Port scanning is one of the most widely used methods to exploit a website and poses a serious threat to anyone running mission-critical functions or storing sensitive data on a web server. This technique describes the process of locating vulnerabilities by sending data packets to the ports of a server to determine which are open and susceptible to exploit. Once a potentially vulnerable point has been detected, the attacker is granted with a number of opportunities to successfully exploit the server.
Website Attacks Enabled by Port Scanning
Port scanning opens up a world of attacks for the savvy website hacker. Some of the most popular exploits include the following:
Directory Browsing – Provides the attacker with the ability to retrieve the complete listings of the directories on a web server. This exploit is usually enabled by a poorly configured server.
Reverse Proxying – Describes the process of gaining access to a back-end application server by proxying HTTP requests from an external network such as the internet to internal networks through front-end servers. This is another exploit that is often made easier as the result of poor server configuration.
Source Code Theft – This describes an attacker’s ability to obtain the source code from application files or the application itself. The goal here is typically to discover further vulnerabilities or sensitive information such as user names and passwords. Once again, this is another exploit that can be linked back to poor server configuration or flaws in the application design.
Session Hijacking – Many web forms utilize hidden fields to store session data. Once this data has been obtained by a hacker, user data can then be retrieved and used for malicious purposes. Session hijacking is an exploit that occurs when little to no preventative measures such as server-side session ID tracking or encrypted session ID processes are employed.
As you can see, there are a number of attacks that can be successfully performed as a direct result of poorly configured web servers and applications. These weaknesses are an absolute dream for hackers who use port scanning as their vulnerability detection tool of choice. So what can you do to protect your website? Are there any preventative measures that will actually work? Even though no website is every 100% safe, there are a few things you can do to dramatically reduce the risks and your vulnerability to security threats. Once ensuring that your applications are properly configured, keep the following security features in mind:
Authentication - A reliable authentication system will add an extra layer of security by requiring that users be authenticated before being authorized to your site.
Strict Policies – Establishing some routines will ensure that only legitimately authenticated users are able to access or modify sensitive information.
Encryption – Data encryption will allow you to securely store highly confidential information such as credit card numbers and personal details.
Encrypted Connections – With an encrypted connection provided a security protocol such as SSL or TLS, you can rest easy by knowing that the sensitive information transmitted by you and your customers is secure.
Monitoring Software – This type of application will give you or your system administrator real-time alerts regarding any suspicious behavior occurring on your website.