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What Is Application Security, and How Can You Implement It In Your Business

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By: Shelby Welty

September 29, 2021

What is application security, and how can business leaders implement it?

With opportunistic attackers constantly looking for software vulnerabilities, prioritizing application security has never been more important.

According to the State of Software Security report by Veracode, three-quarters of apps have at least one security flaw, a quarter of which are considered severe. Furthermore, many apps had multiple security flaws, and given that 130,000 apps were scanned for 12 months to compile the findings, the numbers are undeniably troubling.

Figures like these are the reason why application security, or AppSec, has been getting a lot of attention in recent years. There are now hundreds of tools available for securing software during each stage of the development process. For example, there are tools tailored to mobile app security, web app security, network security, and many other software types.

How does AppSec differ from DevSecOps?

AppSec and DevSecOps (Development, Security, Operations) are two of the most common neologisms in the world of cybersecurity, and they are still commonly confused. Some people refer to AppSec as a predecessor to DevSecOps, using the former term to refer to outmoded application security models.

Generally speaking, DevSecOps is a philosophy, whereas AppSec is a profession. AppSec focuses specifically on improving the security of software applications. It involves a deep understanding of the application, programming language, frameworks, and source code. Most AppSec experts focus on security during every stage of the software development lifecycle (SDLC).

DevSecOps, while also inherently technical, refers to a broader organizational philosophy that prioritizes the incorporation of security by design and default. To that end, AppSec often works in conjunction with DevSecOps to introduce additional security functions and audits into the software development process.

When security is made an integral part of the entire SDLC, DevSecOps, and AppSec should work hand-in-hand to mitigate risk and prevent overreliance on post-release security fixes. For example, DevSecOps typically makes heavy use out of automated security scans to provide a continuous feedback loop to developers. If these scans find a severe vulnerability that the regular software development team is inadequately equipped to tackle, the issue may instead be referred to an AppSec specialist.

It presents a significant shift from the traditional approach, in which developers would disregard security altogether and leave the responsibility entirely to application security teams. However, due to the collaborative nature of cybersecurity and the fact that everyone and everything is a potential target, it is more important than ever that both operations work together. This reduces the chance of potentially serious vulnerabilities going unnoticed.

Why is app-focused security so important?

Among the most significant limitations of the traditional approach to application, security is that it assumes a static computing environment with a clearly defined perimeter. It was commonplace for applications to run on physical or virtual servers with static configurations in the past. Thus, the focus was securing the underlying operating system, the physical hardware, and the local network itself.

These days, the concept of perimeter-based security is irrelevant. Most business apps are now hosted in the cloud in web apps, while many desktop and mobile apps use remotely hosted resources extensively. Modern apps tend to be subject to erratic traffic patterns and resources being added or removed on demand. SDLCs are also getting shorter, with code changes often happening on a weekly or even daily basis.

These changes demand a major rethink of what it means to achieve a secure IT environment. So, cybersecurity must begin at the application level and factor into the entire development process, starting from when the first line of code is written.

Security testing and application shielding tools

Security testing tools have been on the market for years. Most popular solutions are developed and maintained by companies like IBM or Micro Focus. Security testing tools come in several different categories, including the following:

  • Static testing tools analyze code at fixed points during the development process, which plays an important role in promoting secure coding.

  • Dynamic testing tools test code that is running make it possible to simulate attacks on systems in production. These are important in penetration testing.

  • Mobile testing tools address the unique demands of mobile app security to determine how attackers may exploit mobile operating systems and the apps running on them.

Application shielding tools are a newer market, with their main objective is to add additional security layers to strengthen them against attacks. These include solutions like automated threat detection, code obfuscation, encryption algorithms, and anti-tampering tools. Another application shielding solution is runtime application self-protection (RASP), which helps close the gap between traditional application security testing and local or network security controls. These are becoming increasingly common in mobile app development for terminating errant processes and sending automated alerts.

Using the right combination of software testing and shielding tools, development teams can greatly reduce their time finding and fixing flaws. While there is no such thing as an entirely secure solution, embedding security throughout the SDLC is now a matter of common sense.

Raising security awareness with ongoing training

While the application security tools and solutions market has exploded in recent years, it is still important to remember that technology alone cannot solve the cybersecurity challenge. Developers might be proficient in coding and testing, but they are also on the front lines regarding security. Unpatched vulnerabilities remain a common problem with far-reaching consequences, hence the need for developers to be trained in application security and DevSecOps. After all, security is everyone’s responsibility.

Cybrary for Teams provides an easy and accessible way for organizations to keep employees up to speed with the latest application security standards. Create your account today to get started.

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