In today’s digital landscape, web applications and APIs serve as the critical backbone of nearly every organization. As companies continue their digital transformation journeys, they are developing and deploying software at unprecedented speeds. This rapid rate of innovation has opened up new opportunities, but it has also introduced significant application security risks.
According to research, application vulnerabilities were the leading source of data breaches over the past two years. With attackers continuously finding new ways to exploit software, organizations can no longer rely on traditional application security techniques. To keep pace, security teams need to build modern AppSec programs designed for the realities of the modern software ecosystem.
This article will provide a comprehensive guide to building a strategic, holistic AppSec program. We’ll cover the key components your program needs, including:
- Asset management and attack surface visibility
- Integrating security into the development lifecycle
- AppSec automation and tool consolidation
- Creating a culture of security
With the right strategy and processes in place, you can shift AppSec left, enable DevSecOps practices, and make application security an enabler of innovation rather than a bottleneck. Let’s dive in.
Gaining Attack Surface Visibility
The first step in building any effective cybersecurity program is understanding what assets you need to protect. With web applications and APIs now driving business-critical functions, organizations can have hundreds or even thousands of digital assets in their portfolio.
To secure this vast and fluid attack surface, your team needs total visibility. An accurate, continuously updated inventory of your internet-facing assets is essential.
Here are some best practices for maintaining visibility of your web attack surface:
- Leverage automated asset discovery tools: Manual asset tracking techniques quickly become obsolete. Automated discovery tools utilize technologies like OSINT to continuously scan for internet-facing systems associated with your digital assets, like domains, IPs, certificates, S3 buckets and more.
- Maintain a dynamic asset inventory: The inventory should include details like asset owners, technologies used, data sensitivity levels and more. Integrate automated discovery into your CMDB or asset management system to keep it continuously updated.
- Include internal apps and APIs: While public internet assets pose the most risk, don’t neglect internal applications and APIs. Maintaining an inventory of all software assets provides a complete picture.
- Partner with development teams: Collaborating with DevOps teams ensures the inventory reflects their latest builds and deployments. Integrate inventory management into CI/CD pipelines.
- Prioritize critical assets: Flag business-critical applications that warrant more rigorous testing and monitoring. This allows you to allocate AppSec resources based on risk profiles.
With comprehensive visibility into your assets, you can focus AppSec processes on the systems that matter most. But inventory tracking is just the beginning.
Integrating AppSec into the SDLC
To enable security at the speed of development, integrating security practices into the software development lifecycle is a must. This involves two key strategies – embedding security earlier into development cycles through shift left practices, and bridging security and development teams through DevSecOps.
Here are some tips for making AppSec an integral part of the SDLC:
- Perform threat modeling early on: Threat modeling during design stages allows teams to identify risks and remediate issues before implementation. Make threat modeling a mandatory step in planning stages.
- Adopt static and dynamic analysis: Leverage SAST and DAST tools to catch bugs and vulnerabilities in code early in the cycle. Implement mandatory scanning gates in CI/CD pipelines.
- Reinforce secure coding best practices: Establish secure coding standards and make training mandatory for all developers. Integrate security linters into IDEs to catch issues during coding phases.
- Promote DevSecOps collaboration: Break down silos by fostering joint ownership of application security between Dev and Sec teams. Implement security champions programs to drive cultural change.
- Enable self-service AppSec: Provide developers with easy access to security tools and capabilities through APIs and self-service portals. Promote early remediation of issues.
- Implement issue tracking integrations: Connect AppSec tools to your SDL bug tracking system to seamlessly manage vulnerabilities alongside other defects, enabling efficient remediation.
By shifting security left and enabling collaborative DevSecOps processes, you can significantly reduce the number of vulnerabilities that make it into production. But people and processes aren’t enough – you also need the right tooling.
AppSec Tool Consolidation and Automation
The application security marketplace has exploded with hundreds of point solutions. But managing a fragmented toolchain adds overhead for security teams and slows development velocity.
To remove tool sprawl friction, leading organizations are embracing integrated AppSec platforms like Invicti or Contrast Security that consolidate capabilities including:
- DAST/SAST/IAST/RASP/SCA testing
- Attack surface visibility
- Vulnerability prioritization and remediation orchestration
- AppSec program analytics and reporting
Consolidating AppSec capabilities on a unified platform provides numerous benefits:
- Maximizes testing coverage: Combining DAST, SAST and IAST provides comprehensive assessment of modern application architectures
- Enables testing automation: Platforms allow easy integration into CI/CD pipelines to shift security left
- Boosts team productivity: Less tool switching and siloed datasets frees up AppSec team capacity
- Provides unified reporting/metrics: Holistic visibility into program health, trends and KPIs to drive strategic initiatives
- Simplifies stack maintenance: Eliminates need to integrate and maintain myriad point solutions
To accelerate returns on investment, focus first on automating your highest value AppSec processes, like dynamic scanning in production. Over time, expand automation throughout the pipeline – from code commit to production deployment.
With an integrated toolkit and CI/CD integration, AppSec testing can scale at the pace of DevOps without slowing release velocity. But technology isn’t the only key to AppSec success.
Fostering an AppSec-First Culture
Processes and tools are futile without the right cultural foundation. Promoting security as an enabler rather than a blocker is critical.
Here are some proven ways to drive an AppSec-first cultural shift:
- Make AppSec training mandatory: Require both developers and security engineers to complete secure coding, vulnerability assessment, remediation and threat modeling training.
- Spotlight vulnerabilities early and often: Use dashboards, alerts and reports to provide visibility into AppSec health across the organization. Celebrate improvements.
- Incentivize secure coding practices: Incorporate adherence to secure development standards into performance reviews and bonus structures.
- Evangelize within development teams: Identify and empower internal champions to promote AppSec priorities among their peers.
- Facilitate security feedback loops: Create mechanisms for developers to provide input on improving AppSec processes and tools. Put their feedback into action.
- Democratize security knowledge: Publish remediation guides, host brown bag sessions, and find other ways to share AppSec best practices across the organization.
- Lead by example from the top: Executive advocacy and sponsorship reinforces the importance of AppSec across the company.
By making application security intrinsic to your organization’s culture, you ensure both development and security teams share ownership in protecting the software that drives your business.
In today’s threat landscape, a modern application security program is essential for managing risk. By taking a strategic approach focused on attack surface visibility, seamless SDLC integration, next-gen tools, and culture building, enterprises can enable security innovation at the pace of development.
While the path to AppSec maturity requires ongoing vigilance, organizations willing to invest in people, process and technology improvements will reap ample rewards in the form of secure, resilient software. Hence, AppSec belongs at the heart of your digital transformation strategy.
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