7 Application Security Best Practices 2022

With companies’ growing reliance on IT solutions, the emergence of agile design methodologies, and the introduction of new application development models in the cloud, new applications are being created more rapidly than ever before. The rise of low-code and no-code platforms accelerate this trend and place application development in the hands of users with little or no IT or security expertise.

As a result of all of these changes, the web application security (AppSec) world is evolving as well. More software means more vulnerabilities, and large-scale, high-impact vulnerabilities — such as Log4j — are growing more common while security teams are struggling to keep up.

Protecting organizations and their applications against cybersecurity threats requires a new approach to AppSec. Instead of working to identify and respond to application security incidents, companies must embrace a prevention mindset. Also, taking advantage of available technology — such as artificial intelligence (AI) and security automation — can make the difference when defending against application vulnerabilities and exploits.

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Why AppSec is Important

An organization’s deployed applications make up most of its digital attack surface. Public-facing applications — whether developed in-house or by a third party — can be exploited to steal sensitive information, deploy malware, or take other actions against an organization.

AppSec is important because it enables an organization to manage the risks posed by an organization’s applications throughout their lifecycles. AppSec incorporates development best practices and secure application configuration, deployment, and management to reduce the number of vulnerabilities that exist in an organization’s applications and prevent attackers from exploiting these vulnerabilities.

The Most Common Application Threats and Vulnerabilities

An organization’s applications can face a variety of threats throughout their lifecycles. Some examples of common application threats and vulnerabilities include:

  • Supply Chain Risks: Applications commonly import and use third-party libraries and code. Supply chain attacks, which exploit vulnerabilities in these libraries or insert malicious code into them, are a growing threat to application security.
  • Account Takeover: User and administrator accounts in an application commonly have access to sensitive data or privileged functionality. Poor account security — weak passwords, phishing attacks, etc. — allows attackers to access these accounts and misuse their privileges to access data or otherwise harm the organization.
  • Injection Vulnerabilities: Injection vulnerabilities occur when an application fails to properly validate and sanitize user input. This can lead to data loss, remote code execution (RCE), and other issues.
  • Denial of Service (DoS) Attacks: The availability of internal and external applications is vital to employee productivity and the customer experience. Denial of Service attacks that exploit vulnerabilities in an application or overwhelm it with traffic can make it unavailable to legitimate users.
  • Sensitive Data Leaks: Applications can leak sensitive corporate and user data via cryptographic errors, excessively verbose logs, and other issues. This data can be used to commit fraud against users or to facilitate later attacks.

Top Application Security Best Practices

An effective application security program addresses the potential risks and threats that applications face throughout their lifecycles.

Some application security best practices include the following:

#1. Start with a Threat Assessment

Applications can be vulnerable to a wide variety of threats. Understanding the potential attacks that an application can be exposed to is essential to properly prioritize remediation actions.

A threat assessment is a great way to identify the most likely threats to an organization, their potential impacts, and what security solutions the organization already has in place. With this information, an organization can develop a strategy for addressing these potential risks and threats.

#2. Implement DevSecOps Best Practices

The DevSecOps or Shift Security Left movement is focused on integrating security earlier in the software development lifecycle (SDLC). Instead of relegating security to the Testing phase of the SDLC, DevSecOps includes:

  • Defining Security Requirements: During the requirements stage of the SDLC, the development team defines the various functions that an application must include. Along with functionality and performance requirements, this should also include security requirements that outline the security controls that should be in place and the potential vulnerabilities that should be mitigated in the code.
  • Creating Test Cases: Developers commonly create test cases that evaluate an application’s adherence to defined requirements. Once security requirements have been created, the team can create test cases to validate that they are properly implemented.
  • Automating Testing: Automating when possible is one of the core tenets of DevOps and DevSecOps. Automating security testing, including both security test cases and the use of application security tools such as static application security testing (SAST), dynamic application security testing (DAST), and interactive application security testing (IAST) helps to reduce friction and ensure that security is actually performed during the SDLC.

Vulnerabilities are common in production code, and one of the main reasons for this is that security is undervalued during the development process. Implementing DevSecOps principles helps to address this and reduce risk to an organization’s applications.

#3. Manage Privileges

Privileged access management (PAM) is essential during the development process. An attacker with access to an organization’s development environment can potentially:

  • Access policy and process documentation containing sensitive information.
  • Change application code to introduce vulnerabilities, errors, or malicious code.
  • Modify test cases and test code to introduce security gaps.
  • Disable automated security testing.
  • Modify security tool settings.

Any of these events could negatively impact an organization’s data and application security. Implementing strong access controls based on the principle of least privilege and supported by strong authentication using multi-factor authentication (MFA) reduces the risk that an attacker can gain access to development environments and the damage that they can do with that access.

#4. Monitor the Software Supply Chain

Most, if not all, applications rely on external libraries and components to implement certain functionality. Writing code from scratch takes longer and can result in less performant and secure code, so secure code reuse is a common development best practice. However, the software supply chain is increasingly a target of attack. Cyber threat actors may target vulnerabilities in widely-used libraries or inject vulnerabilities or malicious code into these libraries themselves.

Software supply chain management is essential to strong application security. Software composition analysis (SCA) solutions can help with managing supply chain risks by identifying the libraries and third-party code used within an application. Using this list, development teams can identify and fix any known vulnerabilities and apply updates to outdated components.

#5. Leverage Automation and AI

Development and security teams commonly have wide-reaching responsibilities and tight schedules. Often, security is undervalued during the development process due to the fact that it takes time and resources that may be needed to meet release deadlines.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and security automation can help to reduce the resource requirements of security in the development process. AI can help with parsing alerts and log files to bring issues to the attention of developers and security personnel while minimizing false positives. Security automation ensures that tests are run while minimizing the overhead and impact that they have on developers and release timelines.

#6. Prioritize Remediation

The number of vulnerabilities in production applications is large and can be overwhelming. In most cases, organizations lack the resources to fix every vulnerability within their deployed software. As a result, companies are falling behind in vulnerability management if they are still trying to keep up at all.

Proper prioritization is essential to effective vulnerability management. Only a small fraction of vulnerabilities are exploitable. An even smaller number will be actively exploited by cyber threat actors. These vulnerabilities with active exploits can pose very different levels of risk to the organization.

During the security testing process, automated tools should be used to not only identify vulnerabilities but track their severity and exploitability. These automated metrics — backed up by automated analysis when needed — can be used to determine which vulnerabilities pose a real threat to the organization. Based on this, teams can develop remediation strategies that ensure that the time and resources spent on vulnerability management provide real value and a significant return on investment (ROI) to the organization.

#7. Track AppSec Results

Like everything that a business does, application security costs time and resources. However, the benefits and ROI of application security can be difficult to see as an application security success story is closing a vulnerability that would otherwise have resulted in a damaging and expensive cybersecurity incident for the organization.

Since proving a negative is difficult, demonstrating the value of an application security program requires identifying and tracking metrics where the program is making a clear, measurable difference.

Some examples of this include:

  • Number of vulnerabilities detected during development.
  • Number of vulnerabilities detected in production applications.
  • Number of security incidents due to exploited vulnerabilities.
  • Number of violations of internal AppSec policies.
  • Number of violations of corporate and regulatory compliance requirements.

Ideally, an AppSec program will result in all of these metrics declining over time as secure development practices and AppSec policies become ingrained in development teams. However, even a shift from vulnerabilities being detected in development vs. production as part of a security incident is a success as it reduces the cost and damage that a vulnerability causes to an organization.

Application Security with Check Point

A well-designed application security program is nothing without the right tools. A core tenet of DevSecOps is to integrate and automate security wherever possible in CI/CD pipelines. This reduces security friction and helps to ensure that vulnerabilities and security issues are identified and remediated as quickly as possible.

Check Point provides resources for organizations looking to develop or enhance their AppSec program. For more information on designing an AppSec program that leverages AI and security automation in the cloud, check out this Cloud Application Security Blueprint. To learn about protecting your cloud workloads, download this cloud application workload protection eBook.

Check Point CloudGuard AppSec provides the tools that your organization needs to secure its applications in the cloud. Find out more by signing up for a free demo today.

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