Contributed by Julien Legrand
Application usage continues to rise as technologies take a central place in daily processes. In 2018, more than 105 billion applications were downloaded.1 The figure will increase since the number of downloaded applications is expected to rise by 25% between 2018 and 2022. Such amounts are a testimony to the massive reliance on apps to run essential tasks every day. As such, understanding the current application security threats and available countermeasures provides users and developers with the much-needed app safety knowledge.
Current Application Threats
There are various application threats that users and app developers should understand and manage. Some of the common ones include brute force attacks, injection attacks, and malware.
Brute Force Attacks
Brute force attacks are techniques hackers use to guess the passwords used to secure important applications. The threats are common since, unlike other methods, cyber adversaries don’t require investing in cyber attacking tools. Instead, they only need patience since executing the attacks entails using different passwords until a hacker guesses the correct one. Although there are no working countermeasures to prevent brute force attacks, developers and organizations can deter them by restricting the login attempts permitted over a specific period. For example, limiting five attempts within one hour can be considered sufficient. Also, data encryption can ensure attackers will not compromise information security if a brute force attack succeeds.
Injection attacks are common threats to application security. The attacks usually target web applications that rely on data to function. Cyber actors use different types of injection attacks to compromise the data hosted in web applications. They include cross-site scripting, code injection, and SQL injection attacks. Cross-site scripting attacks are where cybercriminals inject malicious scripts on a trusted application. Also, as the name suggests, code injection attacks are where an attacker injects malicious code to an application to alter its normal functioning. SQL injection attacks are similar since attackers inject malicious SQL codes, which among others, provides them with remote access to application data. Effective mitigation measures include implementing least access privilege access controls to restrict user interaction with applications and implementing processes for validating the code and security of applications.
Malware is among the biggest threats to applications security. The high risks are as a result of millions of new malware families emerging every year. In 2018, at least 317 million new malware and computer viruses were created.2 Malware has severe repercussions on an infected application. Once launched, a malware allows cybercriminals to conduct different illegal activities, such as creating backdoors to systems, resulting in massive data breaches, monitoring and manipulating application activities remotely, and gaining unauthorized and unrestricted access to sensitive data. Also, malware remains to be a top threat since it consists of different groups, each with varying classes of damage. These include viruses, spyware, trojans, worms, and ransomware.
Several prevention methods can protect applications from malware attacks. They include implementing and using secure firewalls and antiviruses, conducting regular patch management processes and conducting security assessments to uncover vulnerabilities.
Other types of application security threats include:
- Phishing scams
- Security/System misconfiguration
- Malicious web and mobile apps
- Distributed denial of service attacks
Integrating Security in DevOps
DevOps are all the processes involved in application development lifecycles. Incorporating security in DevOps is vital since it leads to secure app development. Secure DevOps processes include testing software code for the presence of vulnerabilities and flaws at each stage of development. Such practices allow developers to address security challenges as they occur, thus ensuring all development code is free from security threats. However, despite regular testing being a sufficient security aspect in DevOps, 83% of different IT decisionmakers still release code without ddressing security vulnerabilities.3
Also, secure DevOps practices include understanding an application’s changing environment to guide the security processes needed at runtime. This requires developers to understand the approaches used during code insertion analysis in the app’s development lifecycle. For example, such knowledge can ensure that developers observe the best practices when inserting new codes for installing new updates. Additionally, visibility enables application developers to implement improved measures and controls by understanding how applications interact with open source libraries, APIs, or users.
Application Security Regulations
Different laws have been enacted to ensure the security of applications and data processed within different regions. One such regulation is the Asia Pacific Data Protection and Cyber Security Guide regulation. The regulation provides cybersecurity guidelines needed to protect the security of applications. Additionally, the regulation emphasizes on application security as an essential factor for achieving data security.
Clearly, application security is paramount given the relentless efforts of attackers to establish sophisticated and undetectable methods. Integrating security with DevOps and complying with specific application security regulations ensure that app developers focus on security during design to ensure that users get safe and reliable technology solutions.
The writer is an experienced cyber security specialist, application security leader and international speaker with a strong combination of business leadership and technical background, focused on risk management, security assessment, identity and access management, penetration testing and cryptography.