As organizations shifted focus to support remote work and business continuity amid the challenges of 2020, web application security suffered, according to an Invicti Security report.
Between 2016 and 2019, the number of high-severity and medium-severity vulnerabilities decreased steadily every year, with an average reduction rate of 22% in high-severity vulnerabilities year over year. If that trend had continued, the overall incidence of high-severity vulnerabilities would have decreased from 26% to about 20%.
However, progress came to an abrupt halt in 2020, probably as a result of resource reallocation to address COVID-19 business impacts and enable remote work worldwide.
Key findings from the report
- The overall prevalence of high-severity vulnerabilities such as remote code execution, SQL injection, and cross-site scripting, increased slightly from 26% to 27% of the targets scanned
- Medium-severity vulnerabilities such as denial-of-service, host header injection, and directory listing, remained present in 63% of web apps in 2020, holding flat from 2019
- Several high-severity vulnerabilities are well-understood, but did not show improvement in 2020. One example: the incidence of remote code execution, both well-known and damaging, increased by one percentage point last year.
- Also of note: the incidence of server-side request forgery (SSRF), the primary vulnerability behind the recent Microsoft Exchange breach in 2021, as well as Capital One in 2019, has not improved year over year.
Web application security more critical than ever
With many of the COVID-related changes to consumer and business behaviors expected to endure beyond the end of the pandemic, web application security is more critical than ever. From growing usage of business tools such as chat, web conferencing, and collaboration environments, to increased consumer adoption of e-commerce, attack surfaces continue to expand.
Recent research indicates that the largest percentage of breaches in 2020 began with a web application, yet at the same time, the number and severity of a variety of other types of attacks reached new highs in 2020, diverting the time and resources of security organizations away from web application security.
“As we look ahead, we hope to see organizations adopt best practices and invest in security, so that they can continue to advance their web security posture, protect their customers, and avoid being the next big security breach headline.”