5 Tips for Application Security Testing

Prioritising application security has become a significant focus for modern businesses, and staying informed about the evolving security landscape is crucial for organisations looking to effectively enhance their application security.

A critical underpinning of safeguarding an enterprise lies in incorporating robust application security testing practices. The adoption of DevOps methodologies and the use of open-source code have accelerated the pace of application development, maintenance and delivery, but security challenges persist and require close attention.

In a recent special Application Security Trends for 2023 report, approximately 70% of organizations recognize that application security has become one of their top three priorities. Simultaneously, nearly 90% of these organizations intend to enhance their application security measures. Application security attacks are the most prevalent type of external threats. No wonder enhancing application security is a priority and concern for organizational security leaders.


So, what is application security testing?

Application security testing is the procedure used to protect applications against security threats. It comprises various methods, practices, and tools used to detect, rectify, and protect against application security flaws throughout the software development life cycle (SDLC). Although application security consists of diverse tools and techniques, the common objective is to locate and address vulnerabilities before malicious actors can exploit them.

It is worth noting that uncovering and resolving application vulnerabilities is most efficient when integrated closely with – and embedded within – development practice. Application security testing tools expand automated testing throughout the SDLC, enabling developers to discover security and quality issues that could otherwise expose software applications to security risks. This fosters collaboration within the DevSecOps framework and offers a robust mechanism for identifying and managing security risks more confidently.


Common application security techniques

Automated code scanning tools can be integrated within CI/CD pipelines, providing continuous security checks as part of quality gates during development. They can be indispensable in identifying vulnerable code in new and existing applications as close as possible to its time of introduction. Developers can also incorporate code scanning tools into the code review process during the SDLC to receive prompt feedback on potential vulnerabilities.

Authenticated scanning tests applications can extend test coverage via the use of valid user credentials or authorisation, providing a more comprehensive view of security. Authenticated scanning should be an integral part of the testing process, especially in the CI/CD pipeline, to ensure that developers perform security assessments with the same level of access as authenticated users. The choice of specific tools and techniques should be determined based on the nature of the application, the organisation’s security policies, and the specific risks that need to be addressed.


Why your organization needs application security testing

Numerous high-profile application security breaches, including those targeting Slack, Amazon, and Covid passport apps, could have been averted through robust app security testing. Application security testing is crucial since applications frequently handle and store sensitive consumer or corporate data, attracting hackers’ interest. Failing to secure applications can erode client trust, tarnish a company’s reputation, and diminish brand value in the long term.

Besides, handling data responsibly and securely is a top concern for most individuals. As a result, customers trust platforms that adhere to the recommended data privacy standards to protect them against credit card fraud, identity theft, and other cybercrimes. Notably, subjecting applications to rigorous security testing procedures helps identify missing data privacy controls and other security vulnerabilities, allowing organizations to implement security hardening measures.

While many organizations channel their effort toward securing critical data centres and information systems, most overlook application security and lack well-defined application security policies to stay ahead of cybercriminals. Yet, applications remain the most prominent attack vector and a prime target for most hackers. A recent study on application threats revealed that 82% of an application’s vulnerabilities originate from its code, with an average of 22 vulnerabilities per app and five categorized as high risk. Prioritising proven application security testing techniques is necessary to detect and remediate existing vulnerabilities.

Another software security report further highlights the prevalence of application security issues. According to the report, 83% of the examined 85,000 software programs were found to have more than one security issue. Shockingly, the study also identified a staggering 10 million security issues from different software programs, indicating that most apps exhibit multiple security problems.

However, it’s not just the existence of these security weaknesses that is concerning; the real problem arises when organisations lack the tools and procedures necessary to pre-empt security breaches and address vulnerabilities promptly. A practical application security solution must be able to identify and rectify vulnerabilities swiftly, thus preventing them from becoming exploitable issues. Companies should prioritise security testing to ensure early detection and zero day detection. Early detection allows security teams to uncover and address security issues before releasing your app to the public and zero day detection allows teams to be pro-active with fixes, enabling you to identify risks before malicious hackers do.


Baking application security in DevSecOps

Software development and operations teams increasingly embrace DevSecOps to meet the growing demand for efficient and secure digital experiences. However, a recent IDC report highlights the importance of speed and collaboration in bridging the typical gaps between security and application development teams. If these isolated divisions persist, they create opportunities for malicious hackers to exploit vulnerabilities.

However, the motivation to enhance security isn’t limited to closing these gaps. Several vital factors emphasize the rising significance of security in application development and deployment:

  • Developers struggle to spot vulnerabilities: According to the GitLab Global DevSecOps survey, 50% of security professionals note that developers miss 75% of security vulnerabilities, underscoring the need for a more integrated security approach.
  • Widespread vulnerabilities: The Contrast Security State of DevOps Report indicates that over 99% of technologists believe that software programs in production contain a minimum of four vulnerabilities. As such, DevSecOps teams must embrace rigorous application security testing procedures to uncover and treat vulnerabilities before releasing software.
  • Security is often an afterthought: The “Accelerating Secure Application Development” study by EMA reveals that many IT professionals acknowledge security tends to be an afterthought in the application delivery process. However, building security in finished products is challenging and ineffective in countering vulnerabilities – as well as being typically more expensive. Integrating continuous security testing throughout the SDLC ensures security is built-in, which is a more proactive not to mention cost-effective approach.
  • Lack of shared vision: In its report on “The Shift to a Security Approach for the Full Application Stack,” Cisco AppDynamics reports that 78% of technologists see the absence of a shared vision between application development and security teams as a significant challenge to application security. It underscores the need to align these teams to strengthen security measures.

Considering these insights, it’s clear that integrating security into the development process, fostering collaboration, and establishing a shared vision between development and security teams are essential to addressing the evolving threat landscape. More importantly, DevSecOps teams must prioritise application testing in the CI/CD pipeline to ensure applications meet industry-standard security and privacy-preserving requirements.


Our Top 5 Application security testing best practices:

Despite the ongoing discussion about integrating security into CI/CD workflows, many organizations still find that DevOps and security teams operate in separate silos. As a result, security often lags in DevOps ecosystems. A recent study involving 350 IT decision-makers revealed that, despite a high awareness of its need, half of all DevOps teams are yet to integrate application security into their CI/CD pipelines.

While DevOps teams are taking on increasingly substantial projects and accelerating software releases, they frequently lack a clear strategy for integrating security into the development process. This gap between development and security teams persists in many organizations.

A survey involving more than 2,050 professionals drawn from the DevSecOps community revealed that 72% of respondents described application security as a “nuisance.” Also, 48% of developers participating in the survey said that, while they acknowledge application security is vital, they lack sufficient time to run security tests and harden the security of applications. Unfortunately, this underscores the challenges associated with aligning security and development efforts and highlights the need for a more integrated or automated approach to security within the DevOps workflow. Here are five application security testing best practices that can lead to more secure applications.


1.    Integrating automated tools into the toolchain

According to Meera Subbarao, a senior principal consultant from the Synopsys Software Integrity Group, the key to efficient and secure development is utilising automated application security testing tools connecting with the CI/CD toolchain. The primary objective is to maintain a smooth development pace and workflow, all while preventing security issues from causing disruptions. Therefore, organisations need to establish direct feedback loops that provide actionable, prioritised vulnerability data to application developers to achieve this. Embracing such an approach ensures the swift resolution of any security vulnerabilities identified during the coding process.

In addition, Subbarao draws attention to the findings of the 451 Research report, which sheds light on a significant obstacle to realizing successful DevOps: the absence of automated and integrated security testing tools. She points out that the report underscores a deficiency in the security aspect of DevOps, as only half of the respondents incorporate any elements of application security testing into their CI/CD pipeline.

Despite this, the demand for security automation is rapidly escalating, driven by the urgent need for modern businesses to integrate vulnerability scans and penetration testing results into the DevOps framework to create a continuous security testing process. Furthermore, mission-critical applications should undergo more frequent testing due to their constant evolution, as they pose heightened risks to the organization.


2.    Embrace a leftward shift right from the start.

The traditional method of conducting application security testing just before deployment has lost effectiveness due to the unprecedented speed at which developers develop and deploy new code. Furthermore, development teams are rapidly expanding, hiring at a rate of eighty developers for every application security professional. Thus, this glaring imbalance necessitates organisations to adopt a cooperative application security management approach.

In this regard, application security professionals should provide developers with the necessary tools and procedures and transition to a more process management and governance-oriented role rather than solely focusing on hands-on testing, a traditional role.

Additionally, shifting security to the left, right from the start, is a vital application security testing practice. Embedding security controls as essential components of the integration and deployment processes enables a security-by-design approach, ensuring that released applications contain built-in security mechanisms. This approach facilitates early detection and more straightforward rectification of security defects within the development process.


3.    Leverage abuse cases when testing the application.

Adopting a hacker’s or malicious user’s mindset in application security testing can be a valuable strategy. As such, developers should explore various ways an attacker or user could exploit their access to an application, potentially compromising sensitive data or critical systems. Adopting such a forward-thinking approach empowers developers to anticipate and mitigate potential misuse effectively.

In addition, integrating abuse cases into the Quality Assurance (QA) process is instrumental in bolstering security. These scenarios go beyond traditional functional testing by simulating legitimate and malicious usage, providing valuable insights into how an application responds under different conditions. This comprehensive perspective allows developers to implement robust security measures, ensuring the application’s resilience to potential threats. In other words, automating these tests as part of the QA process ensures they become an integral component of ongoing testing, complementing standard regression tests.

Furthermore, abuse case testing can help developers refine security measures, ensuring applications remain resilient against misuse. Essentially, continuously enhancing the abuse case models and adapting to emerging threats helps developers maintain a strong defence against evolving attack vectors. Integrating security features inherent in chosen software frameworks can offer significant advantages. This practice enhances the overall security posture and streamlines the development process. Developers can create new features with integrated security considerations, reducing the need to focus on security aspects during the development lifecycle constantly.

When testing applications for security weaknesses, one must acknowledge that the threat landscape continually evolves. New vulnerabilities and attack vectors emerge regularly, making it crucial to stay ahead of potential threats.


4.    Maintain vigilance about third-party code.

Managing third-party code in a DevOps setup requires vigilance. While open-source and third-party components can speed up code development, remember that even one flawed component can jeopardize your entire application.

A recent survey found that using third-party components results in an average of seventy-one vulnerabilities in each application. Furthermore, the survey revealed that only 23% of organizations using third-party components have established processes for testing the code for security weaknesses, and only 52% update components when security issues come to light.

An application’s flawed code component is a significant security risk, potentially providing an entry point for malicious actors. Hence, to counter this threat, maintain a well-curated inventory of the code components your application relies on and subject them to regular, rigorous testing. Continuous and comprehensive testing is the most effective way to secure your code against potential vulnerabilities.

Additionally, consider including open-source components in vulnerability and application scanning practices. Integrating open-source components into your security measures can bolster your defences and help you proactively identify and address security risks.


5.    Incorporate patching in the CI/CD workflow.

The cybersecurity landscape evolves rapidly as new threats emerge. As such, taking swift action to identify and mitigate vulnerabilities is vital. When new vulnerabilities surface, malicious actors seek out unpatched systems or software. Therefore, to counter this, integrating patch management into the CI/CD process can effectively remediate new threats as they emerge. This enables the rapid identification and resolution of security issues, thereby enhancing the security of the software.

Traditionally, patch management was the responsibility of the operations team, leading to delays in addressing vulnerabilities. However, incorporating patch testing and deployment into the CI/CD pipeline moves vulnerability detection and management from the operations team to the development process, allowing developers to address security flaws more quickly. As a result, this streamlined approach significantly reduces the time required for patching, ultimately bolstering the overall software security.

The CI/CD and DevOps methodologies are ideally suited for rapid vulnerability responses. Engineered for agility and efficiency, they seamlessly incorporate security updates with new features and code changes. This not only expedites the development process but also elevates the overall security of the software.


Strategically Navigating Application Security in a Complex Landscape

Organisations today face an increasingly complex challenge: ensuring the security of their digital assets against a backdrop of sophisticated threats. In this environment, a strategic partner in application security testing is crucial, and it’s a partnership that goes beyond the basics.

You need a partner that combines a holistic approach to security to navigate the digital terrain confidently. This includes harnessing open-source intelligence and a sophisticated browser-based crawling engine to identify application components potentially vulnerable to attacks. It’s about proactive threat identification and mitigation before attackers can exploit any weaknesses.

But that’s just the beginning. A comprehensive partner in application security goes further. They offer continuous vulnerability discovery and management, covering not only your internal estate but also your external one. This means that your organisation’s entire digital footprint is under watchful eyes, ensuring that no security gaps go unnoticed. Moreover, testing applications in a production environment is critical to a robust security strategy.

Choosing the right partner in application security testing is a strategic decision. It’s about more than just safeguarding your data; it’s about protecting your organization’s reputation, trust, and future.


About AppCheck

AppCheck is a software security vendor based in the UK, offering a leading security scanning platform that automates the discovery of security flaws within organisations websites, applications, network, and cloud infrastructure. AppCheck are authorized by the Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) Program as a CVE Numbering Authority (CNA).


Additional Information

As always, if you require any more information on this topic or want to see what unexpected vulnerabilities AppCheck can pick up in your website and applications then please contact us: info@appcheck-ng.com

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