What is an Application Security Testing Program?

An application security testing program is an organizational process for continuously assessing and addressing the threat, vulnerability, and overall risk exposure of a company’s internal and external applications, as well as its APIs.

As damaging breaches continue to make headlines and government authorities bring regulatory pressure to bear on companies, many of them are implementing application security testing programs to gain better visibility into potential security issues across their applications and more effectively resolve any web application vulnerabilities they find before those applications go into production.

Application security requires strong cross-functional collaboration within a company, including teams spanning security, software development, auditing, executive management, and various lines-of-business functions. For the best results, organizations should include application security early on in the software development lifecycle (i.e. DevSecOps), including the design, development, release, and upgrade stages.

Unlike a vulnerability management program, an application security program aims to catch vulnerabilities before they actually become accessible to the public or internally to the company.

Benefits of an Application Security Testing Program

Companies implement application security programs for several reasons. For starters, an application security program can help shield and safeguard sensitive corporate and customer data. It can also aid in compliance, since some businesses may be required to have an application security program in place for regulatory purposes. An effective application security testing program can also help shield a company from the legal, financial, and reputational consequences of a breach.

With greater public awareness of data security concerns in light of ongoing high-profile data breaches, customers expect the companies with which they do business to protect their personal information. An application security program can boost customer confidence and enhance a company’s brand reputation by demonstrating that the organization is performing due diligence with respect to customer data.

Employees that work in a company with a strong security culture can even highlight and champion the importance of their employer’s investment in security, becoming knowledgeable about how to protect customer information such as personally identifiable information (PII) and personal health information (PHI).

Ultimately, an application security program can even potentially put a company in a stronger competitive position compared to other market players that fail to properly prioritize application security in their own environments.

Key Elements of an Application Security Program 

Although there are many frameworks for implementing an application security program, OWASP’s Software Assurance Maturity Model (SAMM) stands out as the method most businesses use. SAMM helps companies evaluate their existing software security practices, build a balanced software security assurance program in well-defined iterations, demonstrate concrete improvements to a security assurance program with quick wins that build toward long-term goals, and define and measure security-related activities within the organization. SAMM includes a toolset and several resources for creating a strong application security program, and it can be adapted to an organization’s unique risk tolerance model as it currently exists or even as it changes over time.

Companies may use one or more application security solutions as part of an application security program, including Static Application Security Testing (SAST), Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST), Interactive Application Security Testing (IAST), and Runtime Application Security Protection (RASP). SAST and DAST, for example, can automate the process of identifying potential vulnerabilities within the source code of an application or within an application that is running. IAST and RASP, respectively, test whether known vulnerabilities in code are exploitable in a running application and monitor an application’s behavior and the context of that behavior to automatically identify and protect against threats in real-time. In addition to these powerful capabilities, application security tools can also facilitate better collaboration between the security and development teams. 

Four Tips for an Effective Application Security Testing Program

These four tips can help you ensure the success of an application security testing program:

1. Address application security early in the software development lifecycle (SDLC) 

Your organization can reduce the cost and time involved in addressing vulnerabilities by looking for them early in the SDLC. Otherwise, you may risk putting applications with vulnerabilities into production, increasing the possibility of a breach. You may also find that it costs far more money, staff time, and frustration to remediate issues later on in the SDLC than at the beginning.

2. Build collaborative relationships 

For your application security program to succeed, your security team, development team, and application team must all be aligned toward a common goal. If the development and application teams are not brought into the application security program early on in a collaborative way, security concerns may fall by the wayside and may not be properly prioritized.

Security teams can help foster good collaboration with their development colleagues by helping to automate integrations or implementing ChatOps. In the absence of such collaboration, however, the process could grind to a halt and the security team could simply end up throwing things over the fence that never get fixed.

3. Choose the right application security tool

SAST and DAST are powerful tools for finding vulnerabilities and bugs within code earlier in the SDLC. These tools can even support better collaboration by giving developers far more visibility into and control over their own remediation activities.

This way, they can more easily address potential vulnerabilities well before an application goes into production. The security team is then free to focus on other priorities like quality assurance, measuring risk in the pre-production environment, and securing stakeholder buy-in for security initiatives.

4. Evaluate your tool with a proof-of-concept

Once you’ve selected an application security tool for use in your application security program, test it out with a proof-of-concept (PoC) to see how it operates live in your environment. This way, you can understand the impact the tool has on both your environment and your teams, highlighting potential integration or automation requirements that you may want to address prior to purchase.

An application security testing program is the most effective method for helping organizations improve their application security, continually enhancing a company’s ability to ensure proper application security and inspiring the kind of customer confidence that can even prove to be a competitive advantage. With strong internal collaboration that prioritizes security concerns early on in the SDLC, a business can implement an effective application security program that balances business needs with security objectives.

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