams you could join. Cybersecurity services providers are also a great option to join as a web app security consultant. Furthermore, there is a growing demand for web app security engineers in the public sector, with government agencies increasing their digital transformation efforts.

And the employment of application security engineers is expected to grow over the next decade. As of October 2022, LinkedIn shows 3,600+ jobs for web app security engineers in the US alone. With this boom, now might be the best time to start working towards your career in this field.

A career in web application security can be financially rewarding as well. Web application security engineers are among the top earners in information security, with an average salary range going up to $153,000 per year in the US, with an excellent opportunity to advance to more senior and higher-paying positions. 

Web application security is an attractive and high-stakes career option; your role is crucial in securing an organization and its sensitive data. Your skills can significantly impact an organization’s security by directly preventing significant data breaches and application-relation attacks.


Key Skills and Requirements for a Career in Web Application Security

Web application security is a specialized career path and requires a highly hands-on skillset. To become a web app security engineer, you will need to develop expertise in many critical skills and not only focus on the technical ones. An unrelenting curiosity and passion for lifelong learning are mandatory for anyone seeking to specialize in web application security.

Key skills required for a successful career in web application security include: 

Web App Security Fundamentals

Before starting your journey to any infosec role, a strong knowledge of the fundamentals of basic IT concepts and some specialized skills are crucial. For web application security, these include fundamentals of web secure coding, web attacker methodology, input validation, understanding the role of assessments, vulnerability discovery, enumeration, and other vital processes in web application security. 

Our fundamental content covered in WEB-100 will provide you with the prerequisite knowledge you will need to begin your training in web application security. Gain the basic skills and confidence needed to advance towards your goals and get comfortable with the tools and technology necessary to begin learning. 

Web app penetration testing

Penetration testing, aka pentesting, is the most commonly used testing technique in web app security. Pentesting is performed by simulating unauthorized attacks, assessing the source code, and manually discovering common vulnerabilities in web apps. Taking the approach of an outside attacker, you work proactively and uncover any possible entryways before they do. A solid understanding of the most common web app risks is crucial for this role. Those most common risks and attack paths you will be emulating in a pentest are: 

    • Broken access control
    • Cross-site scripting (XSS)
    • Insecure design
    • XML external entities (XXE) 
    • Cross-site request forgery (CSRF)
    • Identification and authentication failures 
    • Server-side request forgery (SSRF)

Throughout your career, you will build your methodologies, leveraging industry-wide ones, and work out the best methods and approaches to uncover most vulnerabilities. 

Coding skills

To specialize in web application security, you will need coding experience. Coding is used to create applications, so a working knowledge of the process ensures you can efficiently test and review the security of apps. Organizations will also often look for candidates that can write a quick program and be included in the process of creating secure applications. As most of your time will be spent analyzing source code, knowledge of HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP, and ASPX is unavoidable. While you don’t need formal education in application development, being able to quickly grasp new frameworks , languages, and code is a key skill for specializing in web application security.

Hands-on, real-world experience

As we highlighted, web application security is a particularly hands-on infosec domain. Companies and hiring managers will look for a lively portfolio of secure code implementation, web app assessment projects, and real-world experience. As a beginner, one of the best ways to start building your portfolio and gain real-world experience is by participating in bug bounties. You can sign up for many bug bounty platforms and join programs where you will get a chance to find bugs in many of the world’s top organizations and get paid to do so. Bug bounties are also an incredible option to learn as you work. You can also document your findings and showcase them on your website. 

Soft skills

Web app security engineers often work as part of a team, whether a team of consultants, developers, project managers, or other security teams. Effective communication is crucial to ensure everyone is aligned on the goals, methods, and results. Another important soft skill is being able to think outside the box and come up with new types of scenarios to test an unknown IT environment during an assessment. Critical thinking and high problem-solving skills are essential for every infosec professional, and web app security engineers are no different. Keeping web applications secure while enabling a dynamic development process can be a challenging task, so web app security engineers need to be able to use their problem-solving skills to achieve the best outcome. 

Professional development and certification

Web application security is an evolving field. Technical curiosity to learn about new software, exploits, tools, languages, or platforms, and a continued drive to stay up-to-date on the latest threats, technologies, and breaches can make you perfect for the job. Working on professional development, attending industry conferences, participating in online groups and bootcamps, and using practical labs to sharpen your skills continuously should all be a standard part of your career progression. 

Industry-recognized training and certifications can be the premier indicator of a capable candidate. 

Our Web Attacks with Kali Linux (WEB-200) course is the foundational training for those looking to start their career in web application security. WEB-200 will teach you how to discover and exploit common web vulnerabilities and exfiltrate sensitive data from target web applications. You will also learn the principles of the web security mindset and job-ready skills needed for this career path. You will earn the Offensive Security Web Assessor (OSWA) certification when you complete the course and pass the associated exam. This way, you will have a recognized certification to demonstrate to employers your ability to leverage modern web exploitation techniques on modern applications.

As your career progresses, taking more advanced courses and certifications can allow you a more smooth progression to higher-level roles. Advanced Web Attacks and Exploitation (WEB-300) is an advanced web application security course that teaches the skills to conduct white box web app penetration tests. You will learn to perform a deep analysis on decompiled web app source code, identify logical vulnerabilities many enterprise scanners cannot detect, and much more. Completing this advanced course and passing the exam award you the title of a certified Offensive Security Web Expert (OSWE).

Web application security is an exciting career choice and is only predicted to grow in demand in the years to come. Before you start working towards starting a career as a web application security engineer, ensure you have obtained the prerequisite skills and knowledge, that you are engaged in the community, and that you have the mindset needed to secure the apps that connect us all globally. 

Still not sure where to start? WEB-100 can be your perfect first step into the world of web app security. Learn more about it here >>