We're about to go through a historic event that will change the structure of the internet. At present, we follow web 2.0's read or write architecture, but that's about to change.
Web 3.0 or web3 will turn the ethos driving web 2.0 on its head. In web 2.0, the user was the product, and this resulted in a growing anti-big tech sentiment and doubts over corporate ethics. In Web3, the user controls their data.
Web3 is much more than the blockchain, Bitcoin, or even the metaverse. It's an idea that puts the user in the driver's seat.
Soon, the internet will be more decentralized, and users will own and control their data. However, decentralization makes information security even more challenging.
Furthermore, the privacy-focused nature of web3, which makes it great, also creates significant cybersecurity risks.
What is web3?
At the heart of web3 ideology is the desire to improve and resolve security issues with centralization. It aims to give power back to the people enabling control over user data and identity. However, before we define it, let's take a brief look at internet history.
The internet revolution started with Web 1.0. However, content creators were scarce, and user experience was primitive (to say the least) in the early dial-up days. So, it's really not surprising that most users were content consumers.
Across the 1990s, personal static web pages dominated the scene and were hosted on ISP-run web servers and free web hosting services. Monetization for these websites often took the form of bombarding the audience with banner and popup ads.
By the turn of the century, web 2.0 had emerged and boasted interoperability, usability, and user-generated content. This was essentially the dawn of the social web (remember MySpace?), where users could interact and engage each other with user-generated content and build a virtual community.
But as web 2.0 is centralized, all the data is owned by corporations like Google, Facebook, and many more. There was also a lack of real innovation, and it was more or less an enhanced version of web 1.0.
This sets the stage for the next phase of internet innovation in the form of web 3.0. Web3 is a rapidly evolving idea that aims to transform the internet into a database. The goal here is to cut out technology giants or "middlemen" and decentralize the web.
This approach is similar to what cryptocurrencies are attempting to do to governments and large financial institutions. Similarly, we will host the web3 universe on the blockchain.
Although the moniker "web 3.0" has been around for several years, it's believed that the term itself was coined by the computer scientist Gavin Wood, the co-founder of the Ethereum cryptocurrency and the founder of the Parity, Polkadot, Kusama networks, and the Web3 Foundation.
Web3 decentralized infrastructure powers crypto's digital currency, and we can use this same infrastructure to generate individual tokens for each asset, user, and any trackable element across its entire lifecycle.
The end goal of the blockchain and web3 is to provide a consistent, singular, platform-agnostic approach to managing data across systems without a centralized authority with its own agenda. All data will be shared, related services will be able to display different views leveraging the same data across the metaverse. As such, this multiverse of data promises to guide us through multiple realities. We will also manage the overall ecosystem through a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO).
However, security risks are also paramount because the data exists outside of a centralized and secure entity (where only one entry point exists). Then there are also smart contract vulnerabilities and cross-chain bridge weaknesses. On top of that, policing cybercrime will be challenging at best.
How does Web3 Work?
Decentralized Applications or "dApps" are already making an impact. However, these dApps don't follow any traditional application logic or database layers that form the foundation of web 2.0.
In web3, dApps will run on the blockchain with network nodes. As users will own the internet, nodes act like web3 providers who pull data from the blockchain and run a copy of it. Without nodes, smart contracts can't interact with web3 libraries. In that sense, nodes are like a gateway to the blockchain.
Smart contracts will manage all logic and state. In this scenario, users will still access the front end to connect to the network node and interact in web3. This can take the form of making purchases, publishing content, and much more.
Users will login and authenticate transactions using private keys managed with a wallet. This approach provides the user with enhanced control and privacy. However, there are some security tradeoffs to consider.
What Web3 Security Risks Should Businesses Consider?
All transactions on the blockchain are transparent, immutable, and publicly available. You don't have to trust different actors (like in web 2.0), so it's even harder to address security concerns adequately. This is because there isn’t a centralized authority to oversee every interaction and transaction and properly vet users when web3 is primarily anonymous.
Authentication and Signing
Unlike web2 protocols, most dApps in web3 don't authenticate and sign API responses. This means there's a verification gap whenever users retrieve data from these apps. You won't know if responses originated from the intended app, and you can't be sure that the data wasn't tampered with.
In this scenario, web3 users will have apps that don't even follow basic security best practices. So, users have to tread carefully and determine the platform’s trustworthiness and security posture (which is almost impossible) before connecting their wallets and using them.
Insecure Digital Wallets
Digital wallets are also not 100% secure and are known to leak sensitive data. It's just software, and as such, it's not perfect. Crypto wallets are software, and code vulnerabilities can always open the door to exploitation.
Lacks a Single Source of Truth
At present, we don't have a single source of truth for all known web3 vulnerabilities. We need a decentralized equivalent of the National Vulnerability Database to provide core data for vulnerability management programs in web3. This will make it much easier for web3 builders to keep track of known vulnerabilities and avoid introducing them into new projects.
At present, we have multiple sources with incomplete information scattered across platforms like the following:
No Central Authority Equals No Recourse
Web3 users maintain complete control over their identities and data, and many choose to be anonymous. There are no intermediaries or anyone for that matter to offer some recourse in the event of a cyberattack. There is no way to revert stolen digital assets (cryptocurrencies or NFTs), and there aren't any password resets.
However, sometimes you get lucky, like when the digital-asset exchange Binance recovered about $5.8 million from the Axie Infinity hack. But this is far from an everyday occurrence.
Smart Contract Vulnerabilities
Web3 depends on creating and executing smart contracts. These smart contracts are software or scripts that run on the blockchain and enforce pre-established rules whenever they meet predefined criteria.
There can be serious ramifications whenever smart contract code is vulnerable as we still lack legal precedence for protecting smart contracts. As such, in many cases, potential losses (cryptocurrencies and NFTs) from a hack can't be insured or recovered.
What Can Businesses Do to Secure Web3?
Web3 security is paramount for everyone, from startups to large corporations. Regardless of the size of your organization, you have to make the following security considerations:
Be Wary of Web3 Market and Trust Dynamics
Web3 is much more than technology. It also comes with several legal, cultural, and economic dynamics to consider. For example, some web3 configurations or integrations have the potential to come in direct conflict with existing regulatory compliance rules like Know Your Customer (KYC).
It doesn't end there, as regulations governing the crypto space differ from one jurisdiction to another. As web3 technology is also vulnerable to web 2.0-style social engineering attacks, you have to consider how your web3 projects may attract and incentivize hackers. For example, DeFi hacks are common because of cross-chain weaknesses, flash loans, and code exploits. The crypto loot they often get away with is also huge.
Implement Security by Design
For any technology to succeed, it has to be secure. This makes it important to incorporate security by design. This approach helps web3 engineers develop products with secure code and almost impenetrable infrastructures.
What's critical is to take steps to minimize the attack surface proactively. You can do this by securing defaults and zero-trust frameworks. It'll also help to ensure limited and separate privileges.
Apply Security Strategically
Although following a security by design approach is important, it's not enough. Development teams must also consider the type of blockchain technology they will use for the project. They must decide between using public blockchains like Ethereum (ETH) and Solana (SOL) and private blockchains.
Public blockchains are open, and anyone can join with different levels of anonymity. In contrast, private blockchains demand users confirm their identity, membership, and access privileges.
Each blockchain, public or private, comes with its own unique set of challenges. There are also hybrid infrastructures like cross-chains, multichains, sidechains, oracles, and federations to consider. Each chain will have its own set of pros and cons, each will impact the overall security of your decentralized application, and each should have its own security strategy.
Businesses must also consider data quality and manipulation risks throughout each iteration in the application development cycle. For example, security should be at the heart of decisions concerning what goes on-chain versus what goes off-chain and what information you need to mint ownership or validate transactions.
Throughout the SDLC, developers must take steps to address common threats like social engineering attacks (phishing) and how they may impact workflows and the overall project architecture. It will also help to embrace multi factor authentication protocols, malicious link detection tools, and so on.
Engage and Collaborate with Industry Peers
Let's face it, web3 is like the wild west of the internet. To navigate through its complexities, it always helps to collaborate with industry peers or security experts to increase your understanding of emerging threats and how to mitigate them.
Open-source platforms like Github and OODA Loop's Cryptocurrency Incident Database help security researchers and engineers learn about cyber-attack categories and their root causes.
Developers should also provide cybersecurity guidance for other builders on the platform. As web3 is essentially public and decentralized, you can also find a whole heap of helpful information on platforms like Discord, Reddit, and Twitter.
Actively Engage in Security Audits
Although time to market is critical in web3, developers still need to take the time to test and evaluate the project code. In this scenario, it's best to engage an established third-party security auditor who can find potential bugs missed by the in-house security team.
Failing to engage in security audits can lead to cybersecurity events and exponential losses. As such, it's critical to make sure that you have at least properly secured known vulnerabilities before hackers exploit them.
It also makes sense to engage in regular smart contract security audits as web3 developers may lack the security governance that goes hand in hand with traditional software development. By catching potential bugs early, you can maintain the pace of development and release a secure application at the end of the software development life cycle (SDLC).
Web3 is New, but Somethings Stay the Same
As web3 evolves, you can expect web3 security only to get better. But what's important is to always take a proactive approach to web3 and blockchain security. In fact, you should already be practicing proactive cybersecurity in web2 as well.
Although the future will bring with it a whole host of novel technologies, traditional security best practices still apply. But web3 dApps, distributed ledgers, and crypto assets have their own unique security challenges, and we can’t afford to ignore them.
Web3 and the metaverse may sound like science fiction and irrelevant to most businesses today, but they can't afford to ignore the underlying technologies. They have enormously disruptive potential and come with a number of new opportunities (some we don't even know about just yet).