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ASPM Is Good, but It's Not a Cure-All for App Security

What application security posture management does, it does well. But you'll still need to fill in some holes, especially concerning API security.

Amod Gupta, Senior Director of Product Management, Traceable AI

September 23, 2023

4 Min Read
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Source: Christian Horz via Alamy Stock Photo

Application security posture management (ASPM) is a method of managing and improving the security of software applications. It encompasses the processes, tools, and practices designed to identify, classify, and mitigate security vulnerabilities across an application's life cycle. It includes scanning for vulnerabilities, tracking identified vulnerabilities, managing patch processes, and implementing continuous monitoring and improvement procedures.

ASPM delivers a holistic view of an application's security posture, encompassing all stages of the software development life cycle (SDLC). It primarily focuses on identifying and managing vulnerabilities within the application as a singular entity.

However, ASPM is not a one-stop solution for all of your application security needs. Following are some factors you need to take into consideration when setting up ASPM in your organization.

The Downsides of ASPM

The benefits of ASPM are well known, but the method does have some weaknesses. They include:

  • Complexity and cost. Implementing an ASPM solution can be complex and time-consuming. It requires a deep understanding of applications and their dependencies, and there's also a learning curve associated with using ASPM tools effectively. The initial acquisition and licensing of ASPM tools can be quite expensive, particularly enterprise-grade solutions that manage large application environments. Furthermore, effectively integrating ASPM tools into existing workflows and SDLC processes can be complex and lengthy.

  • Alert overload. ASPM tools often generate a high volume of alerts. While this can provide visibility into potential security issues, it can also lead to alert fatigue. This happens when so many alerts are generated that security teams struggle to keep up, potentially leading to overlooked vulnerabilities.

  • False positives and negatives. Like many automated tools, ASPM can generate false positives — flagging benign activities as potentially harmful. Conversely, it may also miss some actual vulnerabilities, resulting in false negatives. Both of these issues require careful tuning and management of the ASPM system.

  • Limited scope. While ASPM provides a broad overview of application security, it may lack depth in certain areas, such as API security. ASPM focuses mainly on the application layer, meaning that it might overlook some API-specific vulnerabilities.

Furthermore, while ASPM can help detect vulnerabilities in software, the ideal scenario is to prevent those vulnerabilities from being introduced in the first place. Secure development practices — such as input validation, least privilege, and proper error-handling — must still be followed.

Also, despite claims, ASPM doesn't eliminate vulnerabilities entirely. ASPM tools can detect known vulnerabilities, but they may fail to catch new, unknown vulnerabilities (zero days). They also can struggle with complex vulnerabilities that require an understanding of the application's specific business logic. No matter how advanced an ASPM tool is, it cannot guarantee that your application will be completely free of vulnerabilities.

Special Considerations for APIs

APIs, serving as communication conduits between software components, often expose a wide attack surface. They have their own set of vulnerabilities, which ASPM might not effectively address.

API security requires a much more granular approach than ASPM provides. Each API endpoint is a potential entry point for an attacker and needs to be secured individually. API security focuses on protecting these endpoints, controlling who can access them, and ensuring that the data transmitted through them remains secure.

For instance, while ASPM can effectively detect vulnerabilities, like SQL injections or cross-site scripting (XSS), within an application, it might fail to recognize inadequate access controls on an API endpoint.

According to the 2023 Gartner report "Innovation Insight for Application Security Posture Management," ASPM can process data taken from multiple sources and present the results to a security professional, reducing the underlying complexity. But the report warns, "If some data is ignored (intentionally or accidentally) or policies are constructed inappropriately, it may be possible for high-risk vulnerabilities to be 'hidden' or incorrectly deprioritized, resulting in false negatives."

APIs are also more dynamic than traditional software applications. They are frequently updated and changed, often with each deployment. This creates a continuous need for updated security checks, as new vulnerabilities may be introduced with each change.

In short, ASPM is not a complete application security solution. It does not replace the need for secure development practices, threat modeling, or API security. Moreover, while ASPM can provide visibility into the security status of applications, it is not a replacement for in-depth penetration testing — or a substitute for a strong culture of security in your organization.

About the Author(s)

Amod Gupta

Senior Director of Product Management, Traceable AI

Amod Gupta is senior director of product management at Traceable AI, an API security and observability company, where he oversees and helps build the company’s API Catalog solution that provides API discovery and risk assessment by automatically and continuously discovering all APIs, identifying sensitive data flows, and assessing API risk exposure to manage API-related security threats.

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