Aligning Application Security with Development Practices
With more organizations now depending on software to move their business processes forward, keeping application security in line with development practices has become essential. The way in which developers build and release applications has changed dramatically in recent years. Today’s development cycles resemble software factories, where new features and updates often roll off an assembly line daily. For software security managers, this adds complexity and additional risk in order to ensure applications do not create new vulnerabilities in business systems.
What Is Application Security?
Application security, the process of finding and fixing vulnerabilities within software, is a vital part of any development cycle. It requires a proactive approach during every build and release cycle, often depending on automation to identify threats. It is an ongoing process that relies on the most up-to-date information about the organization’s attack surface to ensure deployed applications remain protected while in production.
With hackers now targeting applications more frequently, in order to ensure the technology landscape remains secure, application security best practices employ different tools and methods in every stage of the build, test, and release cycle.
Why Is Application Security Important?
Application security as a distinct discipline continues to grow. By 2019, the market was valued at $4 billion, with analysts expecting it to reach $15.25 billion at a CAGR of 25% by 2025. This drive for growth has largely been due to the implementation of CI/CD processes within companies, and enterprises in particular. Vulnerabilities can originate from something as simple as a configuration error or using a software component that contains a known vulnerability.
One recent study revealed that out of 85,000 applications that were analyzed 83% contained at least one security flaw. Of these, 20% had a severe vulnerability. While not all of these vulnerabilities necessarily present a major security risk, hackers continue to refine their attacks by using ingenious workarounds to penetrate software. To improve app security, companies need to invest in tools that integrate with their development environment. This is critical for companies working with highly sensitive data (e.g., financial institutions, government organizations, healthcare, etc.).
5 Types of Web Application Security
- Critical Infrastructure and Cybersecurity
- Mobile and Network Application Security
- Network Security
- Cloud Security
- Internet of Things Security
There’s no cookie-cutter solution for app security. Every organization has a different approach to vetting solutions prior to their release. Finding the best approach for improving your application and software security requires adopting a holistic view of the attack surface. This also depends on the specific access and deployment models used for the application, including the environment in which it’s used and how crucial it is for continued operations.
1. Critical Infrastructure and Cybersecurity
Cyber-physical systems that provide access to critical infrastructure (e.g., electricity grids, water purification, or hospital and financial service systems) will require the deployment of additional security solutions. It is critical that organizations managing any such applications exercise due diligence.
2. Mobile and Network Application Security
In enterprises, any application (whether internal or public-facing) requires a formal process to test and fix vulnerabilities during development. Whenever mobile or remote access is required, encryption should be built in as part of the design. In addition, traditional layers of protection like firewalls and antivirus should be used on every connected node.
3. Network Security
Network intrusion tools and threat monitoring systems can protect internal systems and help improve overall security. Traditionally, this task would have fallen on network administrators. However, with the advances in build and deploy methods, it has now become the responsibility of every developer involved in the process of releasing new applications into a company’s networks.
4. Cloud Security
Software-based security tools that protect cloud applications and monitor company data have made cloud resources a preferred deployment method. Cloud service providers are continuously reviewing their platforms and improving their security solutions. On the other hand, it was found that on-premises deployments suffer more breaches on average than cloud environments.
Bear in mind that the responsibility for cloud security is distributed between the cloud provider and the customer. The provider must handle the security of the infrastructure itself, while the customer is responsible for managing users and access control.
5. Internet of Things Security
The growing adoption of the internet of things (IoT) has put organizations that have yet to implement and control their connected devices at risk. Everything from biometric scanners, CCTV cameras, and building management systems (BMS) can lead to breaches if not adequately protected.
Any device that connects to the company network or is accessible via the internet requires additional security. This is to prevent hackers from using these devices as an intermediate or starting point of an attack for further escalation. Such attacks can also be challenging to detect, making this all the more important.
What Are the Application Security Tools?
Application security tools look for known vulnerabilities and classify the results. They can be used to identify trends and patterns. Because breaches often exploit the application layer to access systems, application security tools are critical for improving application layer security. They help developers test for known vulnerabilities (or code errors) during the build and release phases.
With new vulnerabilities constantly surfacing and the significant time investment involved in manual code reviews and other traditional testing methods, security tools can offer numerous advantages.
These tools improve application security testing. The tests they carry out arerepeatable and scalable. A given test can be performed repeatedly at only a small incremental cost. These tools look for known vulnerabilities and classify the results. They are also capable of identifying trends and patterns.
Let’s explore five of the most popular application security tools:
- Static application security testing (SAST): SAST is white-box testing with access to source code, at rest, it identifies weaknesses that may lead to a vulnerability and then generates a report.
- Dynamic application security testing (DAST): DAST is black-box testing while the application is running, without requiring in-depth knowledge of how a system works internally. DAST tools analyze operating code to identify issues with requests, responses, interfaces, scripts, injections, authentication, and sessions using fuzzing.
- Software composition analysis (SCA): Also known as origin analysis, this method helps to analyze all sourced software components and libraries. These tools help identify known vulnerabilities and notify the user of any available patches or updates.
- Interactive application security testing (IAST): Combining static and dynamic approaches, hybrid IAST tools perform testing on application and data flow using predefined test cases. The tool may recommend additional test cases based on the results.
- Application security testing as a service (ASTaaS): In this scenario, the organization enlists an external company to perform all testing for their applications. ASTaaS usually combines static and dynamic security methods, including penetration testing and evaluating application programming interfaces (APIs).
While different tools can provide one or more of the features above (and other testing methods), a new term that is gaining traction is application security testing orchestration (ASTO). These application security methods can also be consolidated into a central management and coordination console for all testing tools using ASTO.
What Are the Application Security Challenges?
Organizations face many challenges in trying to improve their application security. Chief among these is insufficient budgets to keep up with the increasing attack surface of the technology landscape. Most security managers will readily admit their test and security programs will need to improve in the future, requiring greater spend on application security testing. Other challenges include inherited vulnerabilities, third-party open-source vulnerabilities, lack of a DevSecOps model, a shortage of qualified experts, and no centralized testing management tools, which we explore below.
By reusing old code or legacy applications, developers inherit technical debt. Blindly using code previously written by someone else is a huge risk. You cannot know what security measures have been taken and the code may contain many weaknesses and omissions. If using old code, it’s critical to ensure it is reviewed for security before integrating it with the rest of the application. SAST tools may also help you catch vulnerabilities in the code faster.
Third-Party and Open-Source Vulnerabilities
As many as 96% of applications use open-source software and libraries. But the use of external components and modules, particularly open source, requires continuous monitoring for vulnerabilities and ensuring updates and patches are applied immediately.
Adopting a DevSecOps Approach
The adoption of a DevSecOps approach is key for ensuring the security of your application throughout the entire secure development life cycle, as opposed to treating security as an add-on. This “shift-left” approach means every security incident should be resolved as quickly as possible.
Unfortunately, however, many companies and software houses creating applications have yet to adopt the DevSecOps model due to the many challenges in implementing such an approach: it requires finding the right tools and successfully integrating them, implementing security in your CI/CD process, and ironing out the many inevitable issues along the way.
Finding Qualified Experts
As the application market continues to grow, there are more and more programmers too. While finding a developer isn’t a problem, it is far more difficult to find an experienced programmer. There is also a lack of trained engineers with both the programming skills and expertise in application security.
Lack of a Centralized Management Tool
Another challenge facing application security teams is that they often do not have access to a centralized tool to manage all testing during the development process. ASTO tools can help security managers and analysts establish effective oversight of build and release cycles, ensuring they find and address all vulnerabilities to prevent breaches.
Application Security Trends 2020
Application security is constantly evolving in order to meet the many new and ongoing challenges in the field. Some of these trends include:
- Runtime application self-protection (RASP): this technology enables applications to identify vulnerabilities automatically. Self-evaluating applications can detect, diagnose, and provide protection against attacks in real time.
- Backend as a service (BaaS) and functions as a service (FaaS): BaaS (e.g., Google Firebase) and FaaS (e.g., AWS Lambda) solutions are also becoming increasingly popular as serverless deployment models. By reducing the complexity of the backend infrastructure, they make it easier for developers to build and release secure code in cloud environments.
- Monitoring tools for public and private cloud Software as a Service (SaaS) applications matured: An increasing number of organizations are now opting to deploy application-level security monitoring for both public and private cloud to facilitate vulnerability detection for the entire application portfolio.
- Web application firewalls (WAF): WAF is a specialized tool that can offer protection for web applications by helping to control incoming and outgoing network traffic. Its effectiveness depends largely on the rules (i.e., allow lists and block lists) that are created. These rules should clearly specify which content is allowed and what should be blocked, offering protection from zero days and other vulnerabilities. WAFs can be improved by making sure all attack vectors generated by dynamic testing tools are blocked. The major cloud providers all offer WAF solutions: AWS WAF, Azure Web Application Firewall, and Google Cloud Armor.
- FaaS (function as a service) and the serverless model: With the FaaS model, existing applications must be rewritten to a compatible language that FaaS supports. The serverless model offers a solution to this problem. GCP and AWS already offer such solutions. Google Cloud Run uses any Docker image to run as containers on demand by automatically balancing resources. AWS Fargate, offered as a launch type on Amazon ECS (Elastic Container Service), makes resources accessible based on the container processor and memory requirements.
What Are Application Security Controls?
Application security controls add another layer of software protection. By ensuring proper coverage while monitoring the confidentiality, availability, and integrity of the application and associated data, these controls are able to monitor all actions an application performs and thus prevent any unauthorized task execution. Controls may include validity checks, authentication verification, identification management, or input controls. This helps to reduce the attack surface by analyzing behavioral patterns and locking down applications if they attempt to compromise the network. If an application attempts to execute a task outside of known parameters, the control will prevent this and alert security teams.
Enabling Effective Application Security with Snyk
The growing threat of application security breach is one of the greatest challenges organizations face. Delivering fast builds and releases requires effective solutions enabling teams to develop with confidence.
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