Application Security Best Practices To Prevent Threats

Application Security Best Practices To Prevent Threats
Summary: The security of applications shouldn't be taken for granted, and should be a top priority.

Application Security Best Practices For Development

Cybersecurity is becoming one of the most discussed topics in today's business and tech industry. With heavy dependency on applications, it has become mandatory that users should be sure that the application they're using is properly secure. Similarly, as a tech security professional, it's also your responsibility that no matter which computer programming language you've used, some main application security best practices are followed throughout the lifecycle. Following secure coding best practices for safe application is every developer's responsibility in the software development life cycle (SDLC), based on their specific roles:

  • Software developers who write code should know their code is secure.
  • IT professionals should be responsible for setting servers and firewalls securely.
  • Development and operations engineers, who work to optimize the software development process, are in charge of ensuring security during integration, deployment, release management, testing suites, etc.

In this article, we’ll explore essential application security best practices that shouldn’t be overlooked. In addition, we'll also share examples of different available tools that you can use for certain functionalities. The tools we’ll mention here are solely examples and shouldn’t be taken as a recommendation or endorsement from our end.

Application Security Approach With A Secure DevOps

Securing the application means using a secure approach during the development and operation lifecycle (DevOps). It ensures whatever changes are made, everyone involved in the SDLC will get to know about it instantly and will be able to analyze how it impacts the security of the company. It’s recommended that people from both teams work together instead of being part of the same project or team and working separately.

With the help of the DevOps approach, you can reduce the risk of facing new security issues within your application. Similarly, it also provides flexibility for making a decision about what you can or can’t do without further review. Using secure DevOps needs an approach from both the teams involved. In addition, it’s also necessary that both teams have common objectives and achieve the best security. Some of the ways by which this can be achieved include:

  1. Implement a secure build and security-as-code approach for integrating security within DevOps tools, workflows, and practices to mitigate vulnerability risks.
  2. Threat model integration in DevOps process.
  3. Security automation tools for streamlining tasks.

Implementation Of QA Checks, Internal Monitoring, And Security Testing

To ensure the quality and security of software, it’s essential that you implement security testing and quality assurance (QA) regularly. Such security practices help find potential vulnerabilities or errors within your code along with other issues. In addition, if you find issues early on, you can save time and hassle. By implementing these testing methods, you can ensure your software is error-free and secure. Some common examples of security practices to implement are:

1. Static Analysis Of Code

This is the process to analyze your code without running it. It's helpful in finding potential errors like unused variables or syntax errors.

2. Dynamic Analysis Of Code

In this process, you must run your code and observe how it behaves. It's usually used for finding security vulnerabilities or runtime errors.

3. Unit Testing

Its main focus is on individual code units, like modules and functions. It's useful for identifying security vulnerabilities or runtime errors. It’s also useful for finding out whether your code is working as it should.

4. Testing Integration

It mainly focuses on determining whether different types of units are integrated correctly and whether they're working without issues. Simultaneously it's also useful in discovering errors within communications or flow between the system's different paths.

5. Security Testing

This usually focuses on finding out vulnerabilities within the code. It helps to ensure your system is safe from cyberattacks.

Implement Bug Bounty Program

It’s not as easy as it seems to find and fix bugs in web applications. Therefore, it's recommended that you look for one or more than one white-hat hacker, also called ethical hackers, by opening a bug bounty program. This approach isn’t for everyone, and you shouldn't consider replacing the security testing you do internally, and the monitoring methods mentioned above, with it.

A bug bounty is a type of program that offers rewards or payment to skilled people capable of finding and identifying vulnerabilities or exploiting them within your website, software, or any other system. It allows you to benefit the people who are naturally attracted to break into systems, software, or websites, but use their skills for good use.

By using a bug bounty program, you'll be able to have more time to find and fix bugs in the application. And you'll only require rewarding the person who helped you find the bug. If you choose to go on this route, ensure you provide a clear way for reporting to the bug bounty program participants, and be quick to respond to bug reports, because it’s not useful for the security of the application if you don’t take quick action on it.

Secure Coding Best Practices And Standards

Security doesn’t only mean that you should adopt secure practices after building the application. It also involves how securely you build your application. When discussing secure coding best practices and standards, we mean to say that you should have a certain set of guidelines you must follow at the time of building the application. In other words, every line of code you write should follow security standards that ensure your entire system is safe and secure from the very first step.

Secure coding isn’t limited to having secure functions; it also means improving how you implement overall security standards throughout the development process. You can refer to resources like the standards mentioned by the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP), that says it is an "open community dedicated to enabling organizations to conceive, develop, acquire, operate, and maintain applications that can be trusted" and assures security, compliance, and privacy with the mandatory regulatory requirements.

Practicing the "Application Verification Security Standards" of OWASP ensures you aren't taking security risks lightly and are taking the necessary steps to avoid vulnerabilities while designing web applications. It also helps prevent common security issues like Cross-Site Scripting (XSS), SQL injection, and other known vulnerabilities.

Vulnerability Analysis Of Application

Before you add any new feature or release an application, you should always analyze whether your application is free from vulnerabilities and if your application code is safe. This is an important aspect that you should look into before releasing your application. It helps to reveal potential flaws and weak points of applications/programs, if there are any. Some of the commonly seen vulnerabilities are:

1. SQL Injection

This is a type of bug that allows a malicious hacker to insert SQL commands into your application interface. It gives them the right to view or even modify the data. It's usually a server-side vulnerability.

2. Backdoors

As the name implies, backdoors are hidden entries into your application. Attackers try accessing the application from the backend for malicious reasons. This can open security holes in the system that can result in data theft, data modification, or other concerns.

3. Leakage Of Information

Data leaks occur once users find information that shouldn't be known to them through public interfaces, like through the exploitation of error message vulnerabilities.

3. Open-Source Code

Third-party code integration into a system is often practiced, but it's possible the code you use may have a vulnerability that may get exploited by an attacker. Therefore, you should ensure the code is not vulnerable to avoid any exploitation of an open-source vulnerability.

4. Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)

Here, users inject client-side scripts within web applications or websites to attack site visitors. Such scripts are malicious in nature and get executed by the site visitor in their browsers. It's used to infect devices or steal the user's personal information.

Automated Scanning Tools

Analyzing each version of your application may become difficult, especially when you try doing so manually. Therefore, here we have some automated scanning tools that may help you ensure vulnerabilities aren't missed. For instance:

1. Web Vulnerability Scanner

It’s a tool that scans your application for SQL injection, cross-site scripting, and other known vulnerabilities.

2. Web Application Firewall (WAF)

It's a software application that monitors and filters web application traffic. It helps secure applications from attacks that try to exploit known vulnerabilities.

3. Burp Suite

It's a security testing tool that tries to find vulnerabilities in web applications.

Keeping Third-Party Software Securely In Systems

Hackers often look for new vulnerabilities within popular applications to exploit them. Instead of attacking applications directly, they will look for third-party applications that are tied to networks. It's recommended that you ensure you're updating to all the software publisher's latest updates to keep your network and applications safe. Further, updates should be rolled out regularly and conform to the organization's security policy.

Many software publishers release updates at a certain scheduled period, whereas others do it when it becomes available. Therefore, users should also be proactive about verifying updates and installing them once they become available. Users should also track the updates of each application and ensure an inventory of the software they're using is updated. This helps ensure applications are updated. So, it becomes easier to identify when any application requires updates if a new one becomes available. Lastly, software developers or organizations should digitally sign the application or software with a code signing certificate to safeguard it!

Static Application Security Testing Tools

Static application security testing (SAST) tools scan and look at codes and try to find any known vulnerability. It looks through the source code of the application and reports if any known issue or bug is found. For example, if there is buffer overflow, command injections, or SQL injections, these errors won't go unnoticed and will be reported immediately. However, static testing differs from dynamic testing because you get results at the time of build and not at the time of program execution. Therefore, it's important to know that static tests can’t catch all vulnerabilities and can't emulate user behavior. So, you should always run both types of testing for an accurate result.