What is Application Security?
Application security is defined as the use of application security solutions, tools, and processes to secure applications across their life cycle. The speed of modern development means that organizations can’t wait until an application is live to secure it. Security should be built in from the start with practices like threat modeling. It should then continue throughout development, where scanning tools can help automate security, and extend into the infrastructure and containers used to run applications.
Application security best practices help uncover vulnerabilities before attackers can use them to breach networks and data. It's also important to consider application data security to ensure that sensitive data such as customer information is secure.
Vulnerabilities can originate from something as simple as a configuration error or using a software component that contains a known vulnerability. The issue is widespread: according to Snyk’s 2021 State of Cloud Native Application Security report, over 56% of organizations experienced a misconfiguration or known unpatched vulnerability incident involving their cloud native applications. While not all of these vulnerabilities present a major security risk, hackers themselves evaluate vulnerabilities to find which ones present a plausible method for penetration.
Organizations of all sizes should also be aware of the risk that misconfigurations pose, particularly those working with highly sensitive data (such as financial institutions)
What are the challenges of modern application security?
Modern application security is a wide and complex topic. We’ve boiled it down to five main challenges organizations commonly encounter:
Third-party and open source vulnerabilities
Adopting a DevSecOps approach
Finding qualified experts
Lack of a centralized management tool
Technology, including process and training tools
Processes, including policies, principles, and controls
People, who require education and training about security (such as to prevent phishing)
Types of Application Security
Authentication, authorization, encryption, logging, and application security testing are all examples of application security features. Developers can also use code to reduce security flaws in applications.
When developers include protocols in an application to ensure that only authorized users have access to it. Authentication procedures verify that the user is who they claim to be. When logging into an application, this can be performed by requiring the user to supply a user name and password. Multi-factor authentication necessitates the use of multiple forms of authentication, such as something you know (a password), something you have (a mobile device), and something you are (a biometric).
A user may be authorized to access and use the application after being authenticated. By comparing the user's identification to a list of authorized users, the system may verify that the user has permission to access the application. In order for the application to match only validated user credentials to the approved user list, authentication must take place before authorization.
Other security measures can safeguard sensitive data from being seen or utilized by a cybercriminal after a user has been verified and is using the application. Traffic containing sensitive data that flows between the end-user and the cloud in cloud-based applications can be encrypted to keep the data safe.
If a security breach occurs in an application, logging can assist in determining who gained access to the data and how they did so. Application log files keep track of which parts of the application have been accessed and by whom.
Application Security TestingA method that ensures that all of these security controls are functioning effectively.
Six types of application security scanning tools
Scanning tools are central to application security because they allow developers to test applications before running them in a production environment. These tools come in many different forms, including ones that scan source code directly and others that evaluate an application by running inputs through it. Here are six common types of scanning tools:
Static application security testing (SAST): SAST is a white-box testing method with access to source code, at rest, it identifies weaknesses that may lead to a vulnerability and then generates a report.
Interactive application security testing (IAST): This form of application security testing scans the source code for vulnerabilities while running the application and simulates the ways a user would commonly interact with it.
Software composition analysis (SCA): Also known as origin analysis, this method helps to analyze all sourced software components and libraries. These tools help identify known vulnerabilities and notify the user of any available patches or updates.
Dynamic application security testing (DAST): DAST tests an application’s security posture by applying different attack types to the running application. It does not require access to the application’s source code, making it a black box testing method.
Application security testing as a service (ASTaaS): In this scenario, the organization enlists an external company to perform all testing for their applications. ASTaaS usually combines static and dynamic security methods, including penetration testing and evaluating application programming interfaces (APIs).
Fuzzing: Fuzzing tests an application by inputting randomized data to uncover potential bugs. Fuzzing compliments IAST, DAST, SAST, and other forms of testing.
Application Security Approaches
Different approaches will uncover different subsets of the application's security flaws, and they'll be most effective at different stages of the development lifecycle. They all reflect the various time, effort, cost, and vulnerability trade-offs.
- Design Review
The architecture and design of the application can be examined for security flaws before code is created. The construction of a threat model is a popular strategy used at this phase.
- White-box Security Review or Code Review
A security engineer delves into the application by manually inspecting the source code and looking for security issues. Vulnerabilities unique to the application can be discovered through understanding the application.
- Black-box Security Audit
This is accomplished solely through the use of an application to test it for security flaws; no source code is necessary.
- Automated Tooling
Many security tools can be automated by including them in the development or testing process. Automated DAST/SAST tools that are incorporated into code editors or CI/CD systems are examples.
- Coordinated Vulnerability Platform
Many websites and software providers offer hacker-powered application security solutions through which individuals can be recognized and compensated for reporting defects.
What are Application Security Risks?
Security issues with web applications range from large-scale network disruption to focused database tampering. The following are some application security threats:
- A vulnerability known as cross-site scripting (XSS) allows an attacker to insert client-side code into a webpage. This gives the attacker direct access to the user's sensitive information.
- Remote attackers can use denial-of-service (DoS) and distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks to flood a targeted server or the infrastructure that supports it with various types of traffic. This illegitimate traffic eventually prevents legitimate users from accessing the server, causing it to shut down.
- SQL injection (SQLi) is a technique used by hackers to exploit database flaws. These attacks, in particular, can reveal user identities and passwords, as well as enabling attackers to edit or destroy data, as well as modify or create user rights.
- Hackers employ cross-site request forgery (CSRF) to mimic authorized users after duping them into submitting an authorization request. Since their accounts have additional permissions, high-level users are obviously frequent targets of this strategy, and once the account is compromised, the attacker can remove, change, or destroy data.
- Memory corruption occurs when bad actors execute a variety of attacks on an application, they end up unintentionally changing some area of its memory. As a result, the software exhibits unexpected behaviour or fails.
- The buffer overflow occurs when malicious code is injected into the system's designated memory region. Overflowing the buffer zone's capacity causes surrounding areas of the application's memory to be overwritten with data, posing a security risk.