5 Ways to Increase the Security of Your Rails Apps

Create Robust Software with Ruby on Rails Development

When someone thinks of Ruby on Rails for a project, chances are they do so because of how easy it is to build an MVP with it. In fact, that’s probably the reason why a lot of Ruby developers use it in the first place. Unfortunately, the idea that Rails is only good for building MVPs is a prevailing one. And we say “unfortunately” because there are two problems with that vision.

First and foremost, it reduces Rails to a mere second-tier tool while, in reality, this Ruby web framework is useful for plenty of things (we can testify to that here at BairesDev). And then there’s a second, probably more unseen but equally important problem. 

Whenever someone creates an MVP with Rails, they probably don’t pay that much attention to security – after all, a minimum viable product is more about having a working product to get feedback from something that exceeds a design on paper. The problem is that, once that MVP is approved and developers start fleshing it out, security remains in the backseat. And that can have a disastrous effect on the final product.

Luckily, there are some good security practices you can apply during Ruby development to make sure the software you create is robust. Here we’ll review some of the essential ones. But first, let’s quickly review what Ruby developers do.

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What Does a Ruby Developer Do?

Ruby developers use this interpreted and high-level language to build mostly web applications and backend services. However, Ruby is also a general-purpose language, which means that Ruby engineers can use it to create a lot of other applications, especially for prototypes, proof of concepts, and data analysis tools. Ruby developers design and develop their applications and coordinate with the rest of the team to fit all the pieces that make up the final infrastructure.

Since most software developers use Ruby for web development, it’s not a surprise that Ruby on Rails is so popular among them. That’s because it’s a very powerful framework that highly streamlines the work and eases the development of web applications. In fact, Ruby developers are often thought of as Rails developers, even when they aren’t precisely the same thing.

Now that we have defined what a Ruby developer does, it’s time to move on to the security tips for anyone using it (and Rails) to create their web apps. 

Enforce Strong Passwords

One of the most basic things you can do to elevate your web app’s security is to provide a stronger authentication system. That’s easier than ever today, mainly because Ruby has powerful libraries (known as “gems”) that can easily take care of that. Some of them include:

  • Devise
  • Strong password
  • OmniAuth

Integrating these gems in an app will provide you with a basic authentication system but you need to go beyond that. You have to know how to configure those gems to enforce more robust and complex passwords that prevent users from using security keys like “123456” or “password.” How can you do that? Just read the documentation for your preferred gem, as it’s an easy step you can take to provide stronger security. 

Design a Robust Authorization and Access Policy

Though they might sound like the same, authentication isn’t the same as authorization. You use the first one to define whether a user is who they claim they are. Authorization, on the other hand, defines what things can the authenticated user do and access once in the system. Thus, you also need a strong authorization policy to prevent data tampering and privilege abuse. 

There are several ways you should consider when designing such a policy, including:

  • Use multiple gatekeepers as backups and fail-safes.
  • Restrict the access to system-level resources to the minimum number of users possible.
  • Adopt the “least privilege” model, which says that users can’t edit, add, or delete data in databases unless they are given special permission to do so. 
  • Negate access to unauthorized pages.
  • Test for authorization vulnerabilities as thoroughly as you can. 

You can work on those tips yourself or use Ruby gems to help you out. Security gems like CanCanCan or Pundit are great for dealing with authorization aspects of security. 

Learn to Prevent SQL Injections

SQL Injection (also known as SQLI) is an unfortunately very common attack that targets databases through manipulated SQL code. In other words, a malicious individual can exploit a vulnerability in your Ruby app and access private or sensible information to change or steal it. If you don’t take care of those vulnerabilities, you might end up exposing your entire database to an attacker.

There are several ways to prevent SQL injection attacks in Rails but one of the easiest ones is using parameterization, the most secure way of handling user input that may end up being unsafe. Regardless of the ORM you use, you should definitely use its facilities to parameterize queries and thus keep your databases safe. 

Keep an Eye on Redirects and Forwards

Another unwanted outcome of letting your guard down when it comes to user input might have your web app redirecting and forwarding users to malicious URLs. Hackers use those to try to steal user credentials or carry out phishing attacks. That’s why you need to check whether a user is authorized to forward or redirect requests. 

You can do that by doing the following:

  • Sanitize your input through a list of trusted URLs.
  • Prevent users from entering URLs as input. If you need to do so, be sure that the user is authorized to use one and that the app trusts that URL.
  • Ask users to confirm any redirection and make it clear where the action is taking them.
  • Don’t use redirects and forwards in the first place.

Create an Error Handling Strategy

As anyone offering Ruby development services already knows, there will be errors in your Rails apps, no matter what you do. That’s why you need to create a strategy that deals with them when they occur. It’s not enough to deal with them through a post-incident patch. There are other things you need to consider to prevent that error from creating a bigger issue.

That’s why you need to develop a strategy that includes the following:

  • Use structured exception handling to limit the possibility of your app staying in an inconsistent state.
  • Display error messages to let the user know that something went wrong but don’t be too revealing or too technical with them, as a message might provide a hacker with the details they need to successfully exploit the error.
  • Block actions that trigger errors to avoid unauthorized access. 
  • Record all the errors as you find them. Using those logs you can then understand what triggered the errors in the first place and give you valuable insights as to how to solve them.

Secure Rails and Ruby Development

It doesn’t matter what kind of project you’re tackling – security should always be your first priority. Even if you’re working on a proof of concept, you need to take care of security, as you never know what that project might become in the future. Keeping these suggestions in mind when working in a Rails app is a good starting point to up your security game.

Naturally, these aren’t the only things you can do to improve your web application’s security. There are many other security measures you can (and should) take. Feeling a little lost about it? Don’t worry. At BairesDev we can offer you the Top 1% of Ruby developers to work on your web app, highly qualified professionals that always put security front and center and that can provide you with robust Ruby development services. Contact us today to learn more. 

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