8 Problems Every Application Security Program Leader Has To Tackle

Despite the astounding rise in cybercrime and hacking incidents worldwide, the modern Application Security Program Leader faces numerous bumps and obstacles on a daily basis within his organization. Application security has come a long way in the last decade, but the inherited limitations of the traditional solutions are not making life easy.

 

In this article we’ll take a gander at 8 realistic real-life scenarios the typical Application Security Program Leader in modern IT organizations has to face. You will also get to see how automating the process with Static Code Analysis (SCA), a Static Application Security Testing (SAST) / White Box Testing methodology, can help tackle these challenging situations successfully.

 

Static Code Analysis

 

More often than not, team leaders and project managers have little to no time for their application security duties. Meetings with the security officials are often kept at low priority, eventually leading to the lack of security standards. In many cases, there is evident friction between the Application Security Program Leaders and the development leaders.

 

The lack of sync between the departments can lead to ineffectiveness in tackling the various security issues, even when detected in time by the security solution. Static Code Analysis provides the ability to get detailed reports about the findings and export them for offline scrutiny. This also helps is establishing proper security benchmarks for the applications.

 

The SAST Way – “No worries. I’ll send you the reports in XML/PDF format for your review with my remarks. Get back to me as soon as you can.”
The Non-SAST Way – “This is not acceptable. I need you to be at the meeting.”

 

Security Review Meeting

 

 

The Application Security Program Leader has to constantly deal with pressure from the brass, who are interested in releasing the product on time. The CEOs often overlook security and underestimate the importance of eliminating application layer vulnerabilities prior to the product launch. Needless to say, these tendencies can spell disaster for the organization.

 

With SAST/SCA solutions integrated into all stages of the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC), such issues seldom arise since the scanning is done already in the development and build stages. This leads to the creation of a secure SDLC (sSDLC), which significantly shortens remediation times and enables the timely release of the application with minimal issues.

 

The leading benefits of developing software in a secure SDLC include:

 

  • Engaging technology leaders and turning them into security champions.
  • Arming the developers with the solution in the developer IDEs.
  • Breaking the build every time a “medium” or “high” level vulnerability is found.
  • Integration into bug tracking tools and merging with the QA process.

 

The devising and creating of a secure SDLC (sSDLC) transforms the security testing into a synchronized collaborative effort between the various departments of the organization.

 

The SAST Way – “Dear CEO, please go ahead. Our application has already been tested.”
The Non-SAST Way – “If that’s the case, we’ll have to release security patches after release.”

 

Lines of Code (LOC)

 

Regardless of the security solution in place, the biggest obstacle developers’ face is the initiation of the remediation process. While using manual testing and other traditional security tools, mitigation starts with re-learning the code and manually laboring to locate the vulnerable LOCs. This can become a tedious process, especially when large projects (many KLOCs) are being testing.

 

Additional problems may arise when new developers are hired by the organization. They usually find it harder to get the mitigation process going due to unfamiliarity with the code.

 

With Static Code Analysis (SCA), the developer gets a graphic representation of the data flow, with some solutions even pointing at the exact locations of the vulnerabilities. Some Static Code Scanners even offer CWE based recommendations in order to assist with the remediation efforts. These unique features significantly shorten application development times and avoid post-release issues.

 

The SAST Way – “Just look at the best-fix locations and mitigation advice in your dashboard.”
The Non-SAST Way – “Re-learn the application code. You have no other choice.”

 

SAST

 

 

Most traditional security solutions involve cumbersome installation processes and resource-heavy maintenance. This typically requires the IT Manager to provide the AppSec staff with powerful (costly) computers and make elaborate technical arrangements to get the testing process going. These issues often lead to friction between the departments.

 

Static Code Analysis eliminates such issues since it typically offers light-weight plugins that sit directly in the developer IDEs and sync seamlessly with little to no maintenance needed. There is also wide language coverage and compatibility with leading frameworks, things that eliminate the need for additional configuration procedures in complex development environments.

 

The SAST WayHighly improbable scenario.
The Non-SAST Way – “I’m sorry, but I need more Warf Power to make this work!”

 

AppSec

 

 

This scenario is commonly found in large organizations, where big projects with many KLOCs have to be scanned. Traditional security solutions enter the scene in the latter production stages, which already wastes valuable time. These tools also scan the whole application, regardless of the amount of changes made by the developers. With Static Code Analysis, unchanged code is simply not re-scanned.

 

Many SAST/SCA solutions even provide the additional functionality of reporting vulnerabilities even before the scanning is fully completed. This allows the developers save time and analyze the issues in real-time, before deciding on the appropriate remediation efforts for the application. The result is a win-win situation for all sides involved in the development process.

 

The SAST WayHighly improbable scenario.
The Non-SAST Way – “Sorry, I simply can’t release preliminary reports. Please wait.”

 

Agile Security

 

 

Iterative development scenarios (Agile, DevOps) are extremely challenging for traditional security testing methodologies. This is where SCA has the advantage, as it can be implemented to automate the entire testing process. These solutions are built into all stages of the SDLC, where application code is scanned automatically after each commit and the build is stopped when medium/high severity flaws are detected.

 

Not re-scanning unchanged code, along with the real-time scanning and reporting of application layer vulnerabilities, makes Static Code Analysis the ideal solution for Agile and DevOps environments.

 

The SAST WayHighly improbable scenario.
The Non-SAST Way – “This is what we have right now. Please be patient.”

 

SCA

 

Besides application layer vulnerabilities, the application code is often plagued with code errors and dead chunks of code. Traditional security tools are often unable to locate such issues, putting extra pressure on the QA testers. Developers have very little time to fix issues due to the time constraints, often forcing organizations to release the application as it is.

 

The result is the release of buggy and sluggish applications, which force organizations to take the heat from customers and the media. Performance patches and stability updates are then needed.

 

The SAST WayHighly improbable scenario.
The Non-SAST Way – “Let’s set up a meeting with the CTO and Project Manager.”

 

Target Hacking

 

The implications of high-profile hackings are well-documented. Massive breaches lead to a wide range of damages – monetary implications, loss of clients and customers, brand damage and PR problems. Vulnerable applications are basically disasters waiting to happen. Hence, security testing is something that has to be addressed in the development stages.

 

For example, the Target breach in 2013 had catastrophic implications. Credit card numbers of over 70 million customers were stolen and as per the estimates Target’s monetary losses crossed the 200 million dollar mark. Dozens of employees lost their jobs in the aftermath of the hackings, which occurred due to an untested and vulnerable 3rd party component in the system.

 

The SAST WayHighly improbable scenario.
The Non-SAST Way – “Let’s set up a meeting and re-discuss our security strategy.”

 

As evident in the 8 scenarios mentioned above, the modern-day Application Security Manager has to face a wide range of complaints from the leading figures in the organization on a daily basis. His job is not made easier with the traditional application security solutions in the market today, which have serious limitations. This is why SAST/SCA is arguably the best answer to the aforementioned problems.

 

While traditional security solutions have their benefits, the growing consensus is that robust applications are the best way to counter the ever-evolving hacking techniques. Application security today requires a proactive approach. Secure applications must have high code integrity, something that is arguably best achieved with the help of Static Code Analysis and complete automation of the testing process.

 

Whats the security protocol in your organization? What problems do you face while implementing your security solutions? Feel free to share and comment below.

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Sharon Solomon

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