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An Introduction To Web Application Security Testing With OWASP ZAP

Web applications have become extremely popular over the last decade and only seem to continue increasing. Unlike desktop and mobile applications, web applications are more flexible in terms of cross-platform support. With this increased flexibility comes an even greater need for flawless security defences. And so, testing the security of your web application might just be the most important phase in its development.

What is Web Application Security Testing?

Web application security testing is the process of identifying weaknesses in a website or web application’s security. In simple terms, it is testing the security of web applications using tools and techniques designed to identify vulnerabilities that could be exploited by hackers or malicious users. By doing so, we stand a chance to find and fix security weak spots before a hacker gets to exploit them.

There are many tools out there that can help you test the security of your web application but today we’re going to talk about the one which is widely used by security professionals, OWASP ZAP (Zed Attack Proxy).

What is OWASP ZAP?

OWASP ZAP is a free and open-source tool that has been developed by the OWASP (Open Web Application Security Project) Foundation. It was originally released in 2007. Since then, it has grown to become a very popular security testing tool used around the world today. One of its main advantages is that you can use ZAP for free without needing any licence or subscription.

It is an easy-to-use tool designed to find vulnerabilities in web applications and can even be used by someone possessing limited technical knowledge. ZAP offers many features that make it easier for developers to test their web applications or even just browse the internet for potential problems.

Features of OWASP ZAP:

OWASP ZAP has several features that make it easy to find vulnerabilities in web applications. These features include:

  • Multi-platform support: It can be installed on Windows, Mac, or Linux computers as well as Android mobiles.
  • Automatic scanners: Scanning with ZAP is as easy as pasting a URL and letting it do all the work for you. Its “spider” scanner crawls through websites and automatically finds all related URLs. It then goes on to test each one of them for common vulnerabilities.
  • Proxy: ZAP has a proxy that can be used to inspect traffic between the browser and the webserver. This makes it easy to see what is happening behind the scenes and test for things like Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) and SQL injection.
  • API integrations: It also comes with a powerful API that allows you to create your own custom scanners or use the various scripts developed by fellow security professionals.
  • User-friendly: The user interface is neat and simple making it easy to understand so developers, as well as amateurs, should have no problem getting started with it.
  • Quick and Easy Installation: The installation process takes no more than a minute and comes fully configured for scanning right away. This makes it much easier for developers and security professionals who are new to web application penetration testing without having to spend hours setting everything up correctly. Additionally, you can customise the configurations during or after installation.
  • Browser extension: This allows you to see all requests made from your browser in real-time, and even change requests on the fly if need be. The plugin also gives you a tree-based view of all pages visited, making it easy for users with any technical knowledge to understand what’s going on.
  • Built-in attacks: In addition, ZAP has hundreds of built-in attack signatures that can help testers quickly find potential problems with their web applications.
  • Fuzz testing: You can fuzz test web applications by inputting data into various fields and clicking “Start”. Fuzz testing is a technique used to identify potential vulnerabilities in an application’s inputs. This test can be found under the “Tools” section.

OWASP ZAP is feature-rich and covers all the essentials for web application testing making it an ideal tool for web application developers as well as security professionals who want to test the security of any website.

So, now that you know a little bit more about OWASP ZAP, let’s walk you through your very first scan.

Steps to use OWASP ZAP:

  1. Download and run the installation file. You can download ZAP from the official OWASP website. For your first time, you can go with the Standard installation.
  2. Once you have completed the OWASP ZAP setup, you should see the following screen:


Image: OWASP ZAP on startup

  1. We can now proceed to scan our first website or web application. Let’s go with the Automated Scan.

Image: Automated Scan of OWASP ZAP

  1. Enter the URL you want to scan and click “Attack”.
  2. On completion or stopping the scan, you should be able to see all the vulnerabilities that it has detected at the bottom panel. Click on an issue to see more details about that specific vulnerability.
  3. On selecting a detected vulnerability, you can see all its details, including a description, the risk level, and a suggested solution. It also goes on to show you where in your target website or application this particular vulnerability exists. This is displayed on the right-side panel.
  4. Once you have finished scanning your web application for vulnerabilities, you can export the results to a PDF or HTML file by clicking on the Export button in the top-right corner of OWASP ZAP’s main interface.

That’s all there is to it! You can now use OWASP ZAP to test your website or application for common web application security vulnerabilities and get a detailed report on the results.

Final thoughts…

OWASP ZAP is a powerful tool that can help you improve the IT security audit of your website or web application. It is easy to use and comes packed with many features that make it a great choice for anyone looking for a free, open-source security solution. Do keep in mind one thing when using OWASP ZAP, that it is not a silver bullet and should not be used as your only security measure. It’s important to have a general understanding of how web applications work as well as the common vulnerabilities associated with them before you start testing with this tool. With that said, OWASP ZAP can be an extremely valuable asset in your quest for better website security.



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