Application security protects data and software from cybercriminals, whether the application was developed in-house or from a third-party service provider, regardless of where it resides or how users access it. This definition spans data and cloud centers, mobile and web users, and on-premises, so application security must encompass a broad range of best practices and solutions.

By having an in-depth understanding of application security, organizations can take appropriate measures to protect their valuable assets and limit the risk of devastating cyber attacks and breaches. 

What Is Application Security?

Application security refers to security considerations at the application level that aim to safeguard software application data and code against cybersecurity threats and breaches. It entails the security measures that take place during application development and design, as well as security approaches and systems that protect apps once they’re deployed. 

Application security testing also encompasses software, hardware, and security controls that identify or reduce cybersecurity vulnerabilities. For example, a router that prevents hackers from viewing a computer’s IP address is a type of hardware application security. Security considerations at the application level are also built into software, like an application firewall that defines what tasks are prohibited and allowed. Security procedures may include an application security routine encompassing protocols like regular security testing. 

What Are the Types of Application Security?

All types of application security tools and features have one goal: discover, mitigate, and prevent cybersecurity threats. The difference between these types of application security is in how, where, and when application security testing, methodologies, and practices take place.

  • Authentication: This application security feature occurs when application security engineers build procedures into applications to ensure only authorized users gain access to them. Authentication measures ensure that an application user is who they say they are, and not someone trying to get unauthorized access. This is accomplished by prompting users to enter their username and password when logging in to an app. Multi-factor authentication encourages the use of many forms of authentication, including something a user knows (password), something they have (mobile phone), and something specific to them (facial recognition or a thumbprint). 
  • Authorization: Once an app user is authenticated, they might be authorized to access and use the app. The system verifies that a web user has permission to access the app by comparing their identity with other authorized users. Authorization must happen after authentication so that the app matches only verified user credentials to the authorized user list. 
  • Encryption: This application security tool prevents cybercriminals from seeing or using confidential data after a user is verified and using the app. For instance, traffic with personal data that flows between the cloud and end-user in cloud-based apps is encrypted to protect sensitive data.
  • Logging: If a cybersecurity breach occurs in an app, logging can help establish who accessed a system and how they did that. Application log files keep a record of the parts of the app that were accessed and by whom.
  • Application security testing: This security control ensures all the security measures function effectively.

Examples of Application Security 

Application security examples include:

  • Mobile application security: Mobile devices send and receive information across the Internet and private networks, making them vulnerable to cybersecurity attacks and breaches. You can leverage virtual private networks (VPNs) to integrate a layer of mobile application security for users who log in to your apps remotely. Cybersecurity teams can also choose to vet mobile applications and ensure they conform to enterprise security procedures before allowing employees to use them on mobile devices connected to the corporate network.
  •  Web application security: This entails building websites that function as expected, even during cybersecurity breaches. Web application security is a collection of security controls built into web applications to safeguard their assets from malicious actors. Like all software, web applications naturally contain vulnerabilities. Some of these vulnerabilities constitute actual security gaps that can be exploited, introducing cybersecurity risks to an organization. Web application security protects against such vulnerabilities. It entails using secure application development practices and enforcing security controls throughout the software development life cycle, addressing design defects, and implementing appropriate security measures to mitigate security flaws. 
  • Cloud application security: This system of security controls, processes, and policies allows organizations to protect sensitive data and applications in collaborative cloud environments. It centers around fundamental activities like identifying and managing access, infrastructure security, data protection, incident response, logging and monitoring, configuration analysis, and vulnerability mitigation. 

How Do You Use Application Security?

Application security uses a combination of best practices and security controls to defend sensitive data and applications against theft and hijacking. 

Security controls include incorporating good password hygiene in web application firewalls and internal network segmentation to reduce cybersecurity threats at each step.

Best practices include implementing secure development measures to prevent introducing flaws into apps, along with configuration and API issues.

What Software Should I Use?

There are many application security software, each with its own specific function. The most common software includes the following:

  • Web application firewall: It tracks and filters HTTP traffic that passes between the Internet and a web application. A web application firewall can work alongside other security tools to build holistic protection against various attack vectors. In open systems interconnection, a web application firewall acts as a protocol layer protecting web apps against attacks like cross-site forgery, cross-site scripting, file inclusion, and SQL injection.
  • Software Bill of Materials (SBOM): With an SBOM, enterprises can promptly identify any elements with known vulnerabilities. It streamlines vulnerability management, ensuring swift response when a security vulnerability is discovered. SBOM is becoming crucial due to the rise of open-source software and related security threats.
  • Software composition Analysis (SCA) software: SCA software creates an inventory of commercial and third-party open-source elements used within software products. It helps establish the components and versions you use regularly and severe security flaws affecting those elements.
  • Static Application Security Testing (SAST) tools: Static security tools help developers and security engineers quickly identify security flaws in the code and fix them during the development stage.
  • Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST): Dynamic security tools analyze security flaws in real-time in production environments. They also allow developers to simulate cybersecurity attacks and reveal runtime errors.
  • Run-time application security protection (RASP): These tools allow enterprises to run continuous security tests and automate the incident response during cybersecurity breaches. Incident responses include alerting security engineers, terminating the application to avoid cyber threats from spreading further, etc.
  • Interactive application security testing (AST): These are hybrids of DAST and SAST tools, offering more accurate security test results. They allow you to review the code during any development phase and in real-time in the production application.

What Techniques Should I Use?

These techniques can help you implement application security effectively:

  • Implement a secure SDLC management process: The secure SDLC (software development life cycle) describes the product life cycle from the security point of view. This technique ensures that applications in their life cycle are:
    • Developed in a protected environment following application security best practices
    • Built and maintained by well-trained employees
    • Securely delivered to consumers

Secure SDLC ensures holistic development of new applications from concept throughout all development tasks until it’s fully and securely deployed to consumers as a mature product and until the end of its life cycle. 

Conduct a Risk Assessment

Having a list of sensitive data and assets to protect can help you understand the risks your organization is facing and how to respond and mitigate them. Consider the methods hackers can use to compromise applications, whether existing security controls are in place, and if you require more defensive measures or tools to address the security flaw. It’s also vital to have realistic expectations about your organization’s security. Even with maximum protection, nothing is impossible to compromise. You must also be honest about what you think your cybersecurity team can sustain over the long term. If you push them too hard, safety practices and standards can be ignored. Don’t forget that application security is a long-term endeavor, and you need the cooperation of your customers and employees. 

Analyze Application Security Results

It’s crucial to analyze and report the success of your application security software. Determine the metrics vital to key decision-makers and present them in an actionable and easy-to-understand way to get buy-in for your products. The main goal is to show how your application security software complies with internal policies and demonstrate its impact in terms of reducing risks and vulnerabilities and enhancing application resilience.

Manage Privileges

Limiting privileges, especially for sensitive and mission-critical systems, is crucial. Application security best practices limit access to sensitive data and applications to those who need them when they need them--this technique is known as the least privilege principle. This technique is crucial for two key reasons:

    • Cybercriminals may compromise less privileged applications and data; thus, ensuring they won’t gain access to sensitive systems is essential.
    • Internal threats are just as dangerous as external threats. If employees go rogue, it’s essential to ensure they never have more privileges than they should--reducing the damage they can cause.

Regular Updates and Patches

Installing software updates and patches periodically is one of the most effective ways to secure your applications. Why try to solve a problem if it has already been remedied? However, you must plan every new update carefully because it may require designing the right architecture to avoid API compatibility problems when upgrading to more recent versions. 

Encrypt Sensitive Data

Encrypting data in transit and at rest is crucial in improving web application security. Basic encryption includes using an SSL with a current certificate. Storing sensitive data like customers’ passwords and IDs in plain text is unacceptable because that can result in man-in-the-middle (MITM) cyberattacks. Ensure you use the most robust encryption algorithms.

Access Logs

Maintaining access logs for applications helps you to monitor who accesses your apps. This way, it’s easier to identify which IP address was involved in a data breach. Be sure to also verify user input against all acceptable criteria. This technique allows inputs from specific lengths and formats, validates the executables, etc. 

How Do I Set Up Application Security?

Different techniques will uncover different subsets of the application’s security vulnerabilities and are more effective at different development lifecycle phases. They all reflect the various costs, efforts, time, and vulnerability trade-offs.

  • Design review: The first step in application security involves examining the architecture and design of the app for security vulnerabilities before creating code. The construction of threat models is a popular technique used in this stage.
  • Code review or white-box security review: Next, security engineers delve into the application by manually reviewing the security code and looking for security defects. By understanding the application, you’ll discover security vulnerabilities unique to that application.  
  • Black-box security analysis: You don’t need any source code to conduct a black-box security audit. You only need to test the application for security defects.
  • Automated tooling: You can also automate most application security tools by integrating them in the development and testing phases. Automated DAST or SAST tools that are integrated into code editors or CI/CD systems are great examples. 
  • Coordinated vulnerability platform: Many software providers and websites offer hacker-powered application security solutions where individuals are recognized and compensated for reporting security vulnerabilities.

How Does Application Security Help Me?

Modern applications are complex, with different third-party hardware and software components and sophisticated integrations compared to legacy applications. These complexities increase exploitable vulnerabilities in the application layer. Thus, application security is one of the most fundamental aspects organizations must focus on to secure their applications from cybersecurity attacks.

Applications are also frequently available across multiple networks and connected to the cloud; thus, they’re more vulnerable to cybersecurity attacks and breaches. There’s increasing incentive and pressure to enhance security at the network level and within individual apps. That’s because hackers are focusing their attacks on apps more than ever. Thus, enhancing application security can expose application-level vulnerabilities, preventing cybersecurity attacks and breaches.

The earlier and faster you can uncover and resolve security risks in the application development process, the safer your organization will be. Since everyone makes mistakes, identifying security vulnerabilities as soon as possible is the secret.

Application security software that integrates with your development environments can make this workflow and process more efficient. These tools are especially crucial in compliance audits because they can save time and money by catching security issues before auditors catch them. The changing nature of how business apps are built over the last few years has aided the drastic expansion of the application security industry.

How Can I Strengthen My Cybersecurity With RiskRecon by Mastercard?

Applications are crucial parts of your company’s overall cybersecurity strategy. Creating more secure code limits common cybersecurity vulnerabilities. Executing authentication and authorization techniques, logging, encryption, and application security testing are common types of application security that can help you protect your applications and data from cybersecurity attacks and breaches.

RiskRecon can help you consistently and objectively track how each of your third-party vendors executes their cybersecurity risk management strategy. This in-depth visibility will help you better accomplish your cybersecurity risk management objectives and meet regulatory requirements to which you, as the ultimate data owner, are subject. Request a demo with us today to learn more about application security and how it can strengthen your cybersecurity strategy.