Like coral reefs teeming with a variety of life, web applications are “colony creatures.” They consist of a multitude of independent components, running in separate environments with different operational requirements and supporting infrastructure (both in the cloud and on-premises), glued together across networks. And like coral reefs, web apps attract predators.

Each interacting tier in the environment is a potential target, from application services and transport layer services to DNS and the network.

To get an objective viewpoint on how applications are being attacked, F5 Labs looked at data from a variety of sources, including our own internal datasets, WhiteHat Security vulnerabilities, Loryka attack data, and a Ponemon Institute security survey of IT professionals commissioned by F5. The result is our 2018 Application Protection Report, which provides a practical model for understanding the complexities of applications, exploring specifically how and where apps are being attacked, and taking steps to protect them.

Working with faculty from the Whatcom [Washington] Community College Cybersecurity Center, we analyzed 301 breaches in California, Washington, Idaho and Oregon from 2017 and the first quarter of 2018. We found that web application attacks were the top cause of all reported breaches, at 30 percent. Earlier research done by F5 into 433 major breaches spanning 12 years and 26 countries found that applications were the initial targets in 53 percent of breaches.

Protecting applications has always been a critical task and will continue to be in the future. But many organizations don’t even have a firm grasp of what applications they are running.

F5’s Ponemon survey, Web Application Security in the Changing Risk Landscape: Global Study, found that a majority of organizations have little confidence in their ability to keep track of all their applications. Thirty-eight percent of respondents said they had “no confidence” in knowing where all the applications were in their organization.

At the same time, respondents reported that 34 percent of their web applications were mission-critical. Among the most commonly used web apps were backup and storage (83%), communication applications like email (71%), document management and collaboration (66%), and apps in the Microsoft Office suite (65%).

Identifying critical apps and giving them the protection they require will be a key challenge for many organizations going forward. The sharks are circling.

To download the full report, click here.

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