Introduction to Application Security
Application security is the process of creating, integrating, and testing security measures into applications to protect them from security vulnerabilities like unauthorized access.
Several methods for promoting application security throughout the software development lifecycle (SDLC) are listed below:
- Introduce security standards and tools during the design and development phases of the application.
- Protect applications in production environments by implementing security procedures and systems. for example, carrying out continuous security testing, Strong authentication should be used for applications that contain sensitive information or are mission-critical.
- Use of security systems such as web application firewalls (WAF), firewalls, and intrusion prevention systems
What are the features of Application Security?
- Authentication -Authentication ensures the user is who they say they are. They need to provide a password and username to login into an application
- Authorization - After the authentication, application authorizes them to use only selected features.
- Encryption -: After Authorization, applications have access to sensitive data or maybe generating sensitive data, that has to be protected so it cannot be seen or used by a cybercriminal.
- Logging - At the time of security breach in an application, logging can help identify who got access to the data and how
- Application Security Testing - A necessary process to ensure that all of these security controls work correctly.
Why do Businesses need Application Security?
The importance of application security can be seen in the fact that there were 1291 breaches in 2021 compared to 1108 breaches in 2020 according to Identity Theft Resource Centre (ITRC) research with more than 60 million victims whose data was compromised. Some of the major breaches of social media websites contain data of 100 million to 5 billion people.
Moreover, the total cost of data breach remediation is around 4.24 million USD, according to IBM's latest data breach report. Globally, the overall cost comes out to be around 6 trillion USD for remediation of applications security-related breaches. If application security is adequately performed, data breach and remediation costs will be significantly less and might also become nil for secure applications.
What are the types of Application Security?
Application security combines various security practices followed together to make an application secure. The various features which are an essential part of application security are given below.
Whenever an application is accessed, user credentials or tokens are required to ensure the user's identity. Authentication is a process through which the application confirms that only genuine and already identified users are accessing the system. Authentication of a user is done by comparing the user-provided values against the credentials stored in the system's database, token generated or via biometric verification. Today, authentication is also divided into a combination of various features such as primary authentication, two-factor authentication, multi-factor authentication, single-sign-on, cookie-based authentication, password authentication protocol, challenge handshake authentication protocol, and an extensible authentication protocol.
All the above authentication features are deployed on an application depending on its confidentiality, user base, project cost, and other product requirements.
Authorization is a process using which different privileges are given to different user roles to access the resources of an application. A user can be a guest user, registered user, administrator, viewer, commenter, editor etc. The primary responsibility of an authorization mechanism is to restrict cross-user-level access to different functionalities of the application. For example, a guest user should not be able to access the functionalities of an administrator, or a viewer user cannot comment or edit a document. Any discrepancies or misconfigurations in the user role and its access level may lead to authorization breaches and leakage of sensitive information.
Encryption is a method using which the data used by an application is encoded, converted into a cipher text, or hashed to make it secure. It is further divided into data encryption in motion and data encryption at rest. Encryption of data in motion refers to the data transmitted over the network between a server and end client. The data is encrypted so that a third party cannot see the confidential information transmitted between the first two parties. Data encryption at rest is done on the data stored in the database or on a user's system. Data at rest is mainly accessed by the system on which it exists to compare authentication and authorizations credentials or privilege access requests received from remote users.
Logging is a process to enter the data or incidents generated by users, bots, or automated scripts that can make any changes in the application. For example, user login, login time, username, logout time, access functionality logs, failed logins, IP addresses, etc. are captured and entered in logs by logging mechanism to make sure that all the incidents related to the application are being captured, which can be further used in the analysis of user behaviour, cyber attack breaches, monitoring of application and many other purposes. In a security breach, hackers mostly destroy the logs to remove their footprints. Therefore it should be ensured that the logs are always saved on a remote system and not within the server in which an application is hosted.
Application Security Testing
It is the phase of application security in which testing of the application from a security perspective is done. An ethical hacker tries to penetrate the application using various techniques and tools available in the market. Tools can be open source or commercially available. The security testing consists of several phases: information gathering, reconnaissance, scanning, gaining access, exploitation, maintaining access, and covering tracks. The phases may increase or decrease depending on the type of testing performed. Vulnerability scanning, penetration testing, risk assessment, security audit, etc. are some common application security testing methods.
What is the Application Security Framework?
In general, a framework is a set of rules, ideas, or procedures followed to achieve the end goal. In application security, a framework is a combination of policies and procedures to securely handle the application and its data. An application security framework is essential as it enables an organization to manage the risks associated with an application quickly and more efficiently. A good framework consists of application security best practices which should be followed from the planning phase of an application till the application deployment phase to the client.
There can be multiple application security frameworks depending on an organization's needs and the type of application the organization is dealing with. For example, Wipro has its own application security framework defined for its product and security needs, whereas Google follows a different framework for its products and organization.
NIST Application Security Framework
NIST Application Security Framework mainly discusses risk management and outlines the common risks for applications, and provides practical recommendations to address them.
What are the Application Security Standards?
Different organizations follow various application security standards as per their requirements. Some are related to international standards, while others are related to a community or a security practice followed by testers or developers worldwide. Some of the application security standards are discussed below.
ISO 27000 series
It combines different policies to keep the application and its data secure. Organizations get ISO certifications to prove their credibility that they are following an international standard. Some certifications are valid up to a specific time limit and should be renewed as per the certification policy from time to time.
It is a security standard developed for US federal agencies and organizations to manage the risks. It is based on several policies and publications and is designed to require stringent security measures to be in place.
It develops Application Security Verification Standard for developers to follow secure coding practices. Code examples and significant recommendations are given in the document to design and implement the process flow.
Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS) is used by financial organizations which deal with debit cards, credit cards, online transactions, POS machines etc. It was developed to make online transactions more secure and flexible while providing maximum security and preventing leakage of the end-user data.
Security measures at the application level that secures the data or the code from being stolen. Click to explore our, Application Security Checklist
What are the Challenges of Application Security?
Although application security is a must nowadays, organizations globally also face challenges in implementing it. Some of the challenges are given below.
Lack of Relevant Skills
The cyber security skill gap is a major problem for organizations as demand is greater than the supply. Most organizations try to select and recruit security professionals with multiple years of experience with different certifications. However, due to the lack of talent in the market, they have to recruit freshers or trainees and then make them skilled in cyber security.
Vulnerabilities in 3rd-party Libraries
Legacy and third-party application libraries possess security risks that cannot be modified quickly as they may disrupt the current operation flow in an organization. The creation of new libraries and applications takes time, due to which organization remains vulnerable till it is using legacy applications and libraries.
Frequent Production Changes Poses Security Risks
Nowadays, modern applications are updated every week. Each subsequent version of the application comes with different features/modules and carries different types of risks associated with the particular functionality. A newer version may introduce a new bug in the application or override the patched logic and make the system vulnerable. Sometimes, due to short timelines given for developers, it is impossible for them to maintain secure coding practices, and applications might get released in production without security testing.
Inefficient tools to find Vulnerabilities
There is no single tool available in the market that can find all types of vulnerabilities in different applications. A security tester has to use multiple tools and scripts to ensure that an application is free from most of the vulnerabilities. Still, zero-day vulnerabilities occur from time to time.
Challenging Compliance Mandates
Compliance mandates are challenging for small-scale or large-scale industries. Due to non-compliance, an organization may have to halt its operation or may even lose its business. The cost involved in maintaining compliance and training of individuals is also very costly.
Insider threats are unknown variables that impact the normal operation flow of an organization. Many types of frameworks and zero trust policies are used by organizations to prevent an insider threat. However, it may still happen at a higher management level due to various reasons.
Security Dependencies on Tools
Many organizations have a hundred percent dependence on tools for securing an application. However, most of the zero-day vulnerabilities are found by manual testing, which makes it challenging for an organization to guard against them.
Default configurations are not safe
Generally, developers deploy an application in a production environment with a default configuration, assuming that the vendor-released version is safe. However, there might be default user accounts, sensitive information leakages, or unpatched versions which possess a security risk.
Quick Response Time in Data Breach
A quick response time in case of a data breach is challenging for all organizations. Vulnerabilities are often known after a cyber attack has already happened, and data is compromised.
What are the best Application Security Tools?
Application security is not a simple choice between whether you are secure or not. It is more like a sliding scale where providing more security supports you by a reduction in the risk of an incident. It is challenging to eliminate them, but we can take steps to remove threats and make applications as secure as possible. This is where the entire concept of application security testing arrives and helps in analyzing the source code to find application security vulnerabilities. We would be covered in detail about the Application Security Vulnerabilities Checklist. We now move on to tools that help us find these—security Vulnerabilities. The number of lines in code is just getting longer, and for developers to test everything manually is not only time consuming but also this method is prone to errors. Thus we use Application Security Testing tools. Though there are more than ten types of application security testing, in this blog, we will be going through about dynamic and static application security testing.
Dynamic Application Security Testing
Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) is a method that actively examines running applications with penetration tests to detect possible security vulnerabilities.
It is also called the Black Box testing. Let us look at the tools used for DAST
- Micro Focus Fortify WebInspect
Penetration testing is a process to identify security vulnerability within an application by evaluating a system or network with the help of different malicious techniques. Taken from Article, What is Penetration Testing? Best Tools and Techniques
Static Application Security Testing
Static application security testing (SAST), or static analysis, is a testing methodology that investigates source code to find security vulnerabilities that make your enterprise's applications sensitive to attack. SAST examines an application before the code is compiled. It's also known as white box testing. Let us look at the tools used for SAST
Interactive Application Security Testing (IAST)
IAST is a combination of SAST and DAST. An interactive approach to security testing that combines static and dynamic analysis. This allows you to identify known vulnerabilities and see if they are used in your running application and can be exploited.
Rule Based Web Application Firewall (WAF)
A WAF is a solution deployed at the network edge that examines traffic entering and exiting a network and attempts to identify and block malicious traffic.
Traditional rule-based WAFs are high-maintenance tools requiring organizations to define rules that match specific traffic and application patterns carefully.
Application security is a must in modern application development scenarios as it helps secure the application and lowers the data breach and remediation cost. If an application is designed and developed with standardized security features, the users would also feel safe while using the application. All the application security frameworks should prioritize security as their main feature.
Although there are many challenges in application security, with proper procedures and policies as well as reskilling the employees, integrating different application security tools in one framework, using compliance benchmarks monthly and creating incident response policies will tackle most of the challenges, application security testing should be done from an insider as well as outsider perspective as it may help in securing the overall security posture of the application.
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