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Application Security Controls ExplainedApplication Vulnerability: Avoiding Code Flaws and Security RisksTop 10 application security acronyms9 Password Storage Best PracticesBenefits of security analyticsInteractive Application Security Testing (IAST)Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST)SAST vs. SCA testing: What’s the difference? Can they be combined?SAST vs. DAST: what is the difference and how to combine the two?Establishing Application Security Policies that Power Secure Development ProcessesEnable Visibility for SecOps While Reducing Build and Runtime Application Security Risks
Application Security Controls Explained
What are application security controls?
In the security hierarchy, application security controls lie below standards and policies. Policies set the boundaries expected for application security and protection, while standards create rules for enforcing those boundaries. Application security controls are the specific steps assigned to developers or other teams to implement those standards. The responsibility for application controls lies across departments, but developers have a key role to play.
Why are application security controls important?
Applications make it simple for employees to access data and system resources. They also introduce ways for hackers to penetrate core systems. This creates a dilemma: organizations need to ensure application security while minimizing disruption to internal processes and stakeholders. Robust application controls add an additional layer of security, help with triage in the event of a breach, and give organizations a fuller picture of the applications in their environment.
Advantages of using application security controls
Security controls are a key component of an enterprise security program. For starters, they prevent the exploitation of application vulnerabilities, reducing the risk and potential cost of breaches. They also give better visibility into applications, traffic, and the data passing back and forth within the network.
Applications are classified by threat level and business purpose to assess their vulnerabilities. Controls can then be tailored by application, allowing organizations to implement standards while minimizing disruption to existing workflows.
Execution of applications is automatically controlled using allowlists and denylists. This boosts efficiency especially in larger organizations with centrally-managed hosts. Furthermore, resource-intensive applications can be identified and associated traffic can be organized using application control, increasing overall network stability.
Application controls also enable novel approaches to threat monitoring. For example, traffic can be compared with network models to identify anomalous behavior.
What are the types of application security controls?
There are numerous types of application security controls. Not all of these are the responsibility of developers, and controls are different from programming techniques, but it’s smart to be aware of the various approaches to controls:
These certify that all the entries in a data input field are filled. For instance, businesses need to periodically recertify application users to ensure only authorized users have access to sensitive information. As part of this process, a completeness check is performed to confirm all users and their privileges are recertified.
These ensure data meets predetermined criteria so only validated data is entered or processed.
Accurate, unique identification of users allows organizations to limit access to authorized users or user groups, enabling zero trust security. Even if a device is compromised, only authenticated users will be able to access sensitive data through an application.
A prerequisite for controls: data is classified into groups based on sensitivity level, risks, regulatory compliance requirements, or other relevant characteristics.
If a breach or suspicious activity is detected, logging enables you to examine any user's activity so you can fully audit any incident. It’s critical to develop standards for security logging that specify what events need to be logged.
Encryption can apply to individual files or more broadly. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, as open source encryption algorithms and secrets management tools are available that protect data at rest and in transit.
These confirm whether a user or software component’s claimed identity is valid — a prerequisite for enforcing identity-based access governance.
These limit access to the application system to authorized users, IP addresses, or applications. Application allow-lists and deny-lists are two approaches to access control. Allowlisting limits access to an approved list of entities, while denylisting automatically allows access except to a list of blocked entities.
These ensure only authorized inputs can feed into the application system.
Two frameworks for application security controls
Since there are many types of controls, it’s important to develop a systematic approach. One way is to break them into detective, corrective, or preventive controls. Another framework is physical, technical, and administrative controls. A third is to break them into input, processing, and output controls.
For software developers, controls obviously revolve around secure coding practices. But organizations often lack frameworks to guide developers. Leading security organizations have published frameworks for application controls. Many of the controls are the shared responsibility of network administrators, security teams, or the entire organization, but some are specifically aimed at giving developers tools for security-conscious development:
CIS Critical Security Controls
For instance, the Center for Internet Security (CIS) maintains a framework of 18 Critical Security Controls, with Control 16 devoted to application security. Recommended steps include training developers in secure programming practices so they avoid introducing flaws, setting up processes to address software vulnerabilities, and using tools that monitor how application-specific policies are implemented.
CIS suggests these vulnerability management tools should integrate directly into the software development lifecycle as early as possible, and include mechanisms for root cause analysis, third-party application verification, automatic error detection, and a way to rate the severity of vulnerabilities.
Controls should be developed using risk assessment methodologies including threat modeling. CIS recommends other practices including using software hardening templates for databases, deploying web application firewalls, and separating production and non-production systems.
OWASP Proactive Controls
Open Web Application Security Project® Foundation (OWASP), a non-profit organization that releases resources promoting application security, gives another framework that serves as a de facto standard for proactive application controls in the software development lifecycle.
Recommendations are listed in order with the most important first:
1. Define security requirements:
Shift left starts in the planning process. What specific requirements will you address in a release? What shortfalls exist in the existing application? Then move to implementing the standard and testing it before deploying the new version to production
2. Leverage security frameworks and libraries
Modern application control has an extra dimension with the number of third-party libraries and open source components in applications. This step ensures those components are from trusted sources and kept up to date. Proactive tools for identifying dependencies and vulnerabilities are useful here, such as OWASP’s Dependency Check or Snyk.
3. Secure database access
This entails secure query practices such as query parameterization to mitigate SQL injection, secure authentication and configuration of databases, and secure communication (such as APIs and services).
4. Encode and escape data
For preventing injection attacks. Cross-site scripting (XSS) and operating system command injection are two examples of how data can flow through the system and result in malicious code being executed.
5. Validate all inputs
Input validation is not a general security rule. It can’t prevent XSS or SQL injection, for example. But ensuring data is syntactically and semantically valid before it can be inputted into a system helps reduce the attack surface area.
6. Implement digital identity
The digital version of an airport checkpoint. Verifying a digital identity requires controls such as passwords, multi-factor authentication (which shouldn’t be just SMS), or hardware cryptographic authentication. Identity management also requires careful implementation of session management, and secure practices around cookies and tokens.
7. Enforce access controls
This starts with a secure design architecture upfront. For example, instead of referring to role-based access rules, route requests through an access control verification layer and use capability-based checks in code. This avoids using application code to enforce policy. The default should be to deny access, and access should be granted according to the principle of least privilege: only grant the privileges users require to complete their tasks. All access events should be included in security logging.
8. Protect data everywhere
Securing data at rest using cryptographic solutions or built-in security in software and cloud services.
Avoiding storing data if possible.
Securing data in transit using up-to-date protocols (e.g. https, TLS 1.3).
Employing secrets management tools to secure certificates, passwords, and other secrets.
9. Implement security logging and monitoring
Security-focused logging allows for live monitoring, forensics, and regulatory compliance. Using a framework like Apache Logging Services allows you to automate responses to suspicious activity. Logging itself is susceptible to risk, so it’s important to encode and validate data before logging and store logs in a secure service.
10. Handle all errors and exceptions
Develop a system for handling errors. This not only helps avoid system shutdowns. It can also help avoid leaking sensitive information in error or exception messages. It’s critical to manage exceptions in a centralized way, handle unexpected behavior within applications, and log all exceptions.
Both the CIS and OWASP frameworks emphasize that developers, the builders of applications, need to keep security in mind during coding, from web applications to the user interface to underlying business logic, or other components of an application.
Read more tips for implementing the OWASP Top 10 Proactive Controls.
How to implement application security controls with Snyk
Responsibility for properly implementing application security controls increasingly lies in developers’ hands. Even small things like forgetting to encrypt sensitive information or neglecting to protect files or directories can lead to disaster. The Capitol One data breach, for instance, started with a minor misconfiguration that allowed an attacker to download the customer information from more than 100 million credit applications from an Amazon S3 bucket.
These misconfigurations are easy to detect with automated tools, so they’re an attractive target for bad actors. It’s critical for developers to also use automated tools to detect and remediate these vulnerabilities. Snyk offers several tools that integrate within CI/CD tools to automatically detect vulnerabilities or misconfigurations and give contextual remediation advice. This means application security controls can be set up and implemented throughout the CI/CD pipeline.
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Application Vulnerability: Avoiding Code Flaws and Security Risks
An application vulnerability is a system flaw or weakness in an application’s code that can be exploited by a malicious actor, potentially leading to a security breach.Keep reading