Threats vs. Thrift: Running Effective AppSec During a Global Crisis

By looking at security testing capacity, staff expertise, and risks throughout the software supply chain, application security teams can improve their overall effectiveness.

Patrick Carey, Vice President Product Management, Exoprise

August 12, 2020

3 Min Read

As organizations around the globe face the prospect of months of staffing and business continuity challenges, cyberattacks by opportunistic hackers and cyber crime groups are on the rise. But even as resources are decreasing for many, application security teams must ensure that the software they're building and operating remains secure against malicious actors—a daunting challenge, indeed.

By tactically tending to security testing capacity, staff expertise, and risks throughout the software supply chain, application security teams can respond to these challenges while also fundamentally improving the effectiveness of their program over the long term. 

The first way in which to go about this is to bolster application security teams with on-demand resources. As you likely well know, finding skilled security professionals is an onerous task even in the best of times. But as office closures and travel restrictions have emerged with the onset of the pandemic, it's becoming even more challenging to staff projects and progress business operations. Managed application security testing services can help to maintain business continuity by providing elastic capacity, with access to remote teams of application security testing experts when you need them. 

Augmenting existing application security teams is an immediate consideration as attacks are on the rise, but so too is investing in them. For instance, developers, as your first line of defense against cyberattacks, often have very little to no formal training with regard to secure software development. Forrester found that not a single one of the top 40 university computer science programs in the US requires any secure coding or secure application design courses. 

Knowing this, if an organization hopes to enable their development teams with secure coding skills, the responsibility falls to security and development teams themselves. But the question then becomes how to train them when you can't bring them together for a training session. While in-person training is often preferable for many organizations, don't write off e-learning and virtual in-person training resources, which are clearly the predominant training mechanisms presently. 

E-learning allows team members to consume a wide range of application security courseware on demand and at their own pace. Virtual in-person training solutions, on the other hand, bring your team together for specific training material presented, you guessed it — virtually.

And while supplementing testing capacity and enhancing your team's security skills certainly help to manage staffing challenges, what about dealing with the vulnerabilities present within the applications themselves? To prepare for a potential increase in cyberattacks, perimeter defense mechanisms such as web application firewalls (WAFs) can most definitely be part of the solution. But for organizations delivering services online, the web and mobile applications they build are the perimeter. Many such applications are also built on a foundation of open source, which can constitute as much as 90% of the code. 

As we've witnessed with vulnerabilities such as Heartbleed, in addition to the Equifax breach in 2017, hackers target open source vulnerabilities regularly. And at the end of the day, if you don't know what open source components are in your code, you're very likely leaving sensitive data and systems open to attack.

While we may not know how long the global crisis we're all experiencing will last, or what the new normal work environment will look like when offices reopen and staff return, application security teams can still work to reinforce their security stance today. These teams can learn from the remote work environment, focus their efforts and make key changes to maintain application security during these adverse conditions. By using these tactics, they can improve their ability to build secure, high-quality software well into the future.

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About the Author(s)

Patrick Carey

Vice President Product Management, Exoprise

Patrick has more than 20 years of experience leading organizations through challenging product strategy, marketing, and development initiatives. His background includes leadership roles in multiple disciplines, spanning high-level organizational and market strategy to technology architecture and design. Prior to joining Exoprise, Patrick served as Director of Product Management for desktop and application virtualization at Citrix. Patrick's early career started at Andersen Consulting (now Accenture) where he was part of the team that helped AT&T launch its Wireless Services division. Patrick holds a BS in Computer Science from Iowa State University.

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