A look at OWASP’s top automated threats to web apps

With the advancement of web technologies, there are many new ways to create dynamic websites. But we are also facing a growing rate of cyber threats. We can see that even the most reputed companies are falling prey to cyberattacks. For instance, bots are now spreading across the internet like wildfire. In fact, they constitute a major portion of web traffic. Now, some bots help businesses improve their presence. On the other hand, there are some bad bots that are a threat to a company. Not only that, they have evolved to a great extent, meaning common security measures like CAPTCHA are ineffective.. Nowadays, bots can easily crack simple CAPTCHAs using AI.

With the rise of automated threats, there is a corresponding rise for application security. In this post, we will take a look at the OWASP’s automated threats to web apps. But before that, we will check out why we need automated threat detection for web apps. After that, we will move on to the list of automated threats. So, let’s begin.

Why web apps need automated threat detection

As I have noted earlier, the rate of cyberattacks is growing. So, what can we do to stay one step ahead of them? Of course, we can strengthen our security measures. But how? One way is to improve response time when an attack happens. Another way is to develop better solutions to detect threats.

The best thing you can do is to establish automated responses for threats. Automated threat detection is not optional in today’s world, especially when the number of threats keeps on increasing every day. Automated threat detection makes security responses automatic, thus reducing costs in case of damage and remedies.

We know that security threats have seen a major increase in the past few years. Thus, manual solutions are running into issues keeping up. Plus, you can’t go around telling your developers to chase after every security risk. Wouldn’t that be inefficient? Instead, you can let them spend their time focusing on other important tasks. In this way, automation in threat detection can prove to be a turning point for your company.

Interested in how you can detect threats in your web app? Let’s learn about OWASP in the next section.

What is OWASP?

Now we know the importance of threat detection for web apps. Before we get into the automated threats, let’s take a moment to refresh on OWASP itself. OWASP stands for open web app security project. It is a non-profit foundation that acts as a source for developers to exercise web security.

To improve web security, OWASP provides resources, tools, networking, education, and training. OWASP has been around since 2001, enhancing cybersecurity in every way possible. In OWASP’s site, you will find tutorials, docs, and videos. You will also find their code in GitHub.

Not only that, but OWASP has also listed out several automated threats to web apps you need to know. Let’s discuss the top threats among those in the next section.

A brief look at OWASP’s top 6 automated threats to web apps

OWASP has documented several automated threats that are common when it comes to web apps. Let’s discuss the top six among them. We will also discuss how to prevent such an attack.

Vulnerability scanning

Nothing is perfect in this world. It doesn’t matter how secure your web app is or how strong your SSL is—hackers will always find a way to crack the security. That’s where OWASP’s vulnerability scanner threat comes into play. The job performed during vulnerability scanning is to uncover vulnerabilities in your application. The scanner runs a deep check of your web app. It checks all the contents, file names, parameters, and paths to find any sort of security loopholes.

Let’s understand how it works with an example. Suppose you are using an outdated SSL certificate for your site. What does this mean for you? The SSL won’t be able to protect your site against the latest malware designed to crack outdated SSL. An attacker using a vulnerability scanner will check your web app and learn about the outdated SSL, giving them an angle to try and exploit.

The best ways to react to vulnerability scans is visibility. Many vulnerability scans don’t go anywhere, but when they do, they are often precursors to larger attacks. If you can get alerted when massive scans are happening, you can get ahead of incoming attacks.


Fingerprinting gathers info about the user’s OS, hardware, network protocols, etc. Like vulnerability scanning, hackers often use this technique as their first step before an attack in order to gather info on the target’s details.

 Like with vulnerability scanning, visibility is a great benefit here. If you’re alerted when someone is fingerprinting your system, you’ll be better prepared. You can also use fingerprinting techniques yourself to regularly monitor your log files and find if something looks unusual. You can also ensure that your firewalls and threat detection systems have the proper setup. Thus, you can prevent a hacker who is trying to fingerprint your app from uncovering anything obvious to exploit.

Credential stuffing

Nowadays, we use the internet a lot for our daily activities. This results in us having accounts in many sites for shopping, banking, bill payments, etc. Often many of us have a hard time remembering credentials for all of these accounts. The result? We end up using the same credentials for multiple sites. What if one of these accounts gets hacked? With login information, attackers will try account takeover (ATO) attacks like credential stuffing and run the stolen credentials in other apps. Once they find out that the user is using the same credentials elsewhere, their illicit activities begin.

What can you do in this scenario? You can encourage users not to reuse passwords, implement 2FA, and use an automated threat prevention mechanism like Sqreen. Sqreen has a built-in ATO protection that scans your app’s login activity. You will get an alert in case of attacks like credential stuffing and can implement automatic security responses to prevent successful attacks.

Credential cracking

Another form of ATOs is credential cracking. Users are always advised to keep a strong password that has numbers, letters, and special characters. What’s the reason behind this? Hackers use bots that run combinations and various random usernames and passwords to find the correct one. This is known as credential cracking.

To prevent credential cracking, you should follow the same tips as for credential stuffing. Making it harder to crack your users’ credentials is great, and ATO solutions like Sqreen can detect if there is a high count of failed login attempts on your site. Your security team gets an alert if there are any credential cracking attempts. Thus, they can take the necessary precautions.

Account creation

Account creation is an artificial way to create accounts. You may have often seen your WordPress blog filled with multiple spam comments. This happens when malware identifies the source data. The malware adapts with your app’s native registration process and creates multiple accounts. Once done, with those fake accounts, the malware generates content-related spam, which may impact SEO.

Sqreen’s suspicious signup alert notifies you if the account creation rate on your site is higher than normal. This would mean that your system is infected with an account creation malware and you have to take action.


Footprinting is just like fingerprinting. The aim is to gather knowledge about the configuration and security protocols of the app. Footprinting identifies URL paths, values, and parameters. It scans the entry points of the app and finds out if there is any risk. But how does it work?

Suppose your app’s log records multiple HTTP 503 and 404 errors in the session of a single user. That means there is a slight chance that some unusual activity is happening at the backend. Footprinting finds out if your app’s usage pattern is different from the typical behavior of a user. Once the weak zone is found, you will get an alert that some kind of security anomaly is there.

Securing web applications like a pro!

Securing web applications is more important than ever these days, and calls for two major steps. First, you need to establish an advanced threat defense system to lessen the mean time to detect (MTTD). Second, you need to apply automation for reducing the mean time to respond (MTTR).

A great approach here is to start thinking like an attacker. We know that attackers can easily use the help of the darknet for malicious purposes. For instance, they can get access to all the technical resources via the darknet. Not to mention, they can also buy software and tools necessary to prepare for a cyberattack.

Now we know for a fact that before making a move, an attacker will scan the system for vulnerabilities. But when you are aware of what gaps the attacker might target, you can stay ahead of the game. We also now know the OWASP’s automated threats to web apps. Thus, you can think like an attacker and get insight into how they would approach these threats. Then your security team can take measures. If you’re interested in a security solution to monitor and protect your applications automatically, try Sqreen for yourself


This post was written by Arnab Roy Chowdhury. Arnab is a UI developer by profession and a blogging enthusiast. He has strong expertise in the latest UI/UX trends, project methodologies, testing, and scripting.

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