6 Ways to Secure Business Critical Applications

Have you ever had one of your executives tell you that they want all your business-critical applications to be 100% secure? Maybe not in those exact words but something similar? 

I hate to be the bearer of bad news; there is no such thing as a 100% secure application. Applications always have risks; it is just a question of remediating the most critical threat to your organization and the application itself.

Security risk is not always equal

How do you decide which security risk issues to fix first? Security issues are not created equal. The best way to quantify risk is by using two metrics – Impact and Likelihood

Impact (related to security risk) is how bad the hack would be if a hacker successfully executed it. 

Likelihood (related to security risk) is how likely, or complicated it would be to complete the hack. 

Suppose the Impact of an issue is catastrophic, but the likelihood of it happening is very remote. Do you spend a ton of time and resources on remediation if the chance of execution is very remote? These are the tough decisions security leaders need to make every day.

What does a 100% secure application even mean?

Let’s face it; applications are complicated. When you are mandated to ensure your applications are secure, you must look at a long list of potential sources of risk. Some examples of the types of things you need to focus on are the infrastructure the applications are deployed to, uncompiled source code, open source packages, APIs, running applications, and architectural flaws. These examples are just a subset of components that can introduce security risks to your applications.

6 Tools Used to Secure Business Critical Applications

#1: Application Security Posture Management

Application Security Posture Management (ASPM) helps you secure your business-critical applications in production by mapping and analyzing the entire application architecture for risk. The types of risk that ASPM can help you identify and prioritize are directly related to the entire application architecture.

Pros

  • Can identify application service architectural drift
  • Helps prioritize risk by providing the full architectural context of all app services
  • Allows you to tune and configure the previously mentioned tools with full context

Cons

  • Does not look at component level issues but architectural issues
  • A brand new concept in application risk identification so it is not that well known
  • The definition of ASPM is still being discussed by industry analysts

#2: Static Application Security Testing

Static Code Analysis (SAST) scans the source code before compilation by the build. Industry analysts widely consider SAST as one of the foundational technologies for application security.

Pros

  • Great for finding code-level issues
  • If you are concerned about the OWASP Top 10, SAST is a great technology
  • Meets specific compliance requirements

Cons

  • If not properly configured has a high false positive rate
  • Scans can take a long time
  • Even when properly configured it produces too many results

#3: Software Composition Analysis

Software Composition Analysis (SCA) is quickly becoming a top application security solution due to the explosion of open-source package usage in application development. 

SCA scans open-source packages to identify security issues in the open-source packages in your applications, open-source usage licensing issues, and even auto-remediation of identified security issues.

Pros

  • Automates identification of vulnerable open-source packages
  • Provides SBOM associated with open-source package usage
  • Auto remediation of open-source packages with vulnerabilities

Cons

  • Only focuses on open-source specific risk, not complete app architecture risk
  • Lacks prioritization of remediation efforts by not understanding open-source usage context
  • Auto remediation may cause unexpected errors without proper testing

#4: Cloud Security Posture Management

Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) is a technology that provides automation in enforcing cloud provider standards for your cloud infrastructure. With most organizations currently having cloud-first initiatives, CSPM has quickly become a must-have technology to ensure your cloud infrastructure is configured correctly and secure.

Pros

  • An automated way to enforce cloud service provider standards
  • Visual map of all cloud-specific services
  • An automated way to identify cloud infrastructure misconfigurations

Cons

  • Does not have a complete understanding of applications deployed to the cloud infrastructure
  • Secure cloud infrastructure does not necessarily mean an application is secure
  • Does not provide an architectural application map of apps deployed to the cloud infrastructure

#5: Dynamic Application Security Testing

Although Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) has been around for a long time, it is still widely used to find security issues at application run time as there are specific issues that only occur in an application in a running state.

Pros

  • Can find security issues that only happen at run time
  • Config options to crawl an entire web application or limit the depth of a crawl to a specific area
  • Well-known mature technology that people understand

Cons

  • Results are difficult for developers to understand and remediate
  • It takes a very long time to crawl and scan
  • Has issues with modern application architectures and new languages

#6: API Security Scanning

Think of API Scanning solutions as the glue between applications. Applications leverage APIs of other applications to share data and functionality. Most modern applications highly leverage the functionality and extensibility of APIs to enhance functionality beyond the core capabilities of a stand-alone application.

Pros

  • Can identify security issues without accessing the UI of the application (OWASP API Top 10)
  • Identify rouge APIs communicating with your applications
  • Identify misconfigured APIs which cause an unanticipated security risk

Cons

  • Only look for API-specific issues and not application-specific security issues
  • Does not have full risk context associated with the application the API is communicating with
  • Cannot identify code or runtime security issues

Why should I care?

Did you notice a common theme with the six discussed approaches to securing your applications? The answer is they all look at only one aspect of an application’s architecture.

These are all excellent solutions for what they are designed to do. The problem is that they do not have full risk context as they do not look at the security risk associated with how the components work together in a production environment. 

Hacks are typically multi-faceted, with one minor security issue and a few other minor security issues creating a significant security flaw. 

There is no such thing as a 100% secure application, but having a full architectural risk context goes a long way to understanding where security risk exists and how to address it.

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