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Chinonso Nwajiaku

Securing Node.js Applications: Best Practices for Authentication, Authorization, and Data Protection 

security, Software

We are living in a world where technology has been able to achieve unforeseen progress. This is the Digital Age. A majority of apps today rely on the internet to bring out their fullest potential. Thus, security has become a big concern. 

Most software developers consider Node.js an ideal JavaScript runtime for their apps. Why? Well, the platform’s convenience and scalability for building backend applications are solid. Although it is a secure platform, Node.js is not invulnerable to security risks. 

Below, we will discuss some of the best practices to enhance Node.js security. Any Node.js development company  can use them to reduce app safety concerns. 

Overview of Node.js

As we said earlier, Node.js is a JavaScript runtime developers use to build scalable backend apps. It utilizes Chrome’s V8 JS engine. Node.js’ open-source, cross-platform nature increases its convenience. 

The platform is asynchronous. That is why it can manage several requests at once with precision. Hence, you will see its usage in real-time applications or RTAs. The efficiency of Node.js has made more and more industries embrace it in recent years. 

Brainvire recently published an article that lets us understand this trend better. Here are the top industries where Node.js development has immense importance:  

Why secure Node.js in the first place?

For the unaware, Node.js makes use of Node Package Manager (NPM) – a large open-source package manager. Unfortunately, open-source tech can fall victim to security breaches. 

It is evident in the fact that a GitHub developer once got direct publish access to 14% of NPM packages. That is not all! They also revealed that it is possible to get to about 54% of packages via dependency chains. 

So, you can see that Node.js is secure but to a limited extent. Hackers can exploit such vulnerability for various crooked purposes.   

Node.js security threats 

Name any application available out there, and it probably has some sort of security risk. Node.js is no different. Apps using Node.js have their fair share of security threats. Below are some of them: 

1. Code Injection

Code Injection is a significant risk for applications developed with Node.js. Input Validation Flaws help hackers in injecting a code repository with malicious codes. 

This can change your app execution. Plus, it can give hackers access to your sensitive data and insert malware into your system. 

2. Cross-site scripting 

Sometimes, a web application may be unable to confirm user input. If such a thing occurs, hackers can exploit it for their personal gain. Cross-site scripting or XSS is an attacker inserting an altered JS code into a certain web page. The web page has to be something people have opened at the moment. 

This leads to the browser auto-executing the script, as it fails to verify code veracity. It is a risky phenomenon, enabling the hacker to access cookies, user data, and more. 

3. DDoS attacks 

Hackers can sometimes overflow production servers with undesired network traffic. This can hamper how a production server usually works. 

Known as Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, they can deluge a system and impair it pro tem. 

Major differences between a secure and a non-secure Node.js 

Let us now take a look at how secure and non-secure Node.js differ from each other. It will help you realize why most people prefer the former over the latter:

Difference as regards… Secure Node.js Non-secure Node.js
Coding Practices  Relies on secure coding practices like user input validation, reverse proxy usage, etc. Does not rely on secure coding practices
WAF usage Uses a Web Application Firewall (WAF) to increase safety  Lacks a Web Application Firewall (WAF) 
Security best practices  Adheres to security best practices  Does not adhere to security best practices
Framework  Utilizes a secure framework, such as Fastify, Hapi.js, etc. Lacks a secure framework  
Node.js and all dependencies updates Regularly updates Node.js and all dependencies   Does not keep Node.js and all dependencies updated 

Proven methods to secure Node.js

If developers follow security best practices, they can keep Node.js apps out of harm’s way. Here are a couple of them:

1. Ensure robust authentication and authorization

Having strong authentication and authorization apparatuses is crucial in thwarting unwarranted access attempts. Developers should use powerful authentication techniques to make API endpoints protected. These include JSON Web Tokens, OAuth 2.0, etc.

Also, putting RBAC into effect can benefit a lot. It can ensure that no user gets to access any resources outside their permitted level. 

2. Guarantee data and communication protection 

Securing Node.js requires data protection both during standby and transmission. This keeps app data anonymous and preserves its integrity. Using advanced encryption techniques can guard sensitive info residing in databases. 

Besides, making use of HTTPS encryption for data transmissions is vital. Developers must always depend on SSL/TLS protocol for safe server-client communications. 

3. Track and log 

Node.js application developers should be consistent in their app log monitoring. Having the right approach towards logging can be a boon, as it results in the prompt finding of likely risks. Tracking these threats early on can bring out timely fixing. 

4. Update dependencies often

Obsolete dependencies are a huge threat to the well-being of a Node.js app. If dependencies are out-of-date, hackers may drop by and capitalize on their vulnerabilities. So, it is pretty much a no-brainer to keep dependencies updated all the time to keep attackers at bay. 

5. Restrict request sizes 

Node.js allows requests up to 5 MB in size by default. As mentioned earlier, a hacker sends a torrent of web traffic to a server during a DDoS attack. By further restricting request sizes, it is possible to reduce the chances of such an attack. 

Using reverse proxies can help. Plus, setting up the body-parser package to only receive tiny payloads comes in handy too. 

6. Bring security linters into play

Security linters are effective in evaluating codebases to detect various flaws. From finding different vulnerabilities to security best practice breaches, they do it all. These tools enrich entire development workflows and assist in identifying problems at once. 

Once a developer realizes what is wrong with their Node.js app, they can work on resolving it. Additionally, they can incorporate security linters into their CI/CD pipeline. Doing so maximizes their efficacy. 

7. Verify user input 

Unverified user input can prove to be dangerous. Hackers can abuse it to drive malicious data to a target server. Developers should put strict user input validation in place to prevent it. They must set stringent parameters for all inbound requests. If a request fails to match these parameters, it should stop right there. 

Final Words

To conclude, Node.js, as a web app development platform, offers more than decent security. But, hinging on various third-party open-source packages, it suffers from potential security risks. One can avoid these risks, though, if they follow security best practices. 

In this article, we listed some of the approaches to enhance your Node.js security. Hope these tactics will yield you the best possible results. Good luck! 

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