While security teams may “run on Dunkin’,” companies run on applications. From Salesforce and Hubspot to ServiceNow and Jira, your organization relies on a complex, interconnected application ecosystem. In 2022, organizations used an average of 130 Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications. While these technologies enabled them to reduce costs and achieve revenue targets, they created new security risks. Further, many companies deployed their own homegrown applications to meet customer demands for digital experiences.
As companies across all industries build out digital services, the basic principles of application security become increasingly essential to risk mitigation strategies.
What is application security?
Application security (AppSec) consists of the activities and tools developers use to identify and remediate vulnerabilities in code to protect applications from potential threats. Modern applications transmit, store, and process sensitive information, so organizations must implement processes to mitigate risks during development and after deployment.
Integrating security practices into the software development lifecycle (SDLC) reduces risk and costs by identifying and remediating vulnerabilities before attackers can exploit them.
Some tools used for web application security testing include:
- Static Application Security Testing (SAST): analyzes the source code to identify vulnerabilities before pushing the application to production
- Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST): simulates real-world attacks while an application is running to monitor how it responds
- Interactive Application Security Testing (IAST): analyzes the application’s code while it is running for real-time visibility into whether attackers can exploit security vulnerabilities
- Runtime Application Self-Protection (RASP): identifies and responds to security incidents by detecting and mitigating various attacks while actively enforcing security policies
- Software Composition Analysis (SCA): identifies third-party and open-source libraries, frameworks, and dependencies to detect common vulnerabilities and security flaws
- Mobile Application Security Testing (MAST): identifies security vulnerabilities and threats specific to mobile phones and tablets
- Comprehensive Name Application Protection Platform (CNAPP): scans and analyzes applications during runtime to identify vulnerabilities, then conducts threat modeling assessment to help developers prioritize remediation activities
Why is application security important?
Companies outside the traditional software industry now deliver applications. Companies across retail and hospitality build mobile and web-based applications so consumers can make purchases. Meanwhile, many businesses develop applications for internal employee use.
AppSec enables you to:
- Mitigate data breach risks by identifying misconfigurations and vulnerabilities that attackers can exploit
- Maintain compliance by implementing security measures and best practices as outlined in regulations and industry standards
- Build customer trust by protecting customer data
- Reduce financial risks associated with data breach costs, customer churn, and penalties for non-compliance
Why is application security challenging?
While application security is critical, it’s also extremely challenging. Developers and security professionals increasingly work more closely together to secure applications.
Some fundamental AppSec challenges organizations face include the following:
- Evolving attack vectors: zero-day, mobile application, and API vulnerabilities
- Complexity: various components introducing risks, like third-party libraries, APIs, and microservices
- Skills gap: lack of experience with secure coding practices, vulnerabilities assessment, and penetration testing
- Internal resistance: viewing security as a barrier to productivity that lengthens time-to-market
- User experience: implementing security measures without undermining usability
Many organizations seek to implement DevSecOps to overcome these challenges, which builds security into the SDLC. By identifying and remediating vulnerabilities during application development, you can enhance security, reduce costs, and accelerate time-to-market.
What are some common application security risks?
Before securing your applications, you should understand how malicious actors use them to undermine a company’s security.
Some typical application security risks include:
- Broken access control: flawed or misconfigured access controls allowing attackers to bypass restrictions and gain unauthorized access to sensitive data or functionalities
- Cryptographic failures: flawed or insecure cryptographic algorithms, protocols, or implementations that mean attackers can view or use sensitive data
- Injection (cross-site scripting, SQL injection): vulnerabilities in the input validation mechanism that attackers use for sending malicious data to a web application interpreter that then executes unauthorized code or queries
- Insecure design: vulnerabilities arising from a lack of thorough threat assessment during initial SDLC stages
- Security misconfiguration: problems with the application’s or underlying infrastructure’s configurations, like not changing default configurations
- Vulnerable or outdated components: vulnerabilities in third-party or open-source libraries or frameworks left unpatched that attackers can exploit
- Security logging and monitoring failures: incomplete log collection, insufficient log analysis, ineffective alerting mechanisms, inability to correlate events
Centralized log management for application security best practices
While AppSec is challenging, following these best practices can help you mitigate risks.
1. Identify Assets
To secure your development environment, you must know what servers host the application and its software components. For example, you want to consider the following application security assets:
- Web and mobile applications
- Network services
- Cloud apps
2. Centralize event logging
After identifying the assets you want to monitor, you should collect and aggregate their event logs in a single location. With a centralized log management solution, you can parse and normalize diverse log formats, enabling you to correlate events. You can accelerate application delivery by breaking down information silos while improving security.
3. Create dashboards for different environments
As a best practice, you want to differentiate development, staging, and production environments so that you can monitor each separately. As part of shifting security “left,” you need to capture data about the application’s activities before you push it into production. This is why security logging and monitoring is critical during the development phase. By creating a separate dashboard for each environment, you focus on the most critical metrics for each.
4. Set baselines to identify anomalies and metrics
Once you identify which assets belong in each dashboard, you can set baselines that enable security visibility across the different environments.
Some examples of different metrics include:
- Development environment: user access or changes to code indicating potential anomalous code integrations
- Testing environment: alerts aligned to issues that penetration testers might trigger
- Production environment: reporting dashboards to provide senior leadership information to prove compliance and governance
5. Build workflows for collaboration
AppSec requires collaboration between developers, security teams, and operations teams. When an application doesn’t work as intended, you need to know whether it’s a bug or a security issue. When everyone works with the same information, they can collaborate more effectively and efficiently.
With centralized log management, your teams can share data and their investigations directly within the platform. For example, if IT operations begins an investigation and then needs to escalate it to the security team, having the history available at-a-click streamlines activities, enhancing everyone’s productivity.
Graylog Security: Centralized log management for shifting security left
With Graylog’s platform, you get the comprehensive visibility you need to shift security left. Purpose-built for modern log analytics, Graylog Operations enables you to search volumes of data in seconds, improving key metrics like Mean Time to Detect (MTTD) and Mean Time to Respond (MTTR). Using Graylog Security, you gain the security incident and event management (SIEM) solution you need without the complexity and cost.
Contact us today to find out how Graylog can help you enhance your application security.