What Is Application Security? AppSec + AppSec Tools Overview
Application Security (AppSec) is essential to efficient and effective security measures that help address rising security threats to software applications. Here we discuss the principles of Application Security (AppSec), the best practices to enforce it, and the AppSec tools you should use.
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What Is AppSec?
AppSec is the process of finding, fixing, and preventing security vulnerabilities at the application level in hardware, software, and development processes. It includes guidance on measures for application design and development and through the whole lifecycle including after the application has launched.
Organizations with robust application security recognize that, rather than a single technology, AppSec is an ongoing process involving best practices and processes meant to help prevent and address cyber threats to applications. Many organizations use services and AppSec tools to accelerate application development while also reducing code vulnerabilities and preventing cybersecurity risks.
Why Is Application Security (AppSec) Important?
Application security is important because vulnerabilities in software applications are common — it has been reported that 84% of security incidents happen at the application layer.
Why the application layer? Because applications contain important company and user data, the application layer is a prime target for malicious actors. If hackers are able to access or redirect information during the exchange between legitimate organization and legitimate user, they can employ a variety of techniques and exploit vulnerabilities — including code injection, broken access control, security misconfiguration, and cryptographic failures — to steal company data and resources, login credentials, and other privileged information.
Application security protects software application code against such threats. A strategic AppSec plan includes checking application security during all phases of the software development lifecycle (SDLC).
By following application security measures, you can ensure that weaknesses and vulnerabilities in your software application are identified and dealt with early in the development cycle before they become serious security breaches.
📕 Related Resource: Learn more about Enterprise Application Security.
AppSec Best Practices / AppSec Tools
AppSec best practices should be initiated from the start of the software development lifecycle and be adopted by the whole product team. When the whole team is involved and actively testing, identifying, and fixing code vulnerabilities throughout the development process, you are far more likely to prevent security issues that may arise later.
Think of your DevSecOps team as an orchestra, with your AppSec tools as your instruments and best practices as rehearsals. You want to ensure you are playing the right notes at the right pitch and time, coordinating seamlessly to create the final, resounding result. All of these tools, practices, and processes play together in concert to create a larger overall picture of the security and functional safety of your applications. With AppSec tools and best practices, you can set the stage for success.
Follow these best practices for efficient software application security:
- Establish an application security risk profile to identify potential security vulnerabilities and weaknesses. This method helps you assess potential risks and prioritize different types of applications to help make strategic security decisions that will most benefit your organization. By asking questions about how a cyber attacker could potentially get inside the application and documenting these security points into a profile, you can avoid going over the same ground in maintenance evaluations and accelerate future risk assessments.
- Identify and eliminate security vulnerabilities in your software application. A thorough risk assessment of your applications will help you identify and fix security vulnerabilities as the applications are being developed.
- Identify and address security vulnerabilities in open source and third-party software. This is an important practice, because with applications you only have so much control. Once they are out in the world accessing and exchanging data with third-party software, you must also account and prepare for potential risks in that software.
- Use the right AppSec tools. Now that more and more data and resources are moving to the cloud, application developers are increasingly relying on the use of AppSec tools that help guide secure software development. With the right AppSec tools, you can quickly identify and fix vulnerabilities in the software while also ensuring compliance to industry coding standards.
- Provide your team with application security training. If your whole team is armed with the latest knowledge and know-how to recognize common weaknesses in application code, you'll catch issues earlier and faster in the dev process and accelerate development. Including AppSec tools as part of the training will also help speed up time-to-market for your applications.
Adopting Application Security best practices will minimize risk and protect data.
▶️ Related On-Demand Webinar: Learn what best practices you should use for a secure software development project >>>
What Are AppSec Tools?
To ensure that your application security measures are efficient and effective, you need the right tools.
SAST and DAST both safeguard your software against vulnerabilities to make the DevSecOps process easier. Here are the advantages of each testing method:
- SAST: Also known as “white-box testing”, SAST is a type of software security vulnerability testing. The tool analyzes your source code as you develop your application to detect and report weaknesses that can lead to security vulnerabilities. By using this kind of tool, you can identify security vulnerabilities early in development.
- DAST: Also known as “black-box testing”, DAST is a type of software security vulnerability testing. This type of tool detects conditions that indicate a security vulnerability when running. By using this type of tool, you are able to identify security errors, run-time, and environment-related issues later in the development cycle.
Along with static analyzers to test your code, there are many other tools that test and protect applications and APIs, locally and across the cloud that provide traceability of vulnerabilities across the full SDLC of an application. In addition, you can also use sophisticated mobile app testing tools that help you test like your users and get fast feedback with test failure analysis. Continuous performance testing of your applications throughout your dev workflow empowers your team to achieve high quality code and minimize errors and vulnerabilities that could lead to security issues down the line.
Shift-Left Security for AppSec
Shifting left within the SDLC is a principle many developers implement to perform tasks such as testing software early in the development process, instead of waiting toward the end of the process (or, to the "right" of the linear development timeline).
Shift-left security, or "taking a shift-left approach" to security, means performing security checking or other security-related tasks earlier in the SDLC.
This early approach helps application developers become more efficient, because they are not interrupted by having to switch tasks as often. By getting the security results while the recently written code is still fresh in the developer's mind, they can quickly make changes then and there, instead of waiting until they check in the code and continuous integration runs the analysis.
Applying security measures to your applications ensures that there is still time to find and fix vulnerabilities while the product is still in the development stage, and increases developer awareness of common vulnerabilities and AppSec best practices.
Secure Coding Standards for AppSec
Secure coding standards are rules and guidelines that are used to identify, prevent, and eliminate software vulnerabilities that could compromise software security.
- CERT: CERT is a series of secure coding standards that target insecure coding practices and undefined behaviors in C, C++ and Java that may lead to security risks.
- CWE: The Common Weakness Enumeration (CWE) list identifies software security weaknesses in C, C++, Java, and C#.
- DISA-STIG: DISA-STIG is a collection of technical software security findings.
- OWASP: The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) identifies the top web application security risks. The most popular OWASP resource is the OWASP Top 10, which are the 10 most critical security risks for applications.
- ISO/IEC TS 17961: ISO/IEC TS 17961 is a secure coding standard for C to detect security flaws.
An AppSec tool such as a static code analyzer should be used early in the development cycle to enforce secure coding standards to ensure the best resolution to potential security weaknesses.
Why Klocwork and Helix QAC Are Ideal AppSec Tools
In addition, Klocwork’s Differential Analysis enables you to perform fast incremental analysis on only the files that have changed while providing results equivalent to those from a full project scan. This ensures the shortest possible analysis times.
Klocwork also provides you with the following benefits:
- Detecting code vulnerabilities, compliance issues, and rule violations earlier in development. This helps to accelerate code reviews as well as the manual testing efforts of developers.
- Enforcing industry and coding standards, including CWE, CERT, OWASP, and DISA STIG.
- Reporting on compliance over time and across product versions.
Another Perforce static analysis solution, Helix QAC, makes it easy to comply with secure coding standards and get fewer false positives and false negatives in your application diagnostics. It offers a depth of coverage and risk prioritization to help you fix the most important issues first, and covers security standards such as CERT C, CWE (including the CWE Top 25), and ISO/IEC TS 17961 (C Secure).
Conduct Your AppSec Symphony with Validate
Both Klocwork and Helix QAC findings can be imported into Perforce's Validate platform, the continuous security and code compliance platform that provides a single pane of glass for all Perforce Static Analysis products. With Validate, you have functional safety, security, reliability, and quality assurance for embedded and mission-critical applications.
Validate, which is intended to be a single source of truth, enables you to see a uniform set of reports showing a more complete picture of your application security. The platform also has the ability to incorporate findings from a variety of other tools, pulling testing data along with static analysis findings to identify critical defects in code with uncovered testing paths.
Just as your DevOps team is your orchestra, the tools that plug into Validate are individual instruments that, when brought together, create a cohesive symphony that will enhance the overall performance — and security — of your application.
See for yourself how Validate + Klocwork and Helix QAC can help ensure that your application software is secure, reliable, and efficient.