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Application Security Best Practices

Parveen Bhandari | 18 August 2022

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What is Application Security?

Application security refers to the steps taken by enterprises to identify, protect, and repair applications that are vulnerable to security threats. This is frequently accomplished by employing application security testing tools and implementing software security best practices.

Application security focuses on improving security practices by detecting, fixing, and removing vulnerabilities or loopholes in the application. Data encryption, authentication, authorization, encryption, logging, application security testing, and antivirus systems are a few examples of application security services, programs, and devices that a company might utilize to prevent intruders from entering the system.

Security measures at the application level that secures the data or the code from being stolen. Click to explore about our, Application Security Checklist

What are Application Security Risks?

Some instances of application security risks are as follows:

Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)

Cross-site scripting (XSS) is a vulnerability that allows an attacker to insert client-side code into a webpage. This vulnerability, if exploited successfully, gives the attacker direct access to the user's sensitive information. An attacker may, for example, find a vulnerability on an e-commerce website and use HTML elements in the comments to exploit it. A comment can then direct users to files that steal visitor session cookies on another site, opening access to sensitive information such as credit card data.

DoS (Denial-of-Service) Attack

Remote attackers can use Denial-of-service (DoS). However, Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks are used to flood a targeted server or the infrastructure that supports it with various types of traffic.

Injection Attack

The various types of injection attacks are

  • XML Injection: XML vulnerability occurs when input by a user is inserted into a server-side XML document unsafely. It depends upon how the XML is used. It might interfere with the logic of the application and be able to access sensitive data or perform unauthorized actions.
  • HTTP Host Header Injection: A host header injection exploits the websites' vulnerabilities that accept the host header without validation. This is critical because most applications rely on the host header to generate links, import scripts, generate password reset links, etc.
  • SQL Injection: A technique called SQL injection can be used by hackers to exploit database flaws. This attack, in particular, can reveal user identities and passwords and enable attackers to manipulate data and user rights.
  • Code Injection: The term "code injection" refers to attacks that include injecting code that is then interpreted/executed by the application. This type of attack takes advantage of improper data management. These attacks are usually possible because of a lack of proper input/output data validation.

Hackers Employ Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF)

Hackers employ cross-site request forgery (CSRF) to mimic authorized users after tricking them into submitting an authorization request. High-level users are frequent targets of this strategy because their accounts have additional permissions, and once the account is compromised, the attacker can remove, change, or destroy data. Finally, an app is vulnerable to a data breach, just like anything else with sensitive information.

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Application Security Best Practices

As the applications grow, they become more complex, and the timeline for software development reduces. Developers are demanded to release new features as early as possible. This results in developers' dependency on third-party libraries, mainly open source, leading to vulnerabilities. According to The State of Application Security, 2020, Most external attacks are carried out via a software vulnerability(42%) or a web application(35%). Adopting application security best practices and integrating with the software development life cycle is one of the best ways organizations can ensure application security.

Security Procedure Awareness

Some companies still assume that security is something that should be handled by dedicated staff; such an approach is no longer valid in today's corporate environment: Because of the growing cybersecurity skills gap, security teams struggle to keep up with corporate development. In the development process, a dedicated security team becomes a bottleneck. There are more challenges for the security staff to deal with if security is reactive rather than proactive.

To overcome the above-stated challenge, the organisation can organise security training for the developers because developers are majorly responsible for pushing the code into production. Hence they must receive training from the security team regarding the developer's role and security requirements.

Adopt SecDevOps Approach

SecDevOps strategy, which goes beyond DevSecOps, believes that everyone involved in application development (as well as any other program development) is accountable for security somehow. Developers are skilled at writing secure code. Security policies are applied to tests by QA engineers. When making important decisions, all management and executives keep security in mind. A secure DevOps strategy necessitates extensive training. Everyone needs to be aware of security threats and dangers, understand potential application vulnerabilities and take security seriously. It may take a lot of time and work, but it pays off in the form of high-quality, secure apps.

Adopting a Cybersecurity Framework is a Good Idea

Cybersecurity is extremely complicated and necessitates a well-organized strategy. It's simple to lose sight of certain details, and it's also easy to get disorganized. As a result, many businesses build their security strategies on a specific cybersecurity framework.

A cybersecurity framework is a strategic strategy that starts with in-depth research on security issues and involves tasks like building a cyber incident response plan and appropriate application security checklists. The larger the company, the more strategic thinking is required.

Another benefit of implementing a cybersecurity framework is knowing that all cybersecurity is interconnected, and web security cannot be managed separately.

Example of cybersecurity framework

  • NIST ( National Institute of Standards and Technology ) Framework
  • CIS ( Centre for Internet Security ) Framework
  • ISO/ IEC 27001

Security tools should be automated and integrated. Security technologies today are built with automation and integration in mind. Business-grade vulnerability scanners, for example, are designed to work with other systems like continuous integration and delivery platforms and issue trackers. Following this approach can benefit in several ways:

There is less room for error when there is less manual labour. Security tools should be automated and integrated so that no application is published before scanning. Issues can be detected and eliminated considerably sooner if security is included in the software development lifecycle (SDLC). This saves plenty of time and simplifies the remediation process. Security-based issues could be treated the same as any other issue if security tools are utilized with other software development technologies, such as issue trackers.

Use Secure Software Development Techniques

the two important elements to consider while developing secure software:

  • Practices that will help you write application code with fewer problems
  • Practices that aid in the early detection and elimination of errors

Software developers must be informed about potential security issues in the first situation.SQL injections, cross-site scripting (XSS), cross-site resource forgery (CSRF), and other vulnerabilities and misconfigurations like those outlined in the OWASP Top 10 must all be understood. They must also be familiar with the secure coding approaches required to avoid such flaws, such as how to avoid SQL injections. Scanning for security vulnerabilities as early as feasible in the development lifecycle helps in most cases.

Use Diverse Security Measures


There are many facets to application security, and no single solution can be considered the only way to ensure total protection. A vulnerability scanner is an essential tool for online application security. Fortunately, some vulnerability scanners are also networked security scanners, so the two tasks can be completed simultaneously.

Many firms prefer to deploy a SAST (source code analysis) tool at an early stage, such as in SecDevOps pipelines or even on developer machines, in addition to vulnerability scanners based on DAST or IAST technologies. Although such a tool is a valuable addition, it cannot replace a DAST tool due to its limitations (such as the inability to secure third-party parts).

Some companies believe that using a web application firewall is the best method to defend themselves against web-based risks (WAF). A WAF, on the other hand, is merely a band-aid solution that eliminates potential attack routes.

Data Access Limits for Users

The most effective way to strengthen security is to further restrict access to your data:
Need-To-Know: This principle states that, Regardless of their security clearance level or other permissions, a user should only have access to the information their job function requires. A user needs both permissions and a need-to-know. And that need-to-know is linked to the user's current role.

Principle of Least Privilege

The principle of least privilege (PoLP) is a concept in which a user is given just the access – or permissions – necessary to do his or her job requirements. It's commonly considered a crucial step in protecting privileged access to sensitive data and assets.

Encrypt your Information


Encryption of both data at rest and in transit is critical for application security best practices.
SSL/TLS's latest version with a certificate is one of the most basic forms of encryption.
The storage of sensitive user data such as passwords in plain text could lead to man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks. Make sure you're utilizing the most secure encryption algorithms possible. Some encryption algorithms are mentioned below:

  • Triple-DES Encryption
  • RSA Encryption
  • Advanced Encryption Standards (AES)


Addressing Vulnerabilities in Packages and Libraries

Open source tools often offer great benefits, including cost efficiency. They might also expose you to significant vulnerabilities. Ongoing monitoring for vulnerabilities, regular updates, and patching of the vulnerabilities should be done as quickly as possible while using open-source software.

Diverse Security Measures

There are many facets to application security, and no single solution can be considered the only way to ensure total protection. A vulnerability scanner is an essential tool for online application security. Even the finest vulnerability scanner won't be able to find all vulnerabilities and security misconfigurations in your web applications and APIs/web services without human intervention, such as logical flaws or bypassing complicated access control/authentication methods.

Vulnerability scanning should never be used in place of penetration testing. Vulnerability scanning must also be paired with network scanning to completely safeguard web servers. Fortunately, some vulnerability scanners are also networked security scanners, so the two tasks can be completed simultaneously.

Many firms prefer to deploy a SAST (source code analysis) tool at an early stage, such as in SecDevOps pipelines or even on developer machines, in addition to vulnerability scanners based on DAST or IAST technologies. Although such a tool is a valuable addition, it cannot replace a DAST tool due to its limitations (such as the inability to secure third-party parts).

Overall, you should employ various security measures, but you should not assume that simply purchasing them and handing them over to your security team would fix the problem. These security procedures must be integrated with your entire environment and, to the extent practicable, automated. They are there to help the security team by reducing the amount of work they have to do, not by adding to it.

Conclusion

Application security is a dynamic and ongoing process, and failing to secure online applications can result in financial losses and reputational damage for enterprises of all kinds. Even if you implement all of the mentioned application security best practices, you can't expect to be satisfied. You must continue to monitor, be aware, and investigate your application for security concerns to improve your security procedures. Security is a journey, and if you've already taken the first step toward improving the security of your online application, you're already ahead of the game. While the application security best practices listed above provide a comprehensive picture of how your application security journey should go, it's important to remember that web app security dynamics change daily.

Additional Resources

To know more on Application Security, explore these resources: