Software plays a central role in business processes and in our daily lives, and companies of all
sizes and industries are building, buying and downloading more applications than ever before.
However, this increased dependence on software makes the applications powering our world
a prime target for cybercriminals. Applications are the No. 1 attack vector for cybercriminals and the main source of breaches.
In addition, the way software is developed is changing. Contemporary application development methodologies like DevOps are increasing the speed and precision with which software is produced and deployed. The increased speed and precision have created a modern software factory akin to the manufacturing factories of past industrial revolutions.
And like past industrial revolutions and manufacturing-based economies, the application economy depends on high-quality and secure products (applications) in order to thrive. The speed and scope of software development in organizations, coupled with other evolutions in how software is made, such as the use of open source and third-party components, are creating new challenges in ensuring the security of software.
A different approach to application security (AppSec) — one that aligns with the new role of software and today’s development paradigms — is now key to effective information security.
And that approach entails an AppSec program that both integrates security seamlessly into developer processes, and that is a comprehensive, mature, ongoing program — rather than a one-off project. Why? Because these programs get results. Research for our annual State of Software Security report found that organizations with long-standing, comprehensive AppSec programs had a 35 percent better OWASP pass rate than programs in place for less than a year.
“There is no application security silver bullet.
It’s going to take more than one automated technique and manual processes to secure your applications. Gather the strengths of multiple testing techniques along the entire application lifetime to drive down application risk in your organization."
Co-Founder and CTO
Unfortunately, application security is frequently misunderstood. Too often, business and
security leaders don't know how or where to begin, or they lack the technology framework to fully execute on a plan. As a result, they rely on an approach that delivers subpar results.
We typically find that organizations are at one of four maturity stages in addressing application security. Those four stages are: a reactive approach, which relies on ad hoc tools and security assessments that reside outside the development lifecycle; a baseline approach that depends on assessments at the end of the software development lifecycle (SDLC); an expanded approach that begins to integrate tools at various stages but often lags behind the required pace; and an advanced approach that manages application security in a more holistic and integrated way.
Regardless of which stage you’re currently in, however, your goal should be to move toward a mature, comprehensive program, which is ultimately the most effective way to protect your application layer.
A recent GitLab survey found that nearly half of respondents
deploy software on-demand or multiple times per day.
Here's a more detailed look at the four stages of application security maturity and how they impact your overall security framework:
Organizations that fall into this group typically find themselves driven by broad security requirements, including government regulations, industry compliance or customer demands. The problem with constantly responding to specific needs and requirements is that application security winds up revolving around manual penetration testing and other reactive methods. Unfortunately, this method devours money and staff time.
What's more, if your organization doesn't respond effectively to every threat — and many of them will unfold without warning — your enterprise faces a greater risk of a breakdown. This could lead to reputational damage or the direct loss of sales. A reactive approach is often slow, it doesn't scale effectively, and it lacks the automation and integration that's required for digital-age software development and business. At this level, most organizations also lack centralized governance and reporting, and lag in developer involvement and education.
This approach takes aim at a wider array of application security functions, though it most often centers on business-critical applications. The most common techniques associated with a baseline approach are manual penetration testing and dynamic analysis (DAST).
Although a baseline approach boosts integration and automation, it becomes increasingly challenging as an enterprise moves to Agile and DevOps. With this approach, most security assessments take place toward the end of the software development lifecycle (SDLC). As a result, flaws are more expensive and difficult to fix — in some cases requiring 10 times more money and resources. The end result is a process that’s often slow, inflexible and unscalable.
As organizations improve their processes and technology, they wind up adopting an expanded approach. This approach embeds some level of automation into application security across the SDLC. The tools used at this stage include static and dynamic analysis, along with manual penetration testing. The goal is to deliver the services and support developers require to generate, maintain and fix code.
An expanded approach is among the most common methods used today. However, it, too, creates friction because an expanded approach still doesn't address fundamental challenges like scale, speed and costs. It also lags behind in development involvement and education. Once again, as organizations move to Agile and DevOps, the deficiencies associated with this approach become more glaring.
The goal for an organization should be to, over time, reach the final stage, an advanced approach. As the name implies, this approach encompasses a more comprehensive framework for application security. The methodology aims to protect all code and applications — from those developed internally to those made up primarily of open source components — and across application lifecycles, from development to QA to production. Notably, in this stage, developers own the testing and fixing of security-related defects in code. Security testing is integrated into their existing tools and processes, leaving the security team to focus on more strategic endeavors like policy and training. Not only does this lead to a more cost-effective model, it delivers significantly better protection.
70% of applications have a security flaw in an open source library on initial scan.2
A mature application security program might seem intimidating to some organizations. But it’s important to remember that there is an established series of steps most organizations take when developing an application security program. The keys are to start small, keep things simple, prove the value and then mature the program over time. In fact, the most successful companies we’ve worked with have started by securing a few apps at a time. In addition, if you build security assessments into the development process, reaching maturity is less daunting. The journey to a more advanced application security framework and a more mature approach to security starts with a few key steps:
Improved application security — and cybersecurity in general — starts with support from the highest corners of the enterprise. Without backing and without adequate funding, an organization will remain perpetually mired in reactive mode. In order to gain support, it's necessary to keep your senior-level executives and board-level leaders informed about application security vulnerabilities and risks, while keeping the discussion broad and strategic. This requires facts, numbers and, whenever possible, a business case. It's critical to answer any and all questions they might have and ensure that any concerns are addressed promptly. Once the executive team buys in, other groups in the enterprise will follow.
Need help explaining the need for a mature AppSec program to your leadership team? Start with our guide, Building a Business Case for Expanding Your AppSec Program.
With the emergence of DevOps, and security’s “shift left,” application security won’t happen without developer buy-in, support and participation. To ensure the success of your application security initiative, it’s essential to work closely with your developers so they understand the guidelines, strategies, policies, procedures and security risks involved with application security. What’s more, they must be prepared and equipped to operate securely within their particular development processes. Watch this video of one of our security experts outlining the best ways to go about getting your development team on board.
Create a security champion Consider asking a developer with an interest in security to be a security champion. These champions help to reduce culture conflict between development and security by amplifying the security message on a peer-to-peer level. They don’t need to be experts, more like the "security consciousness" of the group.
It's impossible to reach a destination if you lack a map. In this case, the map is a security maturity assessment. It provides insights into key factors, including where an enterprise is currently at in terms of AppSec maturity and where it hopes to be.
With an assessment of where gaps, deficiencies and opportunities exist, it's possible to establish clear goals for improving your organization's security posture. For many businesses, the OWASP Top 10 serves as an excellent guide for remediating vulnerabilities. Of course, many other tools and metrics exist. The common denominator is that it's important to understand the value of the goals and set predictable timelines and metrics for gauging results. Without definable standards, it's difficult, if not impossible, to achieve consistent results through application security and other cybersecurity tools.
Another important piece of the puzzle is identifying the current state of the software and applications within your organization. An understanding of where your organization is at with application security, as well as program goals, does no good if your enterprise doesn't know what exactly it’s looking for and where the vulnerabilities lie. Too often, organizations succumb to attacks because they lack visibility into the web perimeter and other exposure points to the outside world. In fact, Veracode research has found that organizations have between 30 percent and 40 percent more exposure than they realize. A discovery scan of the perimeter — and the resulting inventory of exposure points — is a crucial step in reducing risk. Such a scan can help you determine where you might need to apply patches or eliminate sites that are no longer in use but are still active.
Get all the details on starting off your application security program on the right foot with our The Ultimate Guide to Getting Started With Application Security.
With a thorough understanding of all the various components of your application security program, it's possible to develop clear and relevant policies and procedures. Even with code scans and various other tools in place, it's important to have processes that ensure your organization is adhering to regulatory controls, industry standards and internal policies. Ensuring that teams are synced, and that different groups within your organization are communicating and collaborating effectively, is paramount. A mature application security program incorporates clear policies and guidelines — and has the mechanisms in place to make sure people follow them.
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When you’re part of the Veracode Verified program, you’ll benefit by:
Getting solid guidance and a proven roadmap for maturing your application security program
Generating clear evidence to show your executive team that your program is making progress
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Being able to prove at a glance that you’ve made security a priority and that your security program is backed by one of the most trusted names in the industry
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Although planning and analysis are crucial to developing a mature application security
framework, there's also the challenge of executing on the plan. This translates into engaging the development team and putting a remediation effort into motion, incorporating advanced testing methods and tracking on key metrics. All of these things can’t happen without a coordinated effort. The goal is to boost the level of application security in your organizations without introducing steps and procedures that slow down software development, particularly in a fast-moving DevOps environment.
Today, success requires a deep understanding of development workflows and processes — and an ability to integrate them into the fabric of your business. This, in turn, requires teams to follow guidelines, standards and protocols. However, a team can also create friction and block progress if not everyone understands the value of the plan or has the tools to integrate application security into development processes on a daily basis. For instance, developers must know what to do with scanning results, how to avoid introducing the same vulnerabilities in the future and how to promptly fix code without slowing down work.
A custom metric that aligns with your particular business goals
When an enterprise sets the bar at the appropriate level and makes results achievable, it's possible for developers and security teams to hit the sweet spot on the performance-protection continuum. Ideally, every policy should revolve around this concept. It's the foundation of an effective AppSec program.
Get detailed, practical advice and lessons learned on the AppSec road to maturity from someone who’s been there. Download From Ad Hoc to Advanced Application Security: Your Path to a Mature AppSec Program.
A more sophisticated approach to application security also requires the right combination of tools and technologies. As a rule, multiple testing techniques are more effective than a single, blunt-force method. A multi-dimensional framework also helps spot different types of vulnerabilities that might otherwise go undetected. For example, research indicates that there are differences in the types of vulnerabilities discovered by examining applications dynamically at runtime, as compared to doing static tests in a non-runtime environment.
In order to achieve an inception-to-production view — essentially a complete SDLC approach — it's important to not only rely on a mix of static, dynamic and manual testing, but also on tools that allow developers to test code early and frequently. This includes tools such as Veracode Static Analysis, which brings security scanning into the IDE while providing immediate feedback.
Our State of Software Security Volume 10 report found that those organizations that scan their code for security most frequently fix security flaws 72% faster than those that scan the least.
See these different technologies in action.
GET a Personal Demo of:
Find out more about the different types of application security testing and the strengths and limitations of each in Your Guide to Application Security Solutions.
According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the cost of fixing a vulnerability during post production is 30x more expensive than addressing it during earlier stages.4
Hear first-hand how Veracode and a large healthcare company worked together to build an application security program.
In an era of escalating threats and risks, it's essential to address application security in a sensible and effective way. Web application attacks have emerged as the No. 1 risk to organizations, yet application security comprises only a small fraction of overall security spending.
At the heart of an effective SDLC operation is a multi-faceted approach to application security. This means moving away from one-off scans or penetration tests, and establishing a comprehensive and integrated framework for continual assessment and action. While it's nothing short of essential to secure business-critical applications, application security must permeate processes and workflows that touch every piece of code. Only then can an organization adopt a mature approach and minimize the risks in today's business landscape.
In the end, application security won’t be sufficiently addressed with a one-off project. But forward-thinking organizations are reducing their risk and moving their businesses forward with ongoing, comprehensive application security programs. Although creating this program might seem overwhelming at first, most organizations break it down into a series of manageable steps and slowly decrease their risk over time.
Read how a Boston-based startup started its application journey and is planning to expand its program.
Veracode is the leading AppSec partner for creating secure software, reducing the risk of security breach and increasing security and development teams’ productivity. As a result, companies using Veracode can move their business, and the world, forward. With its combination of automation, integrations, process, and speed, Veracode helps companies get accurate and reliable results to focus their efforts on fixing, not just finding, potential vulnerabilities. Veracode serves more than 2,500 customers worldwide across a wide range of industries. The Veracode cloud platform has assessed more than 14 trillion lines of code and helped companies fix more than 46 million security flaws. Learn more at veracode.com, on the Veracode Blog, and on Twitter.
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