Building security into your overall vulnerability risk management (VRM) strategy is a must-do in the age of the all-important web app. Between security and IT-Ops teams, there are a number of steps in the VRM process, including asset identification, enumeration, prioritization, and remediation. How does application security fit in?

Co-sponsored by Forrester, a recent Rapid7 webcast expounds upon the topics discussed in this blog post. The distinguished subject-matter experts and presenters also dive deep into the nitty gritty of what it takes to get a better night’s sleep by creating a VRM strategy that extends to the application layer. Watch the webcast here, and read on for our recap below!

Web applications and APIs are assets, too

Applications are one of the most common ways attackers are getting in. In a recent survey, Forrester found that 31% of firms suffered a breach as a result of an external attack, with applications serving as one of the most common attack vectors. Along with all other assets in a VRM program, web apps must be prioritized as assets that need to be covered.

Knowing this, security leaders have started to think harder about application security. But just because it’s a top priority, does that mean it’s the company’s? Bringing stakeholders into the process early is key, because getting that application layer covered affects the entire organization. The more buy-in and support from everyone who has a stake in getting secure products to customers, the more value everyone gets from a comprehensive VRM investment.

Building security in

Buy-in comes from building in. Static Application Security Testing (SAST) is a process that can find flaws early in the life cycle of applications, providing guidance to dev teams so they can find and fix issues early in the process. Adopting SAST in the development phase means making it easier for developers to remediate as they’re coding.

Further, Software Composition Analysis (SCA) tools can help analyze the open-source libraries and third-party components that go into creating a large portion of today’s applications. A modern VRM program also needs to consider these components as assets to cover. Building these processes and tools into the Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC) will help dev teams experience fewer security flaws, get real-time education, and eventually find the ability to scale quickly.

However, as development approaches change, more and more organizations are struggling to identify and secure the sheer number of APIs built into their applications. Security teams might understandably be rushing to keep up with:

  • Identifying and cataloging APIs and endpoints
  • Assuring and managing API user identities
  • Meeting regulatory and compliance requirements        

How can security pros start thinking about baking those processes in earlier?

Understanding API security

There is no single tool for API security. A holistic approach includes identifying what sorts of APIs are out there, assessing them for organizational fit, and scanning and testing them for vulnerabilities. It also includes managing them throughout deployment and production. Does the traffic match how you expect the API to behave?

Looking at API security from the client to the backend is also key. Not only does your existing application tooling need to be inclusive of API behavior, but additional tooling may be of great insight when looking at API-specific issues like managing authentication and authorization. Remember, new development methodologies will requite new security patterns.

Zoom out: What are you looking to accomplish?

When it comes to rethinking or building a sound VRM strategy, performing foundational work up front will help get organizational buy-in faster. It’ll take time to inventory everything that’s sitting at the edge, from web applications to APIs to third-party vendors. Recognizing that a significant shift will take time and being transparent about this with stakeholders can only help streamline the process. So, why invest the time?

As more people than ever before shift to a work-from-home environment, organizations may not feel as safe as they once did having corporate information residing on endpoints scattered around the city and, indeed, the world. Following along naturally to this issue is increased questioning and anxiety from cyber-insurers and auditors, particularly as it concerns things like an organization’s supply chain and partners. Much like the recent SolarWinds incident, an attack on one organization can quickly escalate into a threat against its partners.  

If you’re part of an organization beginning to engage more with your existing supply chain or validations, it’s important to remember that you are also part of their chain. So, it can be a reciprocal nature of checks and scrutiny as more partners come online. In this entire ecosystem, a good rule of thumb is to remember that exploitation has a real cost—whether the attacker's intent is simply to disseminate sensitive data or there’s a ransom scenario afoot. Defining security frameworks and testing them against overall goals can help translate processes down into each project as well as speed up validation with a potential partner.

Extend, extend, extend

When it comes to rethinking or building a sound VRM strategy, extending that foundational security work to your web applications at the edge is a modern best practice that can yield many benefits—whether it’s protecting against someone probing for their own nefarious purposes or looking to sell that information down the line. It can also start to create an ingrained culture of taking proactive and protective steps to secure applications and the tools on which they’re built.  

For more information about broadening your VRM strategy to include the application layer, please watch our webcast with Forrester here.