Web3 Security: Business Risks, Attack Types, and Best Practices for Protecting Web3
Web3 Security: Comprehensive guide
Unlike its predecessors — Web 1.0 (Web1) and Web 2.0 (Web2) — Web 3.0 (Web3) uses blockchain instead of hosting sites on particular servers. This technology provides enhanced resiliency and greater transparency and removes the need for a third party to make transactions, just to name a few of the benefits. However, Web3 does come with some risks of its own.
Before we start exploring Web3 security, let’s take a closer look at the concept of Web3. First introduced around a decade ago, the term describes the next generation of the World Wide Web based on decentralization, blockchain technology, and token-based economics. Unlike the previous iterations of the World Wide Web — Web1 and Web2 — Web3 technology provides users with absolute control over their data and digital assets.
By transferring control over data into users’ hands, Web3 goes a long way toward improving user experience. In addition, it removes the need for intermediaries to carry out transactions, improving privacy and catering to the needs of the unbanked population.
Fundamental Concepts of Web3
Web3 is a result of the evolution of the Internet — the new World Wide Web, decentralized and owned by its users. Due to the decentralized nature of Web3, any changes or updates across decentralized applications are only possible by majority consensus. While Web1 can be defined as read-only Internet and Web2 as read-and-create Internet, Web3 tacks on an additional “own” feature, allowing users not only to contribute data but also to own it. This became possible due to some fundamental principles of Web3 technology. Let’s look at these principles more closely.
For a major part of the Internet’s history, web apps have been overseen by centralized entities controlling the apps’ data, meaning they could modify or delete this data whenever they want.
In Web3, web apps are stored on a decentralized, peer-to-peer (P2P) network of connected nodes. Web3 doesn’t suggest any central authority. Instead, data is visible to every node, and it can’t be removed or modified without consensus from the network.
In Web3, new transactions and updates can be authenticated only upon a majority consensus within the network. For this, blockchains employ proof-of-work (PoW) and proof-of-stake (PoS) validation methods.
Web3 technologies utilize cryptography to ensure data can’t be modified or removed without the supporting network’s agreement. For instance, a block on a blockchain can’t be changed since its hash is recorded on the following block, so changing it will change the value of the following block, and so on. Consequently, any change triggers altering a significant portion of the blockchain. These changes may happen, but they call for broad consensus from the network before they can take place.
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How Businesses Are Using Web3
Businesses are increasingly adopting Web3 today, leveraging its enormous potential for building decentralized finance applications, shifting to more resilient methods of storing data, and more.
Blockchain and decentralized applications
As previously mentioned, data recorded on a blockchain can’t be changed. And although one of the most common uses of blockchain is for cryptocurrency, developers can also create decentralized applications, known as dApps, that use the blockchain to execute transactions.
The logic of decentralized applications is represented by smart contracts created and stored on blockchain networks. In essence, a smart contract is a code written to perform specific functions — similar to other programmable functions, it executes upon being called.
Decentralized applications remove the burden of maintaining back-end application infrastructure from organizations since smart contracts run autonomously. Companies deploying dApps can create front-end code and user interfaces using any language to make calls to the back end. In addition, you can host the front end on decentralized storage.
Although dApps are mainly associated with finance — for example, crypto wallets and decentralized exchanges — they can be used for building dApp browsers, social networks, games, etc.
While you can’t do without intermediaries to send or receive money when using traditional financial services, decentralized finance (DeFi) allows its users to trade directly with one another, with smart contracts doing the job of settling trades and ensuring that the process is trustworthy and fair. DeFi provides its users with the same range of opportunities as the traditional banking system — for example, taking out loans, trading cryptocurrencies, and making interest.
Distributed and decentralized storage
Besides blockchain, businesses use the Interplanetary File System (IPFS), a distributed system used to store and access files, websites, applications, and data. While the HTTP protocol only guides the user toward a location, usually a single server, the P2P nature of IPFS enables you to simultaneously retrieve multiple pieces of content from different nodes. This results in considerable bandwidth savings and faster connectivity.
In addition, IPFS ensures complete decentralization that translates into data availability without depending on any of the companies that own web servers and can subsequently restrict access to your data.
Last but not least, IPFS offers an advanced level of data security by implementing two solid measures that prevent hackers from tampering with data or files. The first one is immutability, which makes all data unchangeable; the second one is a hash attached to each file. The hash is like a fingerprint unique to that particular file only. Users can compare a hash they search for against the hash code they get to make sure they’ve received the right file.
Organizations can use IPFS to serve content to their users in a secure, trustworthy way, while the latter can leverage IPFS to publish their content from their environments.
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The Biggest Security Risks of Web3
While cutting-edge Web3 technologies are disrupting the way we interact with the web, they are also associated with some novel security issues. And although the new web has proved more secure than Web2, it still does pose some risks, just like any other state-of-the-art technology.
Smart contract hacking
Similar to any code, a smart contract can have security flaws likely to jeopardize user data or funds. Threat actors can exploit vulnerabilities in smart contracts to get control over code execution and steal funds, remove data, or change the rules the smart contract has been programmed to apply.
Insufficient encryption and verification for API queries
In many cases, Web3 applications rely on API calls and responses that don’t validate the ends of the connection. Although the new iteration of the web is decentralized, the Web3 front ends often use Web2 technology. The latter applies API queries to the Web3 back end to empower business logic. As of today, plenty of Web3 API queries aren’t signed cryptographically, meaning they remain vulnerable to attack.
All connected nodes have access to data stored on a blockchain, which can translate into major security and privacy concerns depending on what kind of data is stored.
Cryptocurrency and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) hold great interest for cybercriminals who can attack crypto wallets. However, most attackers get access to users’ digital assets through the users’ private keys, either obtained by phishing or stolen physically.
Web3 isn’t entirely built on blockchain. Like the Internet, which is composed of several layers, blockchain has protocols on top of it, such as a bridge, a protocol that enables transfers from one blockchain to another. These protocols are vulnerable to hacker attacks.
While the decentralized nature of Web3 provides enormous advantages for creating a trustful environment with no central authorities, it can significantly slow down the process of fixing security issues. As mentioned earlier, Web3 is based on a decentralized network consensus, with any changes requiring the agreement of most network participants.
It’s safe to assume that this is the most significant security challenge facing Web3 users. Creating 100% secure applications is hardly possible, and the limited ability to promptly fix issues increases the attack surface of Web3 applications.
Common Web2 Risks
Threat actors can exploit Web3’s front-end vulnerabilities, which are similar to attack vectors typical of Web2 front ends. Bots, code injection, API attacks, etc., all have the potential to put Web3 security at risk.
Web3 Security: Most Common Attack Types
An Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) refers to a campaign in which attackers establish an illicit presence on a network to mine highly sensitive data. APTs can run different types of operations, but most often, they directly attack the network layer of organizations to achieve their goals. As of today, several groups are steadily targeting Web3 projects. Most individuals responsible for the most devastating APTs reside in countries that don’t have extradition treaties with the USA and EU, which makes prosecuting them almost impossible.
Supply chain vulnerabilities
Third-party software libraries add extra attack vectors to Web3 applications. Given that reality, imported code should be thoroughly monitored for vulnerabilities and updated on time.
Phishing attacks had been around before the advent of Web3. Phishing is when an attacker sends a message crafted to trick an individual into revealing their sensitive data or to deploy malicious software on the user’s infrastructure. Web3 allows people to directly trade digital assets, which makes Web3 users an attractive target for phishers.
In the Web3 world, many projects involve a governance aspect, which allows token holders to support proposals to alter the network by voting. Although this offers a solid foundation for continuous improvement, it also creates an opportunity to bring forward malicious proposals that may adversely affect the network. Attackers can take out large flash loans to swing votes. Governance votes that trigger the automatic execution of proposals aren’t hard for attackers to exploit, and if proposal enactment requires manual sign-off from many parties, it can be more difficult to pull off.
Pricing oracle attacks
A range of Web3 projects leans on oracles, systems providing real-time data. Oracles are a source of data that can’t be located on-chain and often help to find out exchange pricing between two assets. Unfortunately, attackers have developed methods to trick oracles. However, the standardization of oracles can create safer bridges between off-chain and on-chain environments, making the crypto market more resilient to attacks like these.
Best Practices for Protecting Web3 Applications and Infrastructure
API query/response encryption
Massive adoption of Transport Layer Security (TLS) for HTTP requests and responses once brought Web2 security to a brand-new level. Likewise, introducing encryption and digital signing of API queries and responses into Web3 applications can effectively protect application data.
WAF and other Web2 security practices
The modern business ecosystem has already accumulated valuable experience tackling Web2 security issues. The tried-and-true ways to protect user accounts, prevent code injection, etc. — web application firewalls (WAFs), API security measures, and bot management — can go a long way toward shielding Web3 applications from attacks.
Thorough code auditing
One of the most effective ways to ensure the security of a Web3 solution and check if it is protected against possible attacks is to audit the code before deployment. Independent auditors thoroughly examine the code to identify vulnerabilities and give recommendations on eliminating flaws or threats.
While exploring and adopting Web3, businesses need to pay particular attention to security, since security issues can lead to dramatic financial and reputational losses.
The team at EvaCodes provides professional assistance in ensuring the ultimate security of every Web3 project. Whether you are looking to build a secure Web3 application or need a reliable partner for smart contract auditing services, experienced Web3 developers at EvaCodes have you covered.
What is Web3 security?
Web3 security refers to activities involved in protecting Web3 projects and users against potential attacks.
Is Web3 more secure?
In general, Web3 is more secure than earlier versions of the web due to the use of blockchain technology, which makes it more difficult for hackers to exploit the network; and even if they manage to do so, their actions can be traced back to them. Still, Web2 front ends, APIs, and protocols significantly expand the attack surface of Web3 applications.
Why is Web3 more secure?
Web3 utilizes cryptography to ensure data can’t be removed or modified without the supporting network’s agreement.
Is Web3 hackable?
At its very core, no — blockchains hosting Web3 applications remain impenetrable to hackers. Most attacks that put Web3 security at risk target smart contracts, APIs, protocols, and the like.
Written by Vitaliy Basiuk
COO & Co-founder at EvaCodes | Blockchain Enthusiast | Providing software development solutions in the blockchain industry