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8 Tips to Maximize Application Security Testing

For digital-first companies where software applications power their business, ensuring their SDLC and products are secure has become a paramount concern. If these companies haven’t prioritized secure software development, they face many risks including falling behind their competitors and losing customers. Understanding how to effectively secure your applications, protect sensitive data, and deliver quality software with a robust application security posture is a necessity. This article dives into the intricacies of application security testing - a vital component of a comprehensive secure software development strategy. 

We'll show you what application security testing is, highlight key benefits, detail the various types of testing available and showcase how to optimize them. To ensure proper implementation, we'll also explore common weak points and threats your software applications may face.


What Is Application Security Testing? 

Application security testing (AST) in software development seeks to improve the resilience of applications against potential threats and breaches. At its core, application security testing is an approach consisting of testing, analyzing, and reporting on the security of an application at each stage of its lifecycle - from initial development, through deployment, to ongoing maintenance. It employs a broad spectrum of elements, incorporating hardware, software, and other specific methodologies to facilitate the detection and mitigation of security threats or vulnerabilities. 


Why Application Security Testing is important

With the business landscape growing increasingly connected and software development relying on third-party and open-source components, the importance of application security testing has escalated. This interconnectedness and widespread adoption of cloud services have exponentially multiplied the potential vulnerabilities that cybercriminals can leverage. Hackers have also shifted their tactics and are now targeting applications directly as well as the underlying software supply chain, elevating the overall risk many businesses face. 

This can lead to the software development process becoming disrupted, hackers injecting malicious code into applications and rendering them harmful or ineffective which can impact a businesses’ customers. Exploiting an application’s software supply chain can also lead to a deeper compromise within a company’s business operations. 

This evolving threat landscape underscores the importance of continually enhancing your application security testing measures, which come with clear benefits beyond just having secure applications.


The Organizational Benefits of Application Security Testing 

Investing in and optimizing application security testing can significantly reduce risk via a number of ways. AST can identify vulnerabilities both from internal operations and external sources, including third-party sources. This helps protect customer data, proprietary business data, ensures stringent application security, and in turn, results in more secure applications and products. This has downstream effects that reduce the risk of data breaches, strengthens your brand’s reputation and integrity, and will elevate overall customer loyalty, satisfaction, and confidence.    

Deploying a robust AST protocol provides a crucial line of defense, safeguarding your applications from potential attacks. The process of 'app hardening' forms an integral part of this defense, fortifying your apps to withstand attacks and keep your business safe.


Don’t Overlook These Common Threats & Weak Points in AppSec 

In the realm of application security (AppSec), it is crucial to identify and address the most prevalent threats and weak points that can jeopardize an application's integrity and that can lead to compromises, exploits, and attacks that can result in even worse issues. Overlooking these potential vulnerabilities can have far-reaching consequences for a business, leading to data breaches, a tarnished brand reputation, and potential financial loss.  

Here are some common weak points in application security (AppSec) that you should not overlook: 

Broken Access Control: If access controls are not correctly configured or managed, unauthorized users may gain access to sensitive data or functionalities, leading to data leaks or system misuse. 

Vulnerable/Outdated Components: Just like with broken access control, using outdated or vulnerable components, libraries, or frameworks can expose your application to known vulnerabilities. Many software updates often include security patches for known vulnerabilities. If you don’t have the right vulnerability management system in place or are just letting systems and applications go without an update, you may be exposing yourself to unnecessary risk.  

SQL Injection: SQL injection is a code injection technique where attackers can exploit vulnerabilities in your application to manipulate your database. This is often done when a malicious party injects harmful SQL code into an application query. This could lead to unauthorized data access, data modification, data exfiltration, or even data loss. 

Cross-Site Scripting (XSS): In this type of attack, cybercriminals inject malicious scripts into websites that appear benign to both the application and the user. When the user loads the site or malicious script, the attack is executed. Depending on the script, it can lead to unauthorized access to user sessions, or sensitive user information. 

Buffer Overflow Attacks: This occurs when an application, program, or process tries to store more data in a buffer than it can handle. The additional data can overflow into adjacent memory space, causing a system crash or creating an entry point for an attacker. It can also allow an attacker to overwrite adjacent memory locations and potentially gain control over the system. 

For application security testing we highly recommend following an established application security checklist or the OWASP (Open Web Application Security Project) checklist. This will help you consider the threats mentioned here as well as other relevant threats/weak points such as insecure configuration and sensitive data exposure. 

Integrating comprehensive application security requirements into your development and deployment processes will help to ensure that your application can stand up against these common threats and prevent low-hanging vulnerabilities from leading to a potential compromise or incident. The application security checklist is a critical tool for maintaining vigilance and proactively addressing potential vulnerabilities before they can be exploited. 

Understanding these common threats and weak points, how to guard against them, and what tools and processes can help is a fundamental part of a robust AppSec strategy.


7 Types of Application Security Testing 

Application security testing (AST) can come in a variety of approaches, each serving unique purposes and being best utilized at different phases within the SLDC. Selecting the right type of application security test at the appropriate juncture can optimize the value and effectiveness of your security efforts. Here are the seven primary types of AST.


Static Application Security Testing (SAST)

Static Application Security Testing (SAST), often referred to as "white box testing", examines the application from the inside out during the coding phase. It scans the source code for any vulnerabilities that might make an application susceptible to attacks. One advantage of a SAST test is that it identifies vulnerabilities earlier on in the software development process, thus saving time and costs associated with fixing issues later on.


Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) 

Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST), or "black box testing", analyzes the application from the outside while it's running. DAST is often best used to identify common security vulnerabilities like cross-site scripting (XSS) and SQL injection. As a part software security best practices, DAST exposes flaws that appear during the application's operational phase, complementing the insights gathered through SAST.


Manual Application Penetration Testing 

Manual Application Penetration Testing is an essential part of application security and hardening. This technique simulates hacker attacks to identify potential security vulnerabilities. By making active attempts to exploit an application, penetration testers can have a real-world assessment of potential threats and find new threats or entry points not detected by automated testing, providing a more comprehensive view of the application’s security posture.


Software Composition Analysis (SCA)

Software Composition Analysis (SCA) reviews the open-source components of an application for vulnerabilities. As software development continues to use open-source software, SCA is crucial to prevent possible security issues that may stem from a third-party. Similar to a SAST test, SCA scans codebases but specifically focuses on these third-party components and is an effective complement to other types of AST.


Infrastructure-as-Code Scanning 

Infrastructure as code (IaC) testing is the process of validating an infrastructure configuration, often described in a configuration language such as YAML or JSON, before it is deployed. IaC testing ensures that changes to the infrastructure will not cause unexpected behavior or break functionality. This can include checking for syntax errors, and verifying configurations are compliant with best practices.


Secret Scanning in Code

Secret scanning in code is a process that helps developers identify potential security issues in their application code. It looks for known patterns of secrets (e.g., API keys, passwords, and tokens) stored in plain text within an application’s source code or configuration files. If these patterns are found, the scan will alert the developer to take appropriate measures to remove or obfuscate these secrets so that they can’t be exploited.


Software Supply Chain Security

Software Supply Chain Security is the process of protecting the integrity and authenticity of software as it progresses through the pre-production development environment. It includes CI/CD pipeline security, which is the process by which organizations ensure that their software development processes, including the continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipeline and SDLC systems and infrastructure, are secure.


Best Practices for Optimizing Your Application Security Testing

Enhancing the effectiveness of your application security testing (AST) is essential in ensuring the robustness of your application security. Here are several key best practices in security testing for software development that can help your team optimize your AST efforts: 

Automate Where Possible: Leveraging automated tools can streamline your security testing process, allowing for faster identification and remediation of vulnerabilities, while freeing up your team for manual, high-value tasks. Automated tools can also test large codebases faster and more accurately than manual testing, making them a critical part of your AST toolkit. 

Adopt a Shift-Left Approach: Incorporating security practices earlier in the development lifecycle, also known as shifting "left" allows for faster detection and resolution of vulnerabilities. This is a proactive approach that can lead to more secure software while reducing remediation costs over the lifespan of your SDLC. 

Monitor Third-Party Code: Using AST to monitor and scan third-party components is necessary as most companies often leverage open-source and third-party code. Regularly reviewing and monitoring this can ensure it meets your security standards and isn’t opening your applications or software up to potential risk. 

Think Like a Hacker:  By adopting an attacker's mindset, you can anticipate potential exploit strategies and safeguard your applications effectively. This includes utilizing abuse cases during testing while also leveraging penetration testing methods to uncover potential security weaknesses. 

Value Static Testing: Static application security testing (SAST) allows for early detection of potential vulnerabilities in your codebase and can have a big impact on reducing the cost and effort of future remediation. 

Make Patching Part of Your CI/CD: Continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) practices should include routine patching of your software. Many updates can address discovered vulnerabilities and keep your application secure against newly found threats. 

These are effective best practices but remember that maintaining a well-trained team and fostering a security-conscious culture are also essential application testing best practices that can improve your organizational efforts to improve application security. Ensuring that your team is aware of the most pressing risks and threats. In the ever-evolving landscape of cybersecurity, continuous learning and adaptation are the keys to maintaining robust application security.


Stay Secure by Getting the Most out of Your Application Security Testing

Application security is an increasingly important area of software security that requires constant vigilance and maintenance. Knowing what application security testing entails and implementing a solid AST strategy is about more than just securing your applications. It extends to preserving business continuity, upholding brand integrity, and fostering unwavering customer trust. Embracing application security testing is a strategic move that encapsulates the essence of robust business operations in the digital age. 

AST is the first line of defense, and you should consider the use cases of the various testing approaches we detailed earlier to build a comprehensive set of testing methods that take into account various environments, devices, applications and component types as well as the phase of the SDLC.

We also encourage doing the due diligence necessary to find the right automated solution that automatically detects vulnerabilities across complex developer environments, works throughout the entire SDLC, and automates key tasks to free up your team to do more complicated manual tasks.   

To learn more about the kind of tool that may serve your Secure SDLC and Application Security strategy best, schedule a product demo or check out the Legit Security Platform

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Published on
July 25, 2023

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