10 Steps in Application Security Assessment

If you are a web-based company or even a company that uses the internet for any purpose, application security assessment is the determining factor that shows how careful and responsible you are when it comes to security.

application security

Contrary to popular belief, application security assessment is an ongoing process and not something you need to do annually. It must also not be done just as a compliance formality.

While there cannot exist a complete guide to application security that touches all the aspects, here are ten of the things that you need to make sure of in order to keep your applications secure to the maximum possible extent.

1. Have a Clear Application Security Policy In Line with Your Business

Web application security assessment does not exactly translate to a secure app. The goal of application security assessment is to identify all the vulnerabilities in the app infrastructure and it is not a must to remediate all of them.

The decision regarding remediation will depend on the objectives, goals, and scope that you establish in a well-defined and ever-evolving security policy and practices for your business.

The security policy and processes need to establish the strategies, remediation policies, patch management rules, incident response plans, acceptable app behavior, and other things that can affect your business and the way it operates.

The security policy needs to define the scope and frequency of security audits, scanning, and penetration testing.

To effectively minimize the risks while maintaining the ROI, the security policies and practices must be linked to the business risks and predicted impact.

When you develop a security policy, you need to identify mission-critical assets, critical threats, and vulnerabilities, and prioritize your responses for every scenario.

2. Discover and Manage the Assets

An effective application security assessment cannot be conducted without an in-depth understanding of the inventory. It is of paramount importance for businesses to discover, document, and classify their assets by mapping out their IT environment.

This is necessary because applications are in a constant state of flux and have numerous moving parts. This leads to the addition of third-party assets and components. Such an agile IT environment needs to be scanned and tested regularly so that the new assets and components can be included in the application security assessment.

Conversely, some assets and components might be useless and can be a useless vulnerability. Such components need to be removed and replaced to maintain optimum security.

3. Controls Analysis

Almost all businesses have controls in place for identifying threats and vulnerabilities and mitigating potential risks. This can include anti-virus, firewalls, anti-malware, scanning tools, authentication criteria, and access controls.

The purpose of control analysis is to identify these controls and check them for effectiveness.

In this scenario, there is a need for role-based control metrics to be prepared to specify the level of authorization and security clearance allotted to different users.

This information is useful in conducting analysis and penetration testing of the apps.

4. Threat Intelligence

Proactive threat identification is one of the most important things to be included in the security assessment of any application.

The threat landscape is an ever-changing one and businesses need to know all of the potential threats for them. Only then can a business prepare an effective probability of the potential threats and work out the impact they might have.

To be able to do this effectively, it is necessary to augment security tools with the latest threat intelligence from all over the world about the threats that exist and can be potentially dangerous.

5. Scanning the Applications Continuously

A continuous assessment of security flaws, loopholes, vulnerabilities, and weaknesses is cardinally important for web application security. This assessment needs to span the application as well as the third-party components, code, and all other resources.

An efficient approach to this can be the use of automatic application scanning tools that can point out the threats and vulnerabilities like the OWASP Top 10.

6. Penetration Testing

Scanning tools are great for identifying a bulk of vulnerabilities in an application but they cannot be used to find out unknown threats and flaws in the business logic. They also can’t tell the developers about how a specific vulnerability can be exploited.

This calls for the need for penetration testing. It highlights the aspects of web application security that nothing else can point out.  It can decisively tell how effective the security measures of an application actually are.

7. Managing False Positives

One of the most annoying and time-wasting things faced during web application security testing is the false positives. They drain the resources and time of the IT security teams.

Tools can be used to identify false positives so that the distractions can be minimized and the teams can focus on actual threats.

8. Attack Probability Determination

Probability determination makes it possible for businesses to find out what is the likelihood of a security breach linked to a specific vulnerability.

This can help categorize the potential threats high, medium, or low intensity and the business can then strategize accordingly.

9. Application Security Risk Assessment

Security risks are based on both vulnerabilities and threats. They can be quantified by factoring in the likelihood of the expected threats and the vulnerability of the assets involved.

For an efficient and effective risk mitigation strategy, risk ratings can be created for all assets. These ratings can then be used to prioritize assets for remediation and diverting security efforts.

10. Result Documentation

Documentation of the results of the security assessment is very important. All steps of the assessment process must be logged and detailed reports must be generated for them.

These reports not only serve as a guide for the top management to make important security decisions but also make sure that all the findings are included in future assessments.

The Final Word

Application security assessment needs to be a part of the software development lifecycle. Remember, regardless of you making any improvements to your applications’ security situation, the hackers are improving their attacking methods.

If you don’t keep up, your security is all but compromised.

You may want to set up the ModSecurity web application firewall to protect your PHP web applications from hacking. If you use Apache web server on Debian/Ubuntu, then read the following tutorial.

If you use Nginx web server on Debian/Ubuntu, then read the following tutorial:

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