Secure Web Forms

Best Practices for Web Form Security

If you are using a free web form, you may want to think twice because there is little to no web form security with free options.

What Are Secure Web Forms?

Secure web forms are forms that are used on websites to securely collect data from users. They are designed to use data encryption, authentication, and secure communication protocols like SSL/TLS to protect the information that is collected. This prevents malicious users from obtaining or altering the data. Secure web forms are also designed to be user-friendly, with clear instructions on how to fill out and submit the form as well as clear labels for each data field.

Are web forms secure? No, web forms are not secure. To make sure your web form is secure, you need to apply data encryption, multi-factor authentication, spam protection, and other security measures to protect submitted data from being hacked.

Use Cases for Web Forms

Web forms are an effective way to capture user data. They are commonly used to collect user contact information such as mailing address, telephone number, and email address. They also allow businesses to conduct surveys, provide customer feedback, or collect user information for marketing and advertising initiatives. Web forms are also commonly used for lead generation, collecting payment information, and managing user accounts, such as for logging into a website or app. In addition, web forms can be used to securely store and manage sensitive data, such as financial information and medical records, as well as provide users with personalized experiences, such as tailored content or product recommendations. With web forms, businesses are able to quickly, accurately, and securely collect user information, allowing them to better serve their customers.

The Role of CSS and JavaScript in Web Forms

CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and JavaScript are both used extensively to create web forms. CSS is used to create the look and feel of the web form, including layout, color schemes, and fonts. It can also be used to define the graphical elements, such as buttons, input fields, and labels. JavaScript is used to enable dynamic elements such as form validation and add user interactivity. It can be used to provide further features such as client and server-side form validation, as well as hiding and revealing certain elements based on certain user interaction. Both of these technologies are essential for creating modern web forms that are easy to use and navigate.

Why Is Security Important for Web Forms?

Web forms are a normal part of business operations, and many consumers and business users don’t think twice about entering data into forms.

Users assume the organization asking for information will keep that information safe, secure, and private. Organizations need to take this charge seriously. Even if an organization isn’t worried about customer or partner perception, many regulatory agencies will not tolerate the use of unsecure web forms.

The main challenge for web form security is that web forms are often a front line for user interaction and acceptance of inputs. This makes them a prime target for malicious cyber exploitation. Specifically, because any user or bot can enter information into an open web form, enterprises must protect user information and their systems overall against these exploits.

Common Web Form Security Threats

Some security threats and challenges associated with web forms include:

  • SQL Injections: SQL is the query language used to access information from databases. When a user submits a form full of information, then the form will most probably use SQL to commit that information to the database.

    If a hacker can figure out gaps in your security, then they can use form inputs to add raw SQL code into your database. That means they can perform any command on that database, including making a copy that they can steal or simply deleting it outright.

  • Cross-Site Scripting (XSS): Another form of injection, XSS attacks occur when hackers inject unexpected code, usually JavaScript, into a vulnerable form or app. Then, when another user accesses the hacked website, it executes the JavaScript to perform malicious actions, including stealing input data or cookie and session information.
  • Forgery and Fraud: Cross-site request forgery (CSRF) is a form of social engineering. A hacker convinces a user registered with a site to input information that will execute code with elevated privilege or access. While an XSS attack uses a trusted site to gain information from an end-user, a CSRF attack tricks users into giving a hacker knowledge from web applications where the user is trusted (i.e., authenticated).
  • Noncompliance: Regulatory data compliance is useful and often mandatory for companies operating in e-commerce or data-driven industries. Putting web forms up that collect user, business, medical, or other data inevitably causes security and compliance risks that cannot be ignored. For example, personally identifiable information (PII), protected health information (PHI), and credit card information are all subject to compliance regulations. Failure to protect the information, obfuscate data, or provide proper consent disclosure can cost money and reputation.

Web Forms and Compliance

While security is a major issue that overlaps with compliance, compliance itself is its own topic when it comes to secure web forms. There are dozens of different cybersecurity and data privacy laws that can potentially impact the security and safety of a web form.

Some of the most relevant regulations impacting secure web forms include the following:

General Data Protection Regulation

The GDPR is a set of laws covering businesses operating within the European Union (EU), and in many cases, those with EU citizen customers anywhere in the world. One of the strictest regulations globally, the GDPR has several regulations and requirements around the use of web forms. The most significant ones include:

  • Security: All data collected and sent via web forms must be protected during transit and storage.
  • Clarity: All forms of collecting personal data must have a clear description of why the information is needed, including any description of how that information will be processed and for what purpose.
  • Consent: All forms must include unambiguous mechanisms for users to give consent to your business. This consent can come in checkboxes or switches, and the results of user consent must be stored for auditing purposes.

GDPR-friendly Secure Web Forms

Secure web forms are an essential part of website design and building, particularly when it comes to personally identifiable information (PII) from customers or users. To be GDPR-friendly, your web forms should include data encryption, two-factor authentication, and other measures that can protect users from data breaches and malicious cyberattacks. It goes beyond just encrypting data but being proactive with the types of data that are being tracked and collected. You should also include a privacy policy that outlines the user’s right to have their data deleted when requested and obtain a confirmation opt-in before collecting PII. Additionally, the form should limit the types of data that are collected to only what is absolutely necessary. Taking the extra step to ensure your forms are GDPR-friendly will be beneficial not only to your customers but also your business.

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act

HIPAA governs the management of electronic protected health information and is primarily concerned with how that information is kept private while the user inputs data and submits it.

Maintaining confidentiality while the user enters sensitive information into a HIPAA-compliant form is the highest priority, followed closely by maintaining that privacy after submission, typically through strong encryption and security controls. Alongside these security controls, healthcare organizations collecting information via a form are required to maintain privacy by ensuring that only authorized users inside the organization can see that data.

Payment Card Industry

The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) governs credit card payment information security, typically at the point of sale, for both in-person and e-commerce storefronts. As such, PCI DSS often requires the same types of security to protect this information as other standards, including server security and encryption.

The most important factor to note is that PCI DSS compliance requires organizations to collect and process credit card information through a compliant processor. Many enterprises do not have a compliant infrastructure, which means they most likely need to outsource to a compliant processor, like PayPal or Stripe.

Best Practices for Secure Web Forms

If you’re building your web forms for any purpose, it’s crucial to understand the security and compliance context within which your system exists. Different laws call for different levels of security, and different industries shape when and how you can use forms to ask for information.

However, there are some general best practices that you can keep in mind when creating secure web forms:

  • Only Ask for What You Need: A web form should not be a “one-size-fits-all” document that you plug into every webpage when possible. A web form should only ask for specific information you need for that interaction with a customer or client. This can help you avoid compliance issues and minimize the types of information you gather (which can minimize the attack surface on that form).
  • Ask for Relevant Consent: Always, always ask for consent for any data collected. This is a requirement for many regulations; it’s also just fair play to your customers who trust you with their information.
  • Encrypt Data: All data sent via a web form should be encrypted with the highest level of encryption available, both for its journey from the form into storage and for its long-term storage in a server.
  • Obfuscate Sensitive Information: When asking for certain types of information, such as Social Security numbers, credit card verification numbers, passwords, and so forth, it is important to hide this information with asterisks or other symbols as it is being typed. This prevents inadvertent and malicious exposure of that confidential information.

    If you think it is important for users to see this information as they type, then you can also offer an option for the user to “unhide” that data by clicking a button. However, never default to cleartext data entry for these types of information.

  • Restrict File Uploads and Types: You may, from time to time, use web forms to accept files from users. Any protection used to cover other information entered from the form should also apply to attachments. Additionally, to protect your own system security, you should limit file types to scannable documents (typically .txt, .rtf, .docx, or .pdf) and prohibit scripts or executable files.
  • Use Verification Challenges: Using form verification tools like CAPTCHA can go a long way in discouraging bot-powered attacks that attempt to feed SQL injections into unsuspecting forms.

How Can You Make Your Web Forms Even Safer?

Making your web forms safer is an important part of creating a safe and secure website. Besides the outlined best practices, following these tips will make your web forms much more secure:

  • Use Strong Passwords: Encourage users to use strong passwords when submitting form data.
  • Utilize Data Validation: Integrating data validation into your forms ensures that the data entered is correct and valid.
  • Monitor and Track Activity: Regularly tracking and monitoring the activity within your web forms can help detect any suspicious or malicious activity.
  • Invest in Security Tools: Investing in security tools like malware scanners, firewalls, and intrusion detection systems can help to identify and address any potential security threats.

Secure Web Forms With Kiteworks

The Kiteworks platform unifies the tracking, control, and security of sensitive content communications, enabling organizations to manage privacy and compliance with their own private content network. As part of this process, Kiteworks delivers comprehensive security governance for confidential data sent and shared internally and externally and employs a defense-in-depth approach both on-premises and in the cloud. The Kiteworks platform enables embeddable web forms with an easy-to-use point-and-click authoring tool, role-based policy permissions, and automated security and compliance governance.

Organizations can facilitate simple and secure submissions from customers, partners, and employees using Kiteworks-enabled web forms. Some of the key capabilities include:

  • Compliant Self-service Forms: Organizations can embed links to secure, governed forms in both internal and external portals. The forms simply secure information submissions like legal evidence, insurance claims, medical PHI, and more.
  • Streamlined Internal Processes: Organizations can assemble a menu of web forms in user email compose windows that kick off manual or automated business processes. They also can ensure standardization of input information and make selection of valid parameter values foolproof with lists, radio buttons, and checkboxes.
  • Automated Security and Compliance Enforcement: Organizations set security and governance policies within the Kiteworks platform, and all form submissions are aggregated as part of the broader security and compliance metadata captured from all sensitive content communication channels such as secure file sharing, email, managed file transfer (MFT), and application programming interfaces (APIs). Administrators simply edit forms and policies, and appy user roles; governance is then automated, helping to ensure web forms comply with an organization’s security risk management approach.
  • Automated MFT Workflows: Organizations can address a web form to the email inbox of a Kiteworks MFT server or client and author a workflow that accesses attachments and takes further action, such as storing in a local or remote folder, parsing, and forwarding. Web form parameters direct workflows, feed post-processing scripts, guide manual workers, and reserve metadata for audits.

Because web forms are just one of many sensitive content communication channel capabilities in the Kiteworks platform, organizations benefit by having all sensitive content communication privacy and compliance governance in one private content network. Key features and integrations within the Kiteworks platform, such as AES-256 encryption for data at rest and TLS 1.2+ for data in transit, immutable audit logging, security information and event management (SIEM) integration, and others, make Kiteworks-enabled web forms a highly secure and compliant option for organizations of all sizes.

For organizations seeking single-tenant cloud hosting, Kiteworks enterprise edition can be deployed as a dedicated Kiteworks instance, on-premises, on an organization’s Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) resources, or hosted as a private, single-tenant instance. This means no shared runtime, shared databases or repositories, shared resources, or potential for cross-cloud breaches or attacks.

If you are using web forms, request a custom demo to see how Kiteworks is the right choice for your privacy and compliance requirements.

Additional Resources

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