Ensuring Application Security with Robust Password Management

Oct 3, 2023 | Best Practices, Programming

Ensuring-Application-Security-with-Robust-Password-Management

Test automation and software quality assurance, at their core, are all about ensuring that applications not only function as intended but also secure the trust of their users. While Ranorex primarily focuses on the former, cybersecurity is inherently intertwined with user trust. Despite the many advances in cybersecurity, passwords remain the fundamental gatekeepers of digital identities and critical data. They not only grant authorization to access an application but also set the stage for the security expectations users have from that application.

As developers, while we use tools like Ranorex to ensure the functionality and user experience of our apps, we must also prioritize robust password management as an integral component of building that user trust. In line with Cybersecurity Awareness Month 2023, let’s side step from test automation and look into how developers can implement sturdy password management strategies to bolster application security and, by extension, user confidence.

🔐 Securely Handling User Passwords

As a developer, handling passwords is one of your key responsibilities in application security. Password management for developers goes beyond securing the applications from breaches to ensuring that users can trust you with their data and passwords. 

Hashing and Salting

Hashing and salting are two vital techniques crucial in password management. Both work together to create a formidable layer of protection that significantly mitigates the risk of password breaches.

Hashing is the process of converting a password into an encrypted string of characters using cryptography. Secure password hashing uses an algorithm to produce a fixed length of characters despite the complexity or length of the original password. Once a password has been hashed, there is no way of decoding or reversing it to reveal the original password.

There are several types of hashing algorithms, such as MD5, SHA-1, bcrypt, scrypt, and Argon2. Bcrypt, scrypt, and Argon2 are considered modern and the best password algorithms. They are more robust than MD5 and SHA-1. The modern algorithms are built to work slowly, making brute force attacks and password cracking time-consuming. 

The type of hashing algorithm a developer chooses depends on the existing infrastructure on which the application will run. An ideal hashing algorithm should be unpredictable so that a small change in the input should result in a different hash value, irreversible in that the hash value is computationally infeasible to reverse, and include collision resistance to lower the likelihood of two inputs producing the same hash values.

Salting is adding extra values to a user’s input before hashing. The added values are commonly random characters generated by a random number generator and are called salts. When combined with hashing, salting helps to create a robust defense against various attacks. Salting increases the computation effort required to crack a password, as the attacker would have to compute the value of each unique salt. It also adds an extra layer of privacy by obfuscating the user’s password and its hashed values. This makes it impossible to identify common passwords or patterns.

Password Managers and Development

With multiple accounts to log into, remembering the password for each account is an uphill task. Mostly, users recycle one password across several accounts, opening up a vulnerability. However, with a password manager, users can generate strong alphanumeric passwords and auto-fill them directly without the need to remember them. They only need to remember the master password to log in to the encrypted password storage, also known as the vault. Due to their convenience, password managers have grown in recent years, making them indispensable.

As developers build applications, it is important to consider their compatibility with password managers by adopting industry standards and practices. For example, developers should use proper HTML attributes that support auto-filling login credentials. They can also limit the use of custom widgets for login forms to guarantee better interoperability with password managers. Integrating password managers further enhances the user experience and convenience, as it is easier to use unique and complex passwords to log in. 

📑 Case Study: A Tale of a Security Breach and How Better Password Management Could Have Prevented It

In December 2020, news broke of a massive data breach that sent ripples across the tech industry. SolarWinds, a network infrastructure company, had been breached and compromised. The breach compromised the security of its customers, from private companies to US government agencies. Its diverse clientele allowed the hacker to laterally infiltrate companies’ network monitoring software, gaining access to their email communication.

Preliminary investigations pointed to weak passwords as the attack surface that hackers exploited to access the company’s network. An intern left a weak password on the company’s GitHub repositories. The hacker used this access and released a covert update that gave them access to the company’s client network.

The breach was a stark reminder of the crucial role password management plays in application security. While there are no absolute protection measures, effective password management, hashing, salting, and vigilant monitoring significantly reduce the risks of a data breach. As cyber threats evolve, developers must prioritize password management as the foundation of any cybersecurity strategy. (This is where code security tools such as Kiuwan SAST are essential in revealing vulnerabilities in your applications.)

🛠 Bridging Test Automation and Password Security for User Trust

While our primary mission with tools like Ranorex is to guarantee the seamless functionality and user experience of applications, we cannot overlook the cornerstone of cybersecurity: robust password management. Ensuring applications and user data are safeguarded goes beyond mere functionality; it’s about establishing and maintaining user trust at every interaction point. 

Remember, the integrity of an application isn’t just evaluated by its features and user interface, but also by its ability to protect its users. As developers, we champion this cause by employing both cutting-edge test automation and rigorous password security practices. So, as we observe Cybersecurity Awareness Month 2023, let’s pledge to prioritize these intertwined aspects, driving both quality and security in the apps we build.

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