Application Security Best Practices for your SaaS Business

Application Security

 

Introduction

Business Applications or Information Systems are the direct points of interaction of end-users in a corporate environment. As a result of multiple datacenters and hundreds of endpoints, the application layer of the digital infrastructure becomes complex and harder to secure. The malicious actors are always looking for opportunities to take advantage and exploit corporate infrastructure. An organization should have a clearly defined application layer security policy as well as the necessary application security controls in order to stay ahead in the game.

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Application Security and its Implementations

Rather than being a single technology, application security is a set of technologies, practices, guidelines, and operations that help protect an organization’s application layer from cyberattacks. An application’s security practices are applied throughout its entire lifecycle, beginning with Product design, development, build, release and continuing through its maintenance after release.

There are many tools available in the market to improve application security for instance SAST, DAST, IAST and Open-Source Code scanning tools, to mention a few. Application security tools can be implemented on both hardware and software levels. On software levels, you have Web Application Firewalls (WAF) that allow, or block network traffic to your application based on your policies/rules. On the hardware side, your appliances such as routers and network firewalls protect the network layer by restricting public access to infrastructure supporting your applications.

Importance of Application Security

Since the introduction of modern commercial technologies, such as the cloud, access to applications has become very common. With the increased scope of application access, the attack surface of the application layer has also increased. Now, there are more chances of unpatched vulnerabilities, more attack possibilities, and more demand for application security tools.

According to a report, published by Veracode’s State of Software Security Vol. 10, a test conducted on 85,000 applications exposed that 83% of these applications contained at least one security vulnerability, 20% had one high severity vulnerability, making the overall count of vulnerabilities about 10 million.

A good thing is that the developers can integrate these security tools from the very initial stage of the software development lifecycle. Using this integration, developers can build software that adheres to security best practices. In addition to protecting the enterprise’s confidential data, these tools also help maintain the business’ reputation with customers, partners and other stakeholders.

Types of Application Security Measures

There are different types of application security measures that we can see in enterprise environments. The basic purpose of all these measures is to keep the organization on track to achieve its goals by protecting its applications against sophisticated cyber threats. Some of these security solutions are discussed below

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1. Authentication

The purpose of authentication is to verify the user’s identity before they can access the actual application. A common example of authentication is the use of a traditional username and password before you log in to the application. However, this technique can be improved by adding another layer of verification, also known as two-factor authentication or 2FA, which requires the user to provide something that he actually owns or has along with his credentials, such as OTP (One-Time Password) or verification through SMS or an Authenticator App.

2. Authorization

Once a user is successfully authenticated, “Authorization” limits access to information assets or system functionality by allowing only those permissioned through their assigned user roles. For example, a Reporting Analyst will be only given basic permissions to generate and run reports rather than admin rights. Authorization measures are typically deployed using RBAC (Role-based Access Control).

3. Encryption

Encryption is a technique that encodes the actual data in a format that is only accessible by legit users so that even if an attacker gets his hands on sensitive information, they will not be able to decode it without correct keys or credentials. Encryption is an important part of multi-network and cloud-enabled enterprise infrastructure, where multiple users are operating on the application layer.

4. Logging

Logging is a technique of storing metadata about the operations performed in the application by users or the system. These Log files can be very useful for investigating security incidents, tracking for potential exploits of vulnerabilities in a system.

5. Application Security Testing

Application security testing is necessary to ensure that all the security controls are working properly. A very common technique used for this purpose is known as Penetration testing, where security professionals of your organization try to breach security of applications to verify how strong the defenses are, and then work on improvement if required.

Web Application Security

Web application security deals with the measures that are taken to protect Web Services and Web Applications, from cyber-attacks. The current trends of the cyber security market indicate that Content Management Systems (such as Joomla, Square Space, and WordPress), Database Administration Tools (like phpMyAdmin), and SaaS Applications are the favorite targets of the hackers. Below are some major threats for modern Web Applications – Refer to the OWASP Top 10 for more:

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    •    IRM Consulting & Advisory | Your Cybersecurity Trusted Advisor   Cross-site Scripting
    •    IRM Consulting & Advisory | Your Cybersecurity Trusted Advisor   Cross-site Request Forgery
    •    IRM Consulting & Advisory | Your Cybersecurity Trusted Advisor   Remote File Inclusion
    •    IRM Consulting & Advisory | Your Cybersecurity Trusted Advisor   SQL Injection

 

However, controls also exists to protect your applications from these types of attacks. Some common practices that you can adopt to safeguard your Web Application include but not limited to:

    •    IRM Consulting & Advisory | Your Cybersecurity Trusted Advisor   Web Application Firewall (WAF)
    •    IRM Consulting & Advisory | Your Cybersecurity Trusted Advisor   Multi-factor Authentication (MFA) and Authorization
    •    IRM Consulting & Advisory | Your Cybersecurity Trusted Advisor   Encryption data in transit and at rest
    •    IRM Consulting & Advisory | Your Cybersecurity Trusted Advisor   Protection Against Denial of Service and Distributed Denial of Service

 

Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP)

Started on the 1st of December 2001, OWASP is a web app security-focused, not-for-profit organization that aims to protect web apps through different tools and resources, community development, network security, and by educating people through various training. All the work of OWASP is free and openly available in the form of tools, projects, forums, documents, and chapters. You may use any of these resources to improve the security of your web applications, or you can also contribute to the company’s effort by improving and maintaining its resources.

Conclusion

The increasing access to user applications has also increased the possibilities of data breaches in modern enterprises. The security of both local and web applications has become a major concern for many businesses, and they are highly dedicated to it. Fortunately, there are a number of security tools and techniques that companies can integrate into their applications to improve their security. Some of these tools are backed by renowned tech companies while some of them are openly available for use. Your organization can choose from these tools as needed in order to defend against sophisticated cyberattacks.

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