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Application risk management is critical — and increasingly complex — in today’s digital environment, where rapid development practices, advances in AI, complex regulatory standards, insufficient testing resources, and the constant threat of malicious actors collide.
What is application risk management?
Application risk management is the process of discovering assets and vulnerabilities affecting them, as well as regularly monitoring threats and implementing continuous improvements to maintain application security and continuity.
It’s a necessary function, but to truly understand application risk, organizations must understand the assets that make up our applications. This includes all the different assets involved in building, deploying, and running the application — from source code, dependencies, and images to services, endpoints, hosts, mobile apps, and developer teams. With a comprehensive understanding of the purpose of each application and what sort of data each stores and uses, security teams better identify risks — and prioritize which risks are business-critical.
Application risk management helps an organization protect itself against attacks, improve productivity, ensure business continuity, ensure regulatory compliance, and strengthen trust with partners and customers.
Protect against cyber attacks: Software applications are a common entry point for threat actors looking to exploit weaknesses to gain unauthorized entry into an organization’s systems and data. This unauthorized entry can lead to financial loss or impact business continuity. Following application risk management best practices helps organizations proactively improve their security posture by identifying weaknesses, managing vulnerabilities, and implementing a fix before bad actors have a chance to strike.
Maintain business continuity: If an application stops working or is breached by a bad actor, it may significantly impact business operations. Proactive risk management techniques ensure applications work properly and consistently so organizations maintain business as usual.
Improve productivity: A risk-based vulnerability management (RBVM) program helps organizations prioritize remediations based on the context of each vulnerability, including how it could impact business-critical functions. This allows security and development teams to focus their energy in the right place and more strategically implement limited resources.
Ensure regulatory compliance: Applications handle a large amount of data that may be subject to regulations that protect sensitive information. Application risk management enables an organization to understand relevant compliance standards and how an application’s functionality and processes must operate within those standards.
Maintain trust: Strong application risk management practices lead to better data protection and application performance — which pays dividends for an organization’s reputation.
Application risk assessment includes everything from identifying the assets that need to be prioritized to remediating issues that enhance risk and implementing an automated process to continue proactively monitoring applications over time. The phases of application risk management are:
1. Identify assets
An application risk management program begins with creating a reliable list of assets within an AppSec team’s purview. An up-to-date record is essential to understand an organization’s attack surface and identify assets, where they live within an environment, and how they function. The list of assets and associated vulnerabilities quickly becomes overwhelming within a complex software environment. That’s why many organizations adopt an asset-first approach, in which teams consider the context of each asset’s function and criticality to the business to prioritize security needs.
2. Assign responsibilities
Ownership increases accountability. Assign clear ownership of each asset to relevant employees throughout an organization and make sure their responsibilities to review, report, manage, and continually assess the risk of that asset are clear.
3. Identify compliance and regulatory needs
Organizations must identify which compliance and regulatory standards they must adhere to based on location, industry, and other relevant factors related to the application and where/how it functions. It’s essential to include all regulatory and compliance needs within the structure of a risk management framework.
4. Scan for vulnerabilities
Review identified assets against known threats and related regulatory requirements to create a comprehensive list of vulnerabilities. Vulnerability scanners such as Snyk Code help save time by automating the process.
5. Classify assets and vulnerabilities
Organizations must then analyze the importance of each asset by conducting an application risk assessment. In this process, organizations assess an application's level of exposure against the potential impact a vulnerability could have on the business as a whole. Teams create a risk profile to identify which vulnerabilities need to be prioritized and what level of risk is acceptable to the organization.
What is an application risk profile?
An application risk profile — or risk score/rating — helps an organization understand the likelihood of vulnerability exposure and the potential impact exposure would have on the business. It’s a vital component of an RBVM program. It is a way to help security and engineering teams classify and contextualize the impact of application threats and prioritize mitigation efforts that have real business impact.
Organizations have different approaches to risk scoring, but the most effective systems consist of the following:
A reliable inventory of applications in scope.
An agreed-upon set of risk classifications that review the application's static (e.g., Is it internet facing?) and dynamic (e.g., number of users, dependencies) characteristics.
A solid understanding of the risk classification system among the assessment team.
Industry resources such as OWASP provide guidance and sample methodologies for creating risk ratings. Tools like Snyk AppRisk provide tools to manage and automate the risk scoring process within the context of a comprehensive risk management program.
6. Report on risks, remediate vulnerabilities, and track successes
Once an organization identifies and prioritizes issues, it’s time to report findings to key stakeholders and create a plan to tackle the most business-critical activities. A reliable application risk management tool will provide dashboards for key stakeholders or auditors. These tools will also track progress as teams remediate various vulnerabilities and maintain a list of any remaining risks.
7. Automate, repeat, and improve
Application risk management is a continuous improvement process that hugely benefits from automation. After running this process the first time, organizations will identify steps to add automation or improve the overall process.
Tools within the market help gather data about vulnerabilities, cross-reference that data with information about an organization’s environment, and help track risk management priorities and improvement over time.
Threat intelligence and vulnerability databases
Threat intelligence and vulnerability databases combine information from public sources, developer communities, expert research, and AI to give users comprehensive insights into the latest vulnerabilities alongside suggested mitigation techniques.
Vulnerability scanners cross-reference information from vulnerability databases against details about an organization’s IT environment and probe for common flaw types to identify known issues and cybersecurity threats.
Web application scanners are an essential component of application security testing. Based on the type of scanning a tool provides, application vulnerability tools may implement static application security testing (SAST), software composition analysis (SCA), or both.
SAST analyzes source code in the initial stages of software development to find security vulnerabilities. This is called white box testing and occurs very early in the software development lifecycle.
SCA scans open source dependencies for security vulnerabilities and allows development teams to track and analyze the security of any leveraged open source components. A combined approach to vulnerability scanning is the most effective to mitigate risk across an application.
Application security posture management (ASPM)
ASPM is a management system that enables organizations to bring security tools and data together to manage risk holistically. ASPM tools like Snyk AppRisk enable organizations to track and manage assets and associated risks, collaborate between teams, and enforce security policies and controls with a single tool.
Having the right tools helps security teams monitor and manage priorities within a vast landscape of application components, and developers build secure applications from the start. The Snyk platform includes industry-leading application risk management tools:
Snyk AppRisk provides AppSec teams with a comprehensive and proactive approach to application risk management at scale. With AppRisk, teams obtain visibility of their assets which make up their application environment, implement security controls on those assets, and prioritize remediation based on risk to critical business functions.
Snyk Code allows developers to secure code as it is written with SAST.
Snyk Open Source is an SCA solution that provides developers with comprehensive tooling for open source risk management.
With Snyk Container, developers and DevOps find and fix container and Kubernetes vulnerabilities before workloads hit production.
Snyk Infrastructure as Code enables developers to keep applications secure across the entire software development lifecycle and within running cloud environments.
Learn more about Snyk’s holistic approach to application security posture management, a better way for modern organizations to manage application risk.
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