Application Security – Here’s What Developers Should Know

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As a developer, it’s your responsibility to not only provide a smooth customer experience but to also ensure that your users are safe from malicious actors. Application security is the process of developing and testing security features to address vulnerabilities. 

This article will provide developers with all they need to know about implementing proper application security practices.

Writing Secure Code

Most developers are aware of common security advice like:

  • Using “strict mode” to display errors when any unsafe actions are taken;
  • Using appropriate headers only to allow appropriate data, etc.

With that said, developers shouldn’t take all the blame for “writing unsecure code.” There should be proper processes in place to ensure application security. A big part of that is having an app security team of experts that work on developing recommendations for the dev team. 

Ideally, the security team should have skilled coders that can codify best practices and make them available to the dev team. These recommendations should also include examples of consequences should the dev team not follow them.

The Dangers

  • Insufficient logging and monitoring, leaving your data exposed to tampering.
  • Sensitive data exposure unprotected passwords, addresses, account numbers, etc.
  • Cross-site scripting (XSS) – can be used by hackers to execute their scripts in the victim’s system.
  • Broken authentication/user access control – without proper authentication and user restrictions, threat actors can breach unauthorized accounts.

Application Security Best Practices

Use Tools and Libraries To Scan Code

There are several tools you can integrate into your workflow to scan code. These tools can help you identify weaknesses and loopholes in your code or other lapses in logic. With that, they can be a great indicator of security vulnerabilities. 

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The best thing about these tools is that you can implement them in the development cycle, allowing you to fix problems immediately. You can also write tests for your code, which can help you identify unwanted behavior. 

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An essential aspect of using tools, libraries, and other security methods is diversifying them. Don’t try to use a single tool for more functions than it was intended for. For example, vulnerability scanning shouldn’t stop you from also doing penetration tests.

Here are some tools to start out with:

  • Web application firewall (WAF)
  • Software Composition Analysis (SCA) solutions 
  • Vulnerability scanners and others are all useful, and you should use them in conjunction to maximize security.

Validate User Data Before Executing It

Sending data from the front end to the back end is fairly common, particularly when developing APIs (Application Programming Interfaces). Always make sure that the data you receive on your side is sent by the user and not a threat actor.

You can confirm the data by checking its length, file type, date, format, and many other metrics.

With some frameworks, you can also use serializers, which will automatically handle data errors.

Furthermore, all data associated with the application has to be encrypted. Storing your data on a secure cloud service is an excellent way to avoid data loss or tampering.

Everyone Should Take Part in Security Practices

Businesses are slowly turning away from the idea that security is only a concern for a specialized team within the company. Instead, many are now realizing that everyone needs to be involved in making a secure product. It starts from leaders to developers to marketers and all other departments.

There are many reasons for this. First, a single line of defense (a security team) will only slow down app development. If everyone participates in applying security practices, security becomes proactive. A proactive approach allows for quicker identification and mitigation of vulnerabilities.

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A popular approach to handle security in the app development process is SecDevOps. This approach starts with the security team providing quality training on best secure development practices. Proper training will allow the dev team to scan for issues in real-time, allowing the project to continue smoothly.

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Performing Consistent Tests and Checks

The last part of achieving application security is constantly checking and testing the code. One of the easiest ways to check your code is through security exercises. These exercises will simulate common attacks to test how the code will handle them. 

A popular exercise is called red team – blue team, where one set of security experts will attack the application while the other one (the blue team) will try to defend it. Another effective method is a penetration test. One way to entice security professionals to perform these tests on your system without hiring them is by setting up a bounty program.

Final Thoughts

Application security is a top priority for many customers. Businesses are slowly adapting to put in place proper security practices to enable secure app development. 

The dev team should rely on a security team to provide proper training and resources to implement security features. Security tools are another way to identify vulnerabilities. Finally, performing regular tests such as red team – blue team exercises is a great way to assess the security level.

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