Application Security 101
A short guide to application security aimed at newcomers to the subject.
Organisations are increasingly relocating their business process online and are developing software applications for smooth functioning. That is why to further their business process; organisations should follow basic hygiene software protection practices and keep application security in line with development practices.
The application building and development process has changed dramatically in recent years. Updates and new features roll out almost every day, and with these come a new set of vulnerabilities. Hence application security is of the essence in today's world to prevent attacks and reduce risks.
This article is an essential guide on core application security concepts and methodologies, vulnerabilities and issues that will equip you with all the tools you need to stay secure.
What is Application Security?
Application security is a process of finding and fixing vulnerabilities within the software and enhancing the security of the applications, which makes it much more secure and resistant to threats and attacks.
Application security is an important part of the development as well as the post-development of the software development lifecycle phase.
Application security requires a dynamic approach during every build and release cycle so as to detect new vulnerabilities and identify new threats.
With malicious attackers devising new ways of attacks, the technological landscape must remain secure.
This can be ensured by following best application security practices that employ different tools and methods in every stage of the build, test and release cycle to identify vulnerabilities and prevent an attack.
Why is Application Security Important?
According to Veracode’s State of Software Security Vol. 10 reports, 83% of the 85,000 applications it tested had at least one security flaw.
Many had much more, as their research found a total of 10 million flaws, and 20% of all apps had at least one high severity flaw.
Application security is an industry that is growing in leaps and bounds. This market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 25% to reach $15.25 billion in 2025 from its current estimate of $4 billion.
Vulnerability or threats may arise from common coding errors or just a simple configuration error that possesses a major security risk.
Application security tools that are amalgamated into the application development process can prevent future attacks and reduce risks.
Hackers are finding new ways to circumvent and refine their attacks that penetrate the system. Hence a continuous deployment and integration of security tools is necessary to detect vulnerabilities and prevent an attack.
Types of Web Application Security
There is no conventional or one size fits all approach to application security. Different organisations have different security requirements and hence require different solution for their vulnerabilities.
A holistic approach view of the attack surface along with the study of the security environment and different deployment models is crucial to develop robust application security.
The following are the types:
Critical Infrastructure and Cyber Security
Physical systems that provide access to critical infrastructure and sensitive information requires a robust security approach and due diligence as these surfaces are normally the initial point of attack and easy to penetrate and compromise.
Mobile and Network Application Security
Any application during the development stage requires a process where the vulnerabilities are tested and fixed. Encryption should be a part of the built-in design whenever mobile or network access is required.
Additional protection like firewalls and anti-virus should be installed on the surface where the nodes are exposed to the outside world.
The protection of the overall network security system wherein the app function is also of prime importance as vulnerabilities in the networks can lead to app intrusion.
Utilising network intrusion tools and threat detecting systems improves the overall security system. This function is an overall responsibility of network administrators and also app developers as application security requires constant updates and patches to improve.
Cloud security has become a preferred deployment method by organisations and businesses. Cloud service providers are continuously reviewing their platforms and improving their security solutions as compared to on-premise deployments and hence is much more preferable.
Internet of security Things
The company's internal networks are connected to the internet, and this puts the connected devices or nodes at risk. The hacker can use these connected devices as a pivot and launch further escalating attacks, which may compromise the entire network system.
Hence additional security is required to devices or applications that are exposed to the internet.
Application Security Tools
With the hackers constantly working on attacks that expose new threats and vulnerabilities, application security tools provide numerous advantages.
These tools enhance security testing, which are scalable and can be carried out for small incremental costs, which saves times and resources. The following are the tools:
Static Application Security Testing (SAST)
Is a tool that has access to source code and a form of white box testing? It tests the source code when the application is at rest and identifies weaknesses that lead to vulnerabilities and generates a report.
Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST)
Is a black-box testing tool that analyses the operating running code. It doesn’t require extensive knowledge of the internal systems and identifies issues with requests, responses, interfaces, scripts, injections, authentication, and sessions using fuzzing.
Software Composition Analysis (SCA)
Is a tool that analyses components and libraries of the sourced software? It is also known as origin analysis and helps the developer to identify known vulnerabilities and informs the developer about recent security patches and updates.
Interactive Application Security Testing (IAST)
Performs tests on applications and data flow using already available pre-defined test cases and is a combination of static and dynamic approaches.
Application Security Testing as a Service (ASTaaS)
In this method, the organisation procures the services of an external company to perform all testing for their applications.
Good Read: Web Application Security Threats and Measures to Protect
Best Security Practises for Application Security
The inefficient use of tools, amateur programmers, API breaches, open-source vulnerabilities and not adopting a DevSecOps approach are some of the challenges for application security.
The following are some best practices to be adopted:
Adopt DevSecOps Approach
This approach enables the developers the to identify issues at the development stage itself. The vulnerabilities are resolved as quickly as possible, which results in saving of time and resources. This method enables the team to identify security issues at all stages, right from design to implementation.
Address Open-source Vulnerabilities
While open-source software's comes with additional benefits such as cost optimisation, it also comes with added vulnerabilities. Hence constant and continuous monitoring for threats, vulnerabilities and updates is of prime importance.
By thinking like an attacker, you can address all the risks and assess them to identify vulnerabilities. Create a list of applications to be accessed, identify threats and isolate them, check on connecting nodes and exposed surfaces from time to time and ensure proper security measures to tackle an attack.
Update and Patch regularly
As the attacks are getting more refined and sophisticated, timely updating and patching of software's are of prime importance as it helps in tackling new security threats. Planning is essential as new patches may have API compatibility issues or network architecture compatibility issues.
Data encryption is one of the best practices if you have sensitive data or information. Data in transit or at rest should be encrypted using strong encryption algorithms.
While automated tools give a degree of protection to the system it is not entirely safe. Penetration testing involves hiring an ethical hacker who attempts to break into the system and identify vulnerabilities and potential attack vectors which may cause a full-blooded attack.