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Many organizations have built out some form of an application security program by adopting tooling and processes such as static application security testing (SAST), software composition analysis (SCA), or a DevSecOps culture. While it’s important to implement these application security techniques, it’s equally important to look back and measure their effectiveness.
Measuring the success of your application security program is essential for managing risk and growing the program over time. In this blog post, we’ll discuss why measuring software security success is important, which key metrics to measure, and which tools to use for collecting these measurements.
While choosing the right application security solutions and processes is important, organizations must prove these techniques are effective over time. Application security metrics give clear insights into what’s working and what’s not, ensuring the effectiveness of your team.
Measuring the success of your application security program also helps with the following:
Risk management. Complete risk avoidance isn’t possible in a modern development lifecycle. However, metrics enable security teams to decide how much non-critical risk they are willing to accept and to understand which business-critical risks they should address immediately.
Executive buy-in. Security metrics from tools demonstrate the successes, ROI, and growth areas of an AppSec program, empowering security teams to gain buy-in from executives. They also enable leadership to make informed decisions for improving the application security program.
Better team collaboration. Security teams can build better trust with engineering teams by proving the effectiveness of their chosen AppSec tools and techniques. Plus, metrics can double as a tool for empowering developers to secure their own code. When these other teams see concrete evidence that the security efforts are working, they are more likely to adopt the AppSec practices in their day-to-day work.
Compliance. Regulations such as SOC2 require organizations to provide quantitative data on their application security efforts. Businesses benefit from collecting these metrics proactively — before an auditor or prospective customer asks for them.
Better overall security posture. Metrics give your team a clear roadmap of which tools and processes are effective and which need improvement. Using concrete data to grow your application security program will improve your overall security posture over time.
Teams should measure the effectiveness of their AppSec program from a few different angles. By following a variety of KPIs, they can ensure that their application security program aligns with their organization’s unique needs and structure. These five metrics are a great place to start:
Exploitable vulnerabilities. How many of your assets have exploitable and reachable vulnerabilities? And how many are in the high-critical CVSS score range?
Alignment with compliance frameworks. How does your program measure up to compliance frameworks such as FEDRamp, SOC2, PCI, and ISO? Are you meeting standards for your specific industry and location, such as HIPAA or GDPR?
Organizational policy compliance. What percentage of your applications align with the internal security policies? These company-specific policies often focus on mission-critical applications and other business priorities.
Time-to-fix. How long does it take the security and development teams to fix major vulnerabilities after a tool uncovers them?
Tool coverage. Are there gaps in your overall coverage that your team needs to resolve? These metrics are especially crucial for recently acquired or merged businesses, as they will likely bring in new critical assets that existing security tooling isn’t covering.
How should teams start collecting these invaluable metrics? A few tools exist to collect application security measurements. A few of the most common AppSec solutions include:
Static application security testing (SAST) - SAST tools prevent vulnerabilities from entering your codebase. They scan first-party code within your IDE or at specific points throughout your CI/CD pipeline.
Software composition analysis (SCA) - SCA tools scan open source packages and dependencies for vulnerabilities. When teams pair SCA data with SAST scanning results, they can better understand the security posture of their first- and third-party code.
Container security. Container security identifies security gaps in container workloads. It focuses on vulnerability scanning from pipeline to production, then suggests remediations such as upgrading an insecure base image to a more secure version.
Cloud security tooling. Cloud security tools, such as cloud security posture management (CSPM) and IaC security tooling, enable teams to identify any cloud misconfigurations within their environments.
Developer tools. When plugged into a security tool (e.g., an ASPM platform), the metrics from SCM toolkits such as Github or Bitbucket can provide insights into the maturity of your AppSec program. Compiling the activities from these toolkits into your ASPM platform reveals the successes and gaps within your current AppSec approach.
While each AppSec solution provides powerful insights, organizations still find it challenging to measure success because of the disparity between tools. For example, only examining SCA tool metrics will provide an incomplete picture of application risk, as it excludes information about the security of your first-party code, containers, etc. You can improve efficiency and reduce noise by consolidating all your security data into an application security posture management (ASPM) platform.
ASPM tools combine data from your existing assets and security tooling, which provides in-depth context about your overall security posture. ASPM acts as an “air traffic controller” for your AppSec program by offering complete visibility of your application environment and its existing security measures.
A unified security platform makes it far easier to communicate with engineering teams. Instead of identifying issues by vulnerability type, which is often an impractical metric for engineers, you can drill down and understand the exact location of every vulnerability and the business purpose and owners of each affected application.
An ASPM platform also offers a more accurate reading of the program's overall health with improved analytics. In addition, it quantifies the overall business risk tied to specific vulnerabilities. This complete view of an application security program provides data for leadership teams to identify what’s working and what isn’t. The executive team can then use this precise data to identify and address gaps.
The business intelligence, security insights, and performance indicators from measuring your AppSec program are essential for defending your applications against risk. Then, compiling all of these metrics into a single pane of glass turns these disparate measurements into actionable insights. Learn more about how ASPM can help your organization gain a complete view of your application security measurements.
How do you evaluate application security?
Collecting and evaluating program metrics is the best way to determine the effectiveness of an application security program. Many teams use security tooling such as static application aecurity testing (SAST), software composition analysis (SCA), cloud security solutions, and developer tools. When teams can compile and observe insights from these tools, they gain a deep understanding of their entire application security program.
What's the best measure of success for a security policy?
To understand the success of your security policy, you must first identify your most valuable assets and ensure that they align with the policy. Then, you should continuously monitor your overall security posture, ensuring it continues aligning with your policies over time. Many organizations rely on an application security posture management (ASPM) platform to monitor their overall security posture.
What metrics are important in application security?
There are several metrics to evaluate when measuring the success of your application security initiatives. A few examples of these KPIs include the number of exploitable vulnerabilities, alignment with standard compliance frameworks, and time-to-fix.
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