Applications are vulnerable to cyber threats — both highly technical and human.
Threat actors can insert malicious code into an application. With that, they gain illicit access to the application and obtain valuable data. Or even take control of a database that holds sensitive information.
At other times, an ex-team member who still has access to the application might be at fault. Unhappy employees can misuse access to harm the company — such as sharing sensitive files.
To protect an application from possible incidents, companies invest in robust application security. However, with so many options available, it can take time to choose the one that suits your needs.
What are some of the key components of application security tools?
#1 Strict Access Controls
To get to valuable data, hackers need to gain insider access to the application. Therefore, it’s necessary to have protection against unauthorized access, i.e. protect the company from external hacking and internal compromises.
When you look at which features and capabilities application security tools have, make sure it includes security control known as the principle of least privilege.
This practice is integral for limiting the access to sensitive assets that you store within the application.
For example, if remote workers connect to your application, you can apply this principle to restrict access based on their role within the company.
With the limitation applied, even if hackers gain access to a single account, they can’t reach the complete system. One account doesn’t grant them access to the overall network.
The same applies to malicious insiders (such as disgruntled employees). If they want to harm the company, they can’t get sensitive data if they lack higher privileges.
Also, with the principle of least privilege, their access to the account can be automatically revoked once they no longer work for the company.
#2 Secure Data Storage and Protection
Data protection is the number one concern for any app. Most of them collect a lot of employee, client, and corporate data. All of it has to be properly stored and encrypted but also guarded from potential data breaches.
There are many ways in which sensitive data can be exposed to the public.
For example, hackers might find the leaked password of an employee and use it to gain initial access to the infrastructure. Once they do, they can move even further until they reach privileged accounts.
Another possible way data gets compromised is via cryptographic failures. This is also known as the exposure of sensitive data. It happens when a company fails to protect the documents that are moved or stored within the company.
When choosing application security tools, prioritize the ones that have capabilities such as:
- Client-side protection — for the prevention of data breaches caused by the third-party code
- Mobile Application Security Testing (MAST) — for detecting a possible data leak from the mobile applications
Besides specialized data protection tools, other components that can prevent incidents that lead to data left (such as role-based access) are also important for overall data protection.
Security should be holistic. Different tools have to work together as they analyze the posture, monitor malicious traffic, and seek fatal flaws.
#3 Thorough Input Validation
According to OWASP’s Top 10 application vulnerabilities, injection-based attacks are at the top of the list. Solutions that validate input can either approve the injection of code they deem safe or deny the request if it’s on their preferred list.
SQL injection is the most common type of vulnerability that an app can have. The attacker uses infected SQL code and injects it into the application to get access to otherwise restricted data.
How to prevent malicious injections?
Application security tools need to have Static Application Security Testing (SAST). This component specializes in strict input validation. To prevent an attack such as SQL injection, it continually seeks weaknesses that hackers could exploit.
The tool known for filtering potentially malicious traffic, known as Web Application Firewall (WAF), is another solution that can prevent a wide range of cyber-attacks — including the injection of malicious code.
#4 Regular Security Management
The attack surface of an application can change in just minutes. After the data is properly encrypted, access is restricted, and solutions designed to block malicious traffic are in place, it’s necessary to maintain the security posture.
The first step is for management to gain visibility in the entire application (and the devices that connect to it).
When you deploy the security tools to guard your app against well-known malicious traffic and threats, it’s important to continually test and triple-check if any new vulnerabilities need to be patched up.
For instance, Runtime Application Self-Protection (RASP) is the component that uses AI to keep tabs on the source code and detect any changes early. Once it detects the flaws, it warns security analysts of critical risks.
Larger companies have security teams that rely on the insights from the application security tools. They use them to identify critical threats as well as patch up weaknesses before hackers have the time to discover them.
Application Security For Every Stage of App Development
Unprotected apps have several sore spots. Bad actors tend to exploit access and inject malicious code into the app the most.
Any of the application security tools you choose must have the capability of protecting what you’ve built from the most common attacks, restricting access, and safeguarding data.
The four functionalities that are mentioned above are integral for application security. Working together, they can prevent hackers from exploiting all the common app weaknesses — such as SQL injection.
Protecting an app is complex and includes other principles and solutions that we haven’t explored in the article — such as API protection.
Also, keep in mind that best application security practices have to be in place during all stages of app development — from designing an app to releasing it to the public.