Best Practices for Application Security

Cyberattacks today are becoming commonplace, and they make headlines almost every day. In this era of cyberattacks, everyone is affected. From private citizens and small businesses to multinational organizations, everyone’s a target.  Application security risks are very real and present everywhere. Security vulnerabilities are one of the first ways that hackers can perform a cyber-attack to gain access to your data or manipulate your software in a way that is not intended.

Therefore, security is of the utmost importance when choosing or developing a piece of software or configuring the environment that the software resides in. Any small misconfiguration or failing security can potentially be catastrophic. This failure can cost millions in revenue loss and adversely affect an organization’s or a person image.

Organizations today are realizing that security is of paramount importance in software development. Simply applying new security technologies without reducing risk within the application is not enough. The ability to correctly identify which threats and vulnerabilities pose the most significant risk is an ongoing challenge. To ensure the security of your application, follow these best practices and strategies.

Test Early Test Often

Testing code as soon as it is written helps find security weaknesses early in the development process. The same applies to test any code being reused from an earlier project. It also has the added benefit of resolving issues before sections of code become dependent on other functionality throughout the project. Testing often, throughout the development process is a critical step. This methodology helps reduce costs and speeds up release cycles by finding and fixing bugs as the code is written. This way you are not re-writing code later.

According to Gartner, Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) and Static Application Security Testing (SAST) are the most widely adopted security testing.  These tests help developers identify risks and create prioritized remediation plans. DAST is mainly used for web-facing applications and can only test exposed web interfaces when the web program is running. It does not touch any of the C# or SQL behind the scenes. The result of using these testing technologies is maximizing code quality which minimizes the impact of errors on the finished product and project timeline.

Reviewing complete code to identify security problems can be challenging. Even the most trained individuals can easily overlook subtle security mistakes. Security defects can be introduced at the source code level and throughout stages of a project hence test early, often and in collaboration with all other coding aspects.

Identify Users and Credentials

Determining the identity of a user and of the host they are using is at the core of Authentication. Verifying if, the user or system, which is attempting to interact with your system can do so is the first goal of authentication. Typically, the simplest approach to identifying someone is by User ID and Password. This approach is also the most common method because it is entirely software-based.

The second core component of a secure authentication portion of your program is ensuring that password requirements are as stringent as necessary. The temptation to simplify password constraints for development purposes (testing, acceptance, and production) is very real and constant.  For example, it is not recommended to use admin as a password during development or live production as this can easily be hacked.

Instead setup specific rules that meet your organizations defined password policy. This policy can include a defined period before a password needs to be changed, 30 – 90 days, and complexity requirements like length allowed words, numbers and special characters. These are all aspects of how secure a password is. However, if you are writing software, that deals with financial transactions or medical history a very stringent password may make the most sense. Also, an organization can have an added layer of security like Two Factor Authentication and biometrics for additional security.

Create Role-based Access

When designing an application, a developer can specify access to portions of the application as well as the data behind it by defining and implementing user roles. Role-based access control (RBAC) assigns permissions to users, groups, and applications at a specific scope. Organizations that do not enforce data access control by using capabilities such as RBAC might be giving more privileges than necessary to their users. For example, a developer or admin can create a “customer” role that assigns users only permission to view their own orders/products.

Roles should be clearly categorized and easy to distinguish from each other. Having established and assigned the roles, don’t give in to the temptation to create exceptions, to cater for special circumstances. If a business seems to demand too many one-off changes to an individual’s access rights, it’s a better policy to make changes to that role or create an entirely new role, which can then be populated with the relevant users. Always review or audit all the roles on the system and verify that they continue to be relevant.  It is important that the appropriate users are grouped under their most suitable roles.

Secure Access to Your Database

First and foremost, your database server should be protected from database security threats by a firewall, which denies access to traffic. In addition to protecting the database with a firewall, you should also deploy a web application firewall to prevent SQL injection attacks.

Monitoring access and behaviors of database users can help ensure that odd behaviors are not exhibited. This strategy is achieved by setting up server firewall rules to verify that only specific IP addresses or blocks of IP addresses have access to your database. For example, when your bank calls you to confirm a transaction. Your address is in Cleveland, but your card is being used in London. It’s a red flag to bank security and the same thing should be a red flag to your business.

It is standard procedure in many organizations to encrypt stored data, but it’s important to ensure that backup data is also encrypted and stored separately from the decryption keys. It is critical to safeguard confidential data that is encrypted in motion over your network to protect against database security threats.

Implement Object-Oriented Strategies

The most common object-oriented programming languages such as Java, C#, C++, Python, Ruby and Visual Basic can have security vulnerabilities – despite best efforts to prevent them.  Since objects capture both data and behavior – an authorization strategy needs to include the ability to secure both. Ensuring that your organizational security strategy is being followed is a key factor in achieving this. It needs to be verified through testing and inspections both by third-party tools and manually. In addition, always work with the latest updated release.

Some strategy examples are accessed verification, assigning one or more roles, secure access layer or framework, and authentication information. Also, authorization can be implemented with your objects following a variety of strategies including business rules engine, permissions, security framework and more.

Take your First Steps to Security

Immeasurable development hours will be lost without a well-established action plan for implementing best-practice security requirements in your application, database and hardware infrastructure. Working with an experienced company that follows best practices of application security is invaluable. VantageOne Software has been in business for over 20 years, with more than 100+ satisfied customers. Contact us today to collaborate on making your application secure.  No security system is full proof, but we can help reduce your vulnerability.

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