Almost every application that we use has some kind of vulnerability.
Well, that is scary and interesting. But what can we do about it?
If we get to know what Application Security (AppSec) is and how to implement it better, things can improve. In this article, let me tell you all about it.
What is Application Security?
Application Security is the practice of securing a software application inside out during its entire lifecycle.
In other words, the application’s security should be kept in mind from the design phase to its end of life. This will make sure that the app is inherently as secure as possible.
Did you know that a whopping 99% of security professionals say that applications in production include at least four vulnerabilities? The State of DevSecOps report by Contrast Security mentions this.
So, to improve this state, we need to learn more about application security and implement it as much as possible.
But what all goes through the application security process? What should be done? How does it work, and why is it so important? Let me highlight more about it as you read on.
How Does Application Security Work?
Application Security is also dubbed as “AppSec” for short. Technically, every nut and bolt of software leads to its security.
For instance, if an application is designed in a way that only users with two-factor authentication (2FA) enabled can utilize its services. This makes the software thwart any unauthorized attempt to access accounts, as every user will have 2FA enabled.
A software design like this should stop half of the cyberattacks that guess the passwords to take control of online accounts. And, yet, it sounds so easy to take care of it in the software design phase, right? 🤷
Similar software design concepts will make sure that users do not have to worry about getting affected by traditional cyberattacks.
The important pain points to focus on for application security should be controlled access to the data, securing the APIs, securing the data, and securing the application to prevent any modifications to it by attackers.
Of course, things like following the Cyber Kill Chain are a no-brainer for the fundamental security of the application as well.
While all of this should keep the application protected when it is deployed, the habit of regular security testing and patching vulnerabilities through updates is also important.
To enforce all the essentials, AppSec needs to lay down certain standards and controls through tools and solutions to ensure that maximum care is taken to design, test, and deploy a software application.
I shall address the tools and testing solutions after we know why application security is critical.
Why is Application Security Important?
Even though the servers/data centers are taken care of, if the app is insecure, it opens up possibilities for attackers to exploit various techniques to steal data or gain unauthorized access.
For instance, if the application’s code is poor at handling secure communication between the app and the cloud, an attacker can take advantage of it to snoop and extract essential info.
Let me give you another example where software includes a proprietary tech that is supposed to be secure. However, the code is exposed to be stolen by attackers, which could affect the business and its customers eventually.
And what if a bug in the software creates a security issue out of nowhere?
Not to forget – nowadays, a massive amount of data is involved whenever you interact with software. So, anything can be compromised or stolen without your knowledge. As a developer, you would not want any data of your customer to be a victim of identity theft, right?
I will take that as a yes and add it to the reason application security is important 😉
Whether it is from a business perspective or the user side, application security should help everyone.
SQL injection: It is a pretty common and dangerous cyber threat. The target of this threat is your database. One can modify or destroy your entire database if they manage to succeed. You can read our resource on SQL injection and how you can prevent it to learn more.
CSRF: Cross-site request Forgery exploits the access tokens that are stored in your browser to keep your login session alive. Considering you are logged in, an attacker will use the token to provide you with a link to act on through social engineering.
Broken authentication and session management: Similar to CSRF, it also refers to the lack of 2FA and the lack of session management in the services. If the user cannot check logged-in sessions and control them, it will be easier for an attacker to gain access to the account without any knowledge of the user.
Malware: You could be downloading a malware-infected version of the app if you are not downloading the app from the official source. Customers should always be informed of the right way to download a malware-free version of your app.
Remote code execution: Any unknown script or code utilized in the app without reviewing could help an attacker take control of the app remotely.
Security misconfiguration: Often, a human error in configuring a basic security feature could lead to a security compromise. No matter how many tools/features are active to protect the app, the configurations should be reviewed to keep the app safe.
Phishing: The app can be entirely secure, but an external link, part of a phishing scam, can compromise a user’s info. So, awareness to the users of your app to handle links with warnings can help prevent this.
Brute force attacks: The ever-prevalent cyberattack, automating a bot to try multiple user ID and password combinations to log in to a service. If a user’s password is easily guessable, it can be a victim of brute force attacks. Hence, the log-in process should have some safeguard against multiple trials and warn the user when they set a weak password.
Tools and Solutions Useful for Application Security
Numerous tools help with the application security process. Some of the best ones I can think of include:
#1. Web Application Firewall (WAF)
A firewall makes things automated to protect the cloud and the data while ensuring a secure user connection to the cloud. It gives all-in-one protection against cyber threats, known and unknown vulnerabilities, and more.
There are plenty of web application firewalls with numerous features on offer. Depending on their feature set, the pricing of the services will differ.
You may find an all-in-one solution that protects you against threats, patches vulnerabilities and manages all the essential security work for you. In either case, you can also opt for a firewall that gives you more control and the ability to set rules for the network.
No matter the size of your business, you cannot go wrong with some popular options like Cloudflare and Sucuri WAF. I recommend you to research more on the security features you get to know what you want.
#2. Mobile Application Security Testing (MAST)
Having the app secure on mobile devices is non-negotiable in the digital age. So, performing tests to evaluate and find security vulnerabilities when the application runs on a mobile should help all kinds of users.
Almost everything is becoming mobile-first. And it’s the first or the most frequently used thing for your customers. So, if you prioritize mobile app security testing, you could win your customers with the user experience provided.
If the code is poorly written, no other solution can protect it from cybersecurity threats. Hence, it is important to review the code that makes the application using this methodology.
Similarly, there are various security techniques for cloud-first applications, mobile-first applications, and browser-based applications.
Depending on the type of application and the requirements, a business can decide to utilize countless tools to secure the app.
While both SAST and DAST are useful for improving application security, you can check out our resource on comparing SAST and DAST to get more insights.
Benefits of Implementing Application Security
The obvious benefit is to keep the data secure. But what exactly do businesses get out of application security?
Establish brand trust by keeping the customer’s data safe
When there is a data breach in a business, you lose customers, and the trust builds up over the years.
A prime example of this is the LastPass password manager. It was a popular service for many users. However, after it was affected by a major data breach, users moved to other password managers.
And, if your business keeps the customer’s data safe. The users will have one less reason to think of migrating to other services.
Protect confidential information
Not just limited to losing users, it is incredibly important to safeguard confidential information if your business deals with it.
The information could be worth millions if leaked. So, application security should help protect the value of significant information.
Give confidence to the investors
While some businesses may have no investors, most of them do. The investors should be impressed if you have a solid security model in your app. Even if they may not wholeheartedly trust your business idea, a good practice to secure your app can show them your responsibility.
Reduces the effort to maintain the software development
The fewer security issues on your app, the less maintenance is needed. Your team can focus on feature developments and improvements instead of being busy resolving security issues.
Best Practices of Application Security
Application Security needs to include a comprehensive set of principles and methods to keep things secure. Some of the best methodologies that one can follow include:
Monitoring Known Vulnerabilities: You are aware of the threats that you might encounter. But what about vulnerabilities discovered out in the wild? You can keep an eye on a CVE database or a vulnerability public bulletin to stay cautious about exploits that might affect your application.
Prioritizing resolutions: Of course, we know that the security issues that creep up have to be taken care of as soon as possible. But in what order? That could make a world of difference. So, it is best to prioritize resolving issues that could impact the app/risk the data the most.
Application Security Audits: For every practice, a report makes it worthwhile. You track the progress, evaluate how well the process is going, and then make decisions to improve it. Similarly, you need to check if AppSec is being implemented the way it should be and how it is improving the software.
We need to secure the applications and services we use (and make). However, the way we take the approach to its security makes a difference.
If all the ideal principles of application security are followed through, we will get fewer vulnerabilities out of production. It is essential to understand that there can never be zero security vulnerabilities, as cyber threats constantly evolve to get around.
Similarly, the concept of AppSec has to evolve with it to be of help.