The terms ‘application security’ and ‘software security’ are often used interchangeably. However, there is in fact a difference between the two. Information security pioneer, Gary McGraw, maintains that application security is a reactive approach, taking place once software has been deployed. Software security, on the other hand, involves a proactive approach, taking place within the pre-deployment phase.
To ensure that a piece of software is secure, security must be built into all phases of the software development life cycle (SDLC). Thus, software security isn’t application security—it’s much bigger.
Application security as subset of software security
As you may know, applications are links between the data and the user (or another application).
When a user wants to conduct a complex analysis on a patient’s medical information, for example, it can be performed easily by an application to avoid complex, time-consuming manual calculations. Similarly, an online bank transaction is performed through web-based applications or mobile apps, and non-public financial data is processed, transmitted, and stored in this process.
Software doesn’t recognize sensitivity or confidentiality of data that it is processing or transmitting over the Internet. Thus, software needs to be designed and developed based on the sensitivity of the data it is processing. If data is classified as ‘public,’ then it can be accessed without requiring the user to authenticate. One example is information found within a website’s contact page or policy page. However, if the software performs user administration, then a multi-factor authentication method is expected to be in place to access this information. Based on classification of the data being processed by the application, suitable authentication, authorization, and protection of data in storage or transit should be designed for the application in addition to carrying out secure coding.
To protect the software and related sensitive data, a measurement should be taken during each phase of the SDLC. This measurement broadly divides issues into pre and post-deployment phases of development. Again, software security deals with the pre-deployment issues, and application security takes care of post-deployment issues.
Software security (pre-deployment) activities include:
- Secure software design
- Development of secure coding guidelines for developers to follow
- Development of secure configuration procedures and standards for the deployment phase
- Secure coding that follows established guidelines
- Validation of user input and implementation of a suitable encoding strategy
- User authentication
- User session management
- Function level access control
- Use of strong cryptography to secure data at rest and in transit
- Validation of third-party components
- Arrest of any flaws in software design/architecture
Application security (post-deployment) activities include:
- Post deployment security tests
- Capture of flaws in software environment configuration
- Malicious code detection (implemented by the developer to create backdoor, time bomb)
- IP filtering
- Lock down executables
- Monitoring of programs at runtime to enforce the software use policy
Types of application testing
Testing is intended to detect implementation bugs, design and architectural flaws, and insecure configurations. Here are some effective types of application security testing:
1. Static Application Security Testing (SAST) focuses on source code.
2. Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) focuses on the detection of vulnerabilities present in the application and infrastructure.
3. Interactive Application Security Testing (IAST) uses combination of both DAST and SAST, and performs behavioral analysis to detect data flow, input/output, etc.
4. Runtime Application Self Protection (RASP) enables applications to protect themselves using application runtime engine security features such as session termination, application termination, failure notification, etc.
Application security vs. software security: Summing it up
Designing and coding an application securely is not the only way to secure an application. The infrastructure on which an application is running, along with servers and network components, must be configured securely. For an application to be as secure as possible, the application and server configurations, transmission encryption, storage of authentication credentials, and access control to the database where credentials and encryption keys are stored should all be taken into account.
Software, and the infrastructure on which software is running, both need to be protected to maintain the highest level of software security. This involves both software security (in design, coding, and testing phases) and application security (post deployment testing, monitoring, patching, upgrading, etc.). Software security involves a holistic approach in an organization to improve its information security posture, safeguard assets, and enforce privacy of non-public information; whereas application security is only one domain within the whole process.
Feel free to contact E-SPIN for Application Security infrastructure and application security, infrastructure availability and performance monitoring solution.