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The ‘ABC’ of effective application security

by Helen J. Wolf
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Software applications have been an important tool for businesses for decades, but how they are designed and used has changed recently.

Instead of running on servers in a data center, they are increasingly located on cloud platforms and accessible over the Internet. While this has significantly improved functionality, it has major implications for IT security.

Applications exposed to the Internet have become a favorite target for cybercriminals. They recognize that a successful breach can access a target organization’s broader infrastructure.

The 'ABC' of effective application security

The problem has become even more acute due to pandemic disruptions. Many organizations were forced to quickly make more applications available online so that telecommuters could continue their role.

Unfortunately, security has not been sufficiently prioritized, and applications are often vulnerable to attacks. Techniques used include SQL injection, cross-site scripting, and command injection.

To improve this situation, organizations need to focus on the ‘AB-C’ of software security:

‘A’ stands for API Security

For many years, APIs were mainly used in the backend of business applications, enabling communication between machines. Today, however, APIs are everywhere and allow most applications used in everyday life. They are at the heart of businesses, powering modern digital platforms and enabling digital transformation.

Many companies have moved to developing applications with an “API first” strategy, enabling them to innovate and get to market faster. APIs enable fast delivery when used with agile and DevOps practices, enabling developers to quickly build and release new functionalities for web and mobile applications.

Regarding security, the growth of APIs and their direct access to critical data have made them a prime target for attackers. APIs are built for automation, making finding and exploiting insecure APIs potentially lucrative.

For these reasons, API security should be a high priority for all security teams. They should check all APIs used and make sure they are properly secured.

‘B’ is for bone protection.

Automated bot traffic has grown rapidly in recent years. Once primarily used by search engines, bots now have a variety of uses – both good and bad.

Examples of “good” bots include search engine crawlers, social network bots, aggregator crawlers, and monitoring bots. These bots follow website owner rules as specified in the robots.txt file, publish methods to validate them as who they say they are, and work to prevent them from accessing the websites and applications they visit. Overwhelm.

Meanwhile, “evil” bots are being built to perform various malicious activities. They range from simple scrapers that try to get some data from an application (and can be easily blocked) to sophisticated, persistent bots that evade detection as much as possible.

These types of bots attempt attacks such as web and price scraping, inventory hoarding, account takeover attacks, and distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. They are a significant part of website traffic today, and detecting and blocking them is critical for businesses.

Today, bots are advanced and can behave almost humanly to get around most defenses. Standard blocking methods, such as Google reCAPTCHA, don’t work because they are often better at recognizing images than people.

For this reason, IT teams must take additional security measures to identify and neutralize bots. This is an ongoing task as the nature and capability of bots will continue to evolve.

‘C’ is for client-side protection.

In recent years, many new, web-specific vulnerabilities have emerged. They include clickjacking and cross-site scripting (XSS) and may manifest themselves on the client side of an IT infrastructure.

These vulnerabilities cause issues because applications have shifted to being more exposed to the Internet. This change occurred on the server and client sides in web browsers.

This is a concern because much client-side logic is implemented using open source or other third-party code, and security is usually a low priority. This approach is accepted in web development because the alternative is inconceivable: reinventing thousands of lines of code.

The issue, therefore, becomes one of trust. A script that is good today can be hacked tomorrow. Attackers target the sources that host third-party code because their hack will turn any application that uses it into a potential victim.

For this reason, security teams must carefully review all client-side code used and ensure that it contains no vulnerabilities. Failure to do so could result in a serious breach.

By being aware of the ‘AB-C’ of application security, organizations can make themselves much more resilient to cyber-attacks. You can enjoy the benefits of open, internet-connected applications without any associated problems.

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