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Application security assessment is the process of testing applications to find threats and determining the measures to put in place to defend against them. Through the assessment process, organizations can evaluate the current security posture of their applications and determine the next steps for further protecting their software from future exploits. Most organizations conduct application security assessments on a regular basis to ensure their security measures are up-to-date and effective, often leveraging application security tools to help them.
A thorough application security assessment can enable organizations to identify potential threats to their software and applications before they become a problem. Security incidents are a substantial risk for today’s software-driven business environment because they can have a negative impact on the company’s reputation and revenue. In many industries, application security assessments may even be required to comply with cybersecurity laws and regulations. For example, the PCI standards suggest adherence to OWASP Top 10 guidelines.
Conducting an application assessment begins with identifying any potential risks your software or application is exposed to and documenting any previous security incidents or vulnerabilities. From there, you can determine the correct course of action to close any existing security gaps and adequately meet any compliance requirements.
Application security assessments can vary depending on the organization and the kind of applications or industry the organization is catering to. In general, an application security assessment could include finding the potential threats, the attack surfaces of your application, the weak points in your existing application security processes, and a roadmap for improving your application’s overall security posture.
Let’s now take a look at five key steps for conducting an application security assessment.
The first step when conducting an application security assessment is to determine who is most likely to pose a threat to your application. This could be anonymous online users, customers, or even employees. For example, defending against an insider threat from an employee is much different from an opportunistic hacker. Each of these threat actors would have very different goals and methods of exploitation to be aware of before determining how to defend against them.
Once you’ve determined who may attack your application, it’s important to identify what’s worth protecting. If you’re unsure whether certain data is sensitive, you can refer to privacy regulations like PCI, HIPAA, or GDPR. These are evolving compliance requirements for protecting consumer information and a great starting point when identifying sensitive data that your application collects. Depending on the industry your business operates in, compliance with certain privacy regulations may even be a requirement.
Today’s cloud native applications are made up of many components like custom code, open source dependencies, containers, infrastructure as code, and more. These are all potential areas of risk that need to be scanned for vulnerabilities on a regular basis. Understanding the components of your application is essential for mapping out its attack surface and remediating any vulnerabilities.
Once you understand the application risks, it’s useful to determine why those risks exist by evaluating your current AppSec process. For example, many security and development teams are siloed, which often forces a tradeoff between secure software and development velocity. A DevSecOps approach can bridge the gap between security and development to improve the delivery of secure software without slowing down developers.
Once you’ve done a thorough analysis of the malicious actors threatening your application and the potential avenues of attack, it’s beneficial to build a roadmap for eliminating weak points in your AppSec processes. This plan should include new security measures and tools that can help you “shift left” and build secure software from the start.
Conducting an application security assessment is an important step in delivering secure software and applications. Without knowing the current security posture of your applications, it’s difficult to know where your organization is vulnerable to future exploits. A thorough assessment can help determine potential threats and areas of weakness within your applications and development process before they become a problem.
Through an actionable security plan and leveraging the right technologies, you can ensure the security of the applications critical to your business. This involves conducting regular application security assessments to keep security measures up-to-date and effective against a constantly evolving threat landscape. Preparation is essential for delivering secure software by design.
What tool is recommended for application security testing?
Automated scanning tools are a great way to quickly identify potential vulnerabilities within the source code during an application security assessment. This can help you understand the risk areas of your application when developing an application security roadmap. Since assessments are usually only done periodically, a security scanning tool that integrates directly with the software development life cycle (SDLC) is also useful for ensuring security issues are detected and remediated at all times. It’s important to note that, this is not going to remove the importance of manual pentesting.
What is SAST and DAST testing?
SAST and DAST are two automated methods for assessing the security of an application. Static Application Security Testing (SAST) is structural 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) is specification-based 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. Both SAST and DAST are useful when conducting a comprehensive application security assessment.
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