What Is Application Security?

Application security (AppSec) is an integral part of the development lifecycle, ensuring applications are built with security against various threats, including insider threats and malicious intrusion. Internal threats can occur due to human error and malicious acts like phishing schemes, and external threats can involve malware and injection attacks.

Application security covers the entire lifecycle to help meet all the security requirements of today’s constantly-evolving threat landscape. It can help avoid data breaches' legal and financial repercussions, protect the organization’s reputation, and build trust with partners and customers.

"Data Security"

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Why Is Application Security the Next Frontier of Data Security?

There are several trends underlying the rise of cloud application security.

The Move to Cloud Security

Cloud computing has grown significantly in recent years. While most organizations used cloud applications and services before the pandemic, the move to work-from-home models accelerated the demand for cloud-based corporate environments that allow remote workers to access company resources.

Cloud environments provide several benefits for enterprise applications, such as agility, scalability, and flexibility. These capabilities are essential for DevSecOps workflows. With more applications leveraging the cloud, organizations must update their security strategy to support distributed environments.

Security in the cloud requires purpose-built solutions that are easily composable. The right cloud security tools prevent cloud adoption from impacting company assets and data.

Security Is Shifting Left

Modern security providers offer application security tools for integration into continuous integration and delivery (CI/CD) pipelines. These CI/CD security solutions allow teams to shift application scanning to the left, applying security tests early in the software development lifecycle.

Even traditional development platforms like GitHub and GitLab have introduced security features. Application security is now a priority for developer tool providers. However, scanning tools continue to generate noise, making it hard for developers to manage security alerts. Alert fatigue leads to developers neglecting security.

Application security helps make security an integral part of the automated development pipeline, helping address developer indifference. It requires automating security tests in the CI/CD pipeline. However, organizations should avoid generating too many alerts and configure tools to minimize false positives and ensure productivity.

The Growing Threat of Bots

A bot is a program that interacts with web APIs or sites. Cybercriminals often use bots to automate attacks or carry out fraudulent activities (i.e., credit card fraud). For instance, attackers can leverage bots to launch Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) and credential stuffing attacks.

Building a bot requires considerable programming skills and security knowledge. While bot attacks used to be the exclusive domain of skilled hackers, bot-as-a-service providers have made bots readily available. Today, anyone can launch a malicious bot attack.

The growing accessibility of bots has driven organizations to find protective measures. For example, a bot management solution is now an essential component of AppSec strategies. It prevents attackers from using bots to waste computing resources (DDoS) or compromise web-facing apps and APIs.

Best Practices for AppSec Program Maturity

Make Sure People and Culture Drive Success

This responsibility should not rest only on security professionals, business analysts, testers, software developers, and other roles related to the development pipeline. Getting everyone onboard is critical to achieving a successful implementation. Security education is critical for leadership roles and all other roles across the organization, making AppSec a part of everyone's job.

Organizations can improve their security culture by nominating security champions and embedding them into the software development function. They should choose personnel with an aptitude for security and provide these champions with extra security training to help support their existing knowledge. Security champions evangelize the importance of security, challenge false perceptions, and advocate using a standardized security language.

Using Endpoint and App Security in Tandem

Endpoint protection platforms monitor the activity of processes on the system, attempting to determine what they touch, the type of subprocesses used, command-line arguments, and more. Application security helps protect the application and prevent unauthorized access to the operating system and code execution.

Endpoint and application security often overlap and can complement each other as part of a broader security strategy. Organizations can choose to use one or both according to the level of security they need to achieve to protect data.

For example, they may need minimal visibility into mobile devices to ensure personnel follows common security standards, such as updating to the latest operating system and patches and enabling lock screens. This type of security does not intrude on employees' privacy or make them worry about IT wiping the device or spying on their usage.

Whether a company uses endpoint security or app security, it is essential to protect all endpoints, including company-owned and personally-owned devices. Internal policies and industry regulations should serve as guidelines when building the security strategy while prioritizing employees as much freedom as possible to offer a positive experience.

Determine When to Use Automation in Vulnerability Discovery

An effective AppSec program should utilize automation alongside human expertise. It should include manual penetration testing, secure code review, and threat modeling, as well as automated vulnerability discovery solutions deployed throughout the SDLC lifecycle. This program requires each organization to determine the level of automation required for vulnerability discovery and the scenarios that require manual penetration testing.

Automatic testing tools, like dynamic scanning, interactive security testing, and static analysis, are suitable for daily use to achieve continuous visibility and defense. However, manual penetration testing may be necessary when making significant architectural changes or technology upgrades to systems. It is usually not a question of choosing between human expertise and automation—it is a matter of finding a balance for optimal security.

Employ Risk-Based Pen Testing

Penetration testing helps validate that the SDLC is properly implemented, in addition to helping discover vulnerabilities. It helps determine the effectiveness of a secure SDLC pipeline, including all manual and automated processes.

Organizations usually employ penetration testing when they start building their AppSec program to gain insights into their current security posture and learn how to improve it. The results of the test typically include risk scores to help prioritize remediation.

Conclusion

In the past, application and data security were two completely separate fields. Today, organizations are realizing that applications hold valuable data, and without proper application security, they cannot guarantee data security. I covered three key trends that are driving the convergence between data and application security:

  • The move to cloud security—cloud-based applications provided as a service are becoming one of the primary ways organizations store and manage valuable data.
  • Security is shifting left—CI/CD pipelines are integrating security into every stage of the development process.
  • The growing threat of bots—bots are becoming increasingly sophisticated and can attack applications and compromise the data they store.

 

I hope this will be useful as you take application security to the next level, as part of a holistic data security program.