Application Security

AppSec Maturity Models

Assessing and improving your organization's appsec maturity level

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Finding a clear starting point for application security is often challenging, especially when each company’s application library, development processes, and team structures look different. 

This is why teams often start by using an application security maturity model to identify their current security posture and set goals. 

What is an application security maturity model?

An application security maturity model measures the maturity of your security initiatives, facilitating continuous improvement for your security culture, processes, and technology. A maturity model also serves as a measurement tool, allowing your organization to set and track goals with concrete metrics. 

The benefits of using an application security maturity model

An AppSec maturity model clarifies what “success” looks like for your teams’ application security initiatives. In addition, maturity models are written in general terms, making it easier for teams to tailor them to fit their needs and growth goals.

Some of the benefits of using an application security maturity model include the following:

  • Clear standards. Each department within your organization probably has a different definition of application security “success.” An AppSec maturity model gets everyone on the same page by providing a third-party standard.

  • Tailored to your specific security needs. AppSec maturity models are broad enough to encompass any company’s security program — regardless of its maturity level.

  • Foundation for an AppSec program. These models also set a foundation for your company’s application security program. They ensure that the program covers your entire application library and SDLC process. Maturity models can also guide your team to remove extraneous efforts that won’t help your AppSec program in the long run. 

What can you use an application security maturity model for?

Organizations use application security maturity models to measure the success of their security initiatives, identify improvement opportunities, generate reports, and prove compliance.

Let’s dive into what each of these use cases looks like:

  • Measuring your AppSec security posture. What is the current state of your application security? Which tools, people, and/or processes are successfully mitigating risk? An AppSec maturity model can answer all these questions, giving you a jumping-off point for continued growth. 

  • Identifying areas for improvement. Similarly to the first point, AppSec maturity models answer questions about the missing pieces of your security program. They reveal gaps in your current approach and provide clear next steps for improvement. 

  • Reporting to executives and other stakeholders. Maturity models enable organizations to provide quantitative reports of their successes and growth over time — proving security ROI.

  • Proving compliance. AppSec maturity models demonstrate compliance to external audiences. The EU, US, and UN have put out guidance for attaining AppSec maturity; therefore, it’s more important than ever to stay ahead of the curve and demonstrate compliance. 

What are the different application security maturity models?

A few examples of different application security maturity models include the…

  • OWASP Software Assurance Maturity Model (SAMM) is an open framework that enables organizations to identify their specific risks and then create and execute a strategy to mitigate them.

  • Building Security In Maturity Model (BSIMM) is a model that sets a standard of common terms and practices for organizations to use throughout their software security initiatives.

  • Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) is a program by the U.S. Department of Defense focused on training contractors and subcontractors to secure the DoD’s sensitive information.  

How to choose which AppSec maturity model to use 

Each of these models takes a different angle on securing applications, so it’s best to evaluate several of them and choose the best fit for your organization. For example, OWASP is a great fit for securing cloud-native applications and web frontend. Your choice might also depend on your specific industry or geographical location.

What’s included in each of these AppSec maturity models?

Each model highlights the most critical considerations for AppSec best practices. Often, they include:

  • Standardized benchmarks for assessing the AppSec program’s current state

  • Risk prioritization to help teams decide on the best next steps for their AppSec program

  • Criteria for implementing the right controls into the application development process

  • Suggestions for building an organization-wide culture of security

  • Testing practices for measuring the program’s success

  • Guidelines for maturing the program over time

What is an example of an application security model?

The OWASP maturity model is one of the most common models. It focuses on the following areas:

  • Governance: spreading awareness, building a security culture, and establishing policies.

  • Design: assessing the current state of AppSec and setting realistic goals for growth.

  • Implementation: integrating the proper security controls into your SDLC.

  • Verification: testing the success of your security controls.

  • Operations: managing your security initiatives over time

Four recommendations for measuring application security maturity

As you start to measure your application security maturity, here are four recommendations to keep in mind:

  1. Use tools to automate as much as possible. Tracking all security-related stats across a modern software supply chain, such as critical vulnerability counts or cloud misconfigurations, is impossible to do manually. So, finding the right tools for automating these processes is essential. Your toolkit should be operational for all stakeholders (developers, cloud architects, security, c-suite, etc.).

  2. Conduct periodic assessments to collect metrics for your maturity model. An application security assessment gives organizations a clear framework for locating potential threats and understanding their applications’ attack surfaces. Numerous teams use the OWASP Top 10 vulnerabilities list as a framework for conducting their AppSec assessments. 

  3. Decide what parts of your chosen model are the most important. Maturity models are complex. So instead of trying to “boil the ocean,” learn which core points apply the most to your organization. It’s complicated (and unnecessary!) to implement an entire AppSec maturity model.

  4. View the maturity model as an ongoing project, not a task. Implementing a maturity model isn’t a one-time task. Instead, it’s a constantly evolving project.

  5. Monitor the maturity process with an ASPM. Get unified visibility of your AppSec program and track the progress of your teams, tools and processes with an ASPM (application security posture management) tool such as Snyk AppRisk.

Application security maturity models with Snyk

The Snyk team supports organizations as they continuously improve their application security programs. This includes support of all common application security maturity models. Our suite of developer-first tools and ASPM helps teams identify and remediate vulnerabilities in first-party source code, third-party dependencies, containers, IaC, and cloud. We also enable powerful reporting to show your application security progress.

Find out more about our application security solution today!

Up Next

How To Measure Application Security: Metrics, Tools & KPIs

How do you know if your application security program is effective? Learn the key metrics to track for your application and tools that can help.

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