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Most of us have been hearing about application security for a while now. As more and more organizations create and maintain their own web applications, securing these apps in a way that aligns with development practices has become increasingly important over the years.
But applications don’t exist in a vacuum. Often, developers build them to contribute to a larger project — a product. This is why we’re seeing a new security discipline on the rise — product security.
Rather than securing the code that makes up each application, product security focuses on physical and virtual security for a product’s entire lifecycle (which can include several different apps and systems). Together, these two disciplines make up a complete approach to security — application security, for securing each individual app, and product security, for covering a broader range of software and hardware.
This post will compare product security versus application security, including their unique objectives, scope, risks, measures, and challenges.
Ensuring that a product is designed, developed, and delivered in a secure manner
Employing tools and processes to secure applications across their life cycle.
Encompasses all aspects of the product's lifecycle, including hardware and software
Focuses solely on securing the application and the data and systems it interacts with
Physical tampering, supply chain attacks, vulnerabilities in software or firmware
Malware, hacking, injection attacks, data breaches
Threat modeling, penetration testing, code reviews, security updates
Secure coding practices, authentication and authorization controls, input validation, encryption, vulnerability testing
Balancing security with usability and convenience, connected devices keeping up with evolving threats and vulnerabilities, securing embedded devices
Inherited vulnerabilities, third-party and open source vulnerabilities, adopting a DevSecOps approach, finding qualified experts, lack of a centralized management tool
AppSec focuses on securing both first-party and third-party code. It takes a deep dive into the application, the data, and the systems it interacts with. AppSec is essential to modern-day development because it takes an end-to-end approach to security. It gives developers the resources they need to code securely. Application security also contributes to a DevSecOps approach with automated tooling and agile practices. A few examples of AppSec technologies and processes include:
Vulnerability testing, including the following practices:
Authentication and authorization controls, which safeguard how the application interfaces with other systems and limit who can access the inner workings of the app.
Measures to defend the live app, such as:
Input validation to ensure that the live app can only receive authorized input from users.
Encryption to protect data as it passes through the live application.
Dynamic application security testing (DAST), which checks the live app for vulnerabilities by simulating front-end attacks from the “outside-in.”
Security updates that relate to the development and deployment of apps.
ProdSec secures the design, development, and delivery of a product. It encompasses all software and hardware that this product interacts with. A few ProdSec functions include:
Threat modeling for identifying security threats across the whole organization, including all of its apps, systems, and business processes.
Penetration testing, which uncovers any external-facing vulnerabilities within the business (both physical and virtual).
General security updates to keep the whole organization up-to-date with a constantly evolving threat landscape.
Code reviews by peers to improve the security of software development as a whole.
When you first look at product security vs. application security, they might seem very similar. Both focus on best practices like regular security updates, secure coding, and testing for vulnerabilities. They also use automated solutions for performing security tasks on a cadence (such as testing).
Even though they overlap in some ways, product security and application security have distinct objectives and scopes. They also measure different security metrics, respond to different risks, and have different pros and cons. Here are five key differences between these approaches:
The main goal of AppSec is to employ end-to-end tools and processes for securing applications. It focuses on securing each app as it goes through development, then maintaining this level of security after deployment.
ProdSec, by contrast, focuses on securing a product throughout its entire lifecycle — including all software (i.e., apps) and hardware. It looks at the whole system related to the product, while AppSec only focuses on each individual application.
AppSec secures each application throughout the SDLC and any connected devices and systems. ProdSec encompasses all aspects of the product’s lifecycle, not just the individual apps included in the product.
AppSec practices prevent bad actors from breaking into apps and breaching data via injection attacks or malware. ProdSec defends the entire system from larger-scale attacks, such as physical tampering, supply chain attacks, or vulnerabilities in existing software or firmware.
AppSec takes an app-specific approach to security, focusing on best practices like secure coding, authentication and authorization controls, input validation, encryption, and vulnerability testing. ProdSec protects the entire system by employing threat modeling, penetration testing, code reviews, and security updates.
Although they’re both important, neither application security nor product security is a perfect approach. Each causes various implementation challenges.
Most AppSec solutions lack a centralized management tool, making it challenging to identify inherited vulnerabilities. This scattered, decentralized approach also makes adopting DevSecOps across multiple teams difficult. This, combined with the fact that AppSec experts are often in short supply, can leave behind security gaps. ASPM solutions have been appearing in the industry to bridge this gap by bringing together the data from different AppSec testing tools to provide more context for vulnerability prioritization and remediation.
ProdSec also brings unique challenges into the picture. Because it’s such a big-picture approach, product security can be hard to implement on a granular level without causing usability issues. Keeping your entire product security program up-to-date with evolving threats and vulnerabilities is also tough. In addition, providing security coverage for all your devices, especially embedded ones, can be tricky.
Why you need both ProdSec and AppSec for complete security coverage
As we’ve seen, ProdSec and AppSec cover two different areas and should be viewed as separate disciplines. AppSec provides granular protection for apps in development and production, while ProdSec protects your enterprise’s entire product ecosystem. Both are essential to your organization’s security.
At Snyk, we recognize the importance of AppSec and ProdSec. Snyk solutions integrate seamlessly with existing development workflows, enabling developers to identify and remediate security vulnerabilities in their code and third-party dependencies from their IDEs to running cloud environments.
Application security with Snyk
Snyk provides several solutions for AppSec, both powered by our vulnerability database and code security knowledgebase:
Static application security testing (SAST) for automatically analyzing source code for vulnerabilities
Software composition analysis (SCA) for finding and fixing vulnerabilities in open source components.
Infrastructure as code (IaC) security for securing IaC templates during development and buildtime with security feedback and suggested fixes in-line with code.
Product security with Snyk
The Snyk product suite also includes a few tools for facilitating ProdSec, such as:
Vulnerability scanning and remediation for live websites, as well as their back-end services.
Snyk Container, for finding and automatically fixing container and workload vulns and providing secure base image suggestions.
Open source security that goes beyond basic SCA functionality by locating licensing issues and vulns across your entire product — not just your app.
Configuration scanning and remediation from IDEs to running cloud environments, with a unified code to cloud ruleset and policy engine automating pre- and post-deployment security and compliance
Discover more about how Snyk's AppSec and ProdSec solutions seamlessly integrate with development workflows, enabling developers to identify and fix security vulnerabilities across the product lifecycle.
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