Three Things App Security is Not

Lori MacVittie 缩略图
Lori MacVittie
Published June 20, 2017

App security is a lot of things, but sometimes we need to stop and consider what it isn’t, particularly as the volume and frequency of applications developed and deployed to meet the insatiable demand continues to rise.

1. Not a high priority – but it should be

A staggering 44% of respondents to a survey sponsored by Arxan and IBM on the security of IoT and mobile applications admitted they aren’t doing anything to prevent an attack. Lest you dismiss said responses as being related to a small subset of your application portfolio, let’s consider WhiteHat Security’s seminal annual report on web security statistics, which found “about one third of Insurance applications, about 40% of Banking & Financial Services applications, about half of Healthcare and Retail applications, and more than half of Manufacturing, Food & Beverage, and IT applications are always vulnerable.”

“Always vulnerable” in the WhiteHat Security vernacular is defined as “vulnerable on every single day of the year.” 

What’s more, the same report found “the average time-to-fix varies by industry from approximately 100 days to 245 days.” For retail and healthcare, it’s about 200 days. Technology and IT lag further behind at an average of 250 days time-to-fix a vulnerability.

It’s that first laissez-faire approach to security that makes the latter so difficult to swallow. If app security isn’t high on the priority list, it’s a sure bet that a significant percentage of applications (or APIs serving data to applications) are vulnerable.

2. Not just about the app

There’s a misconception that app security is only about the application. If an app were a stand-alone entity, perhaps that would be true. But apps are deployed on platforms, rely on third-party scripts and APIs, and integrate with systems responsible for managing data. That means app security is a stack that requires careful attention to all components, not just the app itself. The OWASP Top Ten is a good place to start for apps, but let’s not ignore that protocol-level (TCP, HTTP, and TLS) vulnerabilities in platforms have been a significant source of heartburn in the past decade.

And let’s not ignore the relationship between volumetric network attacks and more insidious system and app-layer attacks. Dark Reading noted this correlation in a recent article:

Nearly half of the impacted organizations say their DDoS attacks coincided with some form of breach or malicious activity on their networks, including data theft and ransomware. For instance, 47% report discovering virus activity on their network after a DDoS attack, 43% cite malware as being activated, and 32% report customer data theft.

App security requires attention to the entire app architecture, which includes the network, data, and services that scale and secure that app.

3. Not somebody else’s problem 


With 1 in 5 organizations planning to host over 50% of their applications in the cloud according to our 2017 State of Application Delivery survey, securing apps becomes more challenging. Shipping an app off to “the cloud” may redistribute responsibility for a portion of the security burden, notably that of the network and system-level components. But the app and its platforms and the external scripts and resources the app relies on are still your responsibility. Ensuring the same level of security in the cloud as is present on-premises can be challenging, particularly when mixing and matching native cloud services that aren’t compatible at the policy-level with those on-premises.

But it’s a challenge that needs to be met, either by ensuring consistency of the services enforcing those policies across on-premises and in the cloud, or by shifting app security duties to a service-based offering that can offer consistency for both at the same time, or by carefully hand-crafting equivalent policies for cloud-native services.

Whatever route you choose, the responsibility remains yours.

The impact of breaches in terms of brand reputation, consumer trust, and the potential for future exploitation (in the case of stolen credentials) makes app security more important than ever. Leaving it to the last minute or assuming someone else will take care of it is a recipe for disaster. Recognizing its importance and placing a higher priority on testing and remediation while taking advantage of the architectural options afforded by cloud and cloud-supporting services will go a long way toward reducing your risk.

App security is not optional.