Empower developer with education for enhanced application security. Invest in knowledge to protect your software. Putting application security in the hands of developers may sound like an obvious strategy. However, introducing basic training that’s required by policies or simply done to meet compliance requirements is not enough.
Providing the right tools, systems and approaches for application security is essential to protecting data against cyber threats. This requires more investment in developer education.
1. Educating Developers
Keeping your application secure starts with developing the right skills in your development team. Investing in developer education is one of the best ways to do that. It also helps your business avoid the costs of having insecure code in production environments that can be exploited by hackers, which can be extremely expensive.
Many developers are not taught how to write secure code or even how to identify insecure code in their own work, leaving them at the mercy of malicious outsiders who may find and exploit flaws they didn’t discover. To prevent this, a good security program must provide a comprehensive education for all developers in the enterprise, from junior to senior. This includes teaching them how to write secure code and giving them the tools they need to do so effectively.
The most effective way to provide this training is by allowing developers to choose what and how they want to learn. For example, some developers prefer to attend face-to-face classes while others like to self-learn using tutorials and videos. Some developers will also need to know how to use specific tools as part of their day-to-day duties, and this is where automated testing can help. It’s important to give developers bite-sized morsels of information and tools to ensure they are engaged and motivated to keep learning.
This is especially true for junior developers, who often feel that they are not yet up to speed on the requirements of secure coding. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy and discouragement and can make them reluctant to seek out the necessary educational resources. Providing them with the proper education and tools early on will ensure that they are confident in their ability to develop secure code and will not be afraid to ask for assistance.
The best approach to educating your development teams is through a shift-left approach to security. This enables you to integrate security into every step of the SDLC, from design and development to scanning and deployment. The human element of this is essential, since humans are the best judges of security. The problem is that there are not enough cybersecurity professionals to go around, and this is why you must include your development teams in the process by offering training and implementing security procedures they can follow. By doing so, you can be sure that your applications are protected against the most common threats, from hackers looking for easy targets to those utilizing advanced technologies.
2. Creating a Culture of Security
The key to building a security culture is to make it something that people don’t just know about, but that they understand and live by. A strong culture will foster a secure operation that is nearly impenetrable, while one that isn’t well-established will facilitate the kind of uncertainty and error-prone behavior that leads to costly breaches.
Unfortunately, many organizations fail to build a true security culture because they don’t recognize the need to change the way they do business. In their pursuit of the efficiencies that come with DevOps, IT and development teams often see security as a drag on productivity. This is especially true when the security process is left to the teams themselves.
When development teams take responsibility for application security, they are prone to think of it as their own thing to worry about, and this can lead them to skip important steps. This is particularly true when these steps are viewed as annoying or time-consuming. Security should never be perceived as a burden, and this can only be achieved by creating a culture that emphasizes the importance of the process.
This is a hard task, and it requires the attention of all departments to some degree. For example, department leaders must be committed to upholding security standards and providing proper training. It’s also necessary to create a system that rewards teams and individuals for supporting the security process. A bonus for a quarter with no incidents, for instance, can inspire teams to continue their efforts and encourage the least security-conscious employees to improve their habits.
Ultimately, the best way to cultivate a security culture is to involve all employees, and it’s important to give them a say in how the security process is run. While the final decision will still be made by executives, letting people have a say can help to prevent them from feeling like their opinions are being ignored and gives them a stake in the outcome.
Ultimately, the best way to create a security culture is with the support of executive leadership that’s interested in promoting it and doing everything possible to ensure that it thrives. Otherwise, the kind of apathy, disengagement and siloes that can be so damaging to security will inevitably erode the security of the organization.
3. Creating a Culture of Testing
As applications become the face of many businesses and as companies rely more on technology than brick and mortar operations to perform key functions such as customer service, it becomes critical that these technologies are secure. A vulnerability exploited by malicious actors can result in financial losses, damage to reputation and loss of trust with customers.
It’s essential that the development process is infused with security measures in order to ensure the integrity of all software used by business partners and employees. Creating a culture that incorporates application security requires all members of the development team to understand their role in the process and take responsibility for ensuring all code is free from vulnerabilities.
This requires implementing a shift left approach to security and integrating it into all parts of the development life cycle, from planning to deployment. The process must include tools that scan and identify security risks, such as dynamic application scanning (DAST).
Using DAST within the development pipeline allows developers to detect vulnerabilities quickly and early. Unlike traditional pentest and code review, DAST can identify issues that are not caught by static analysis tools such as manual examination and source code review. DAST can also be integrated with CI/CD processes to make sure vulnerabilities are detected and fixed in the early stages of development before they are deployed.
In addition to creating a culture that incorporates DAST, it’s important that all developers are aware of the ramifications of not following best practices. This can be accomplished by starting every training session with a question asking why they should care about application security, rather than focusing solely on the “what and how.”
It’s also important to keep the training going on a continuous basis, as attackers are constantly improving their methods of penetrating software. This makes it crucial that training be focused on preventing Black Hat attacks and not just awareness. Keeping the focus on preventing attack methodologies, as well as teaching developers about secure coding practices, will help them stay one step ahead of malicious hackers. This will require a significant commitment by both business leaders and security professionals to create the right culture and use the appropriate tools that can deliver the highest return on investment.
4. Creating a Culture of Deployment
The burden of securing applications falls squarely on developers. While business leaders understand the importance of application security and establishing secure development practices, they often view this as the responsibility of IT professionals or security teams. This leads to a lack of leadership support. Achieving real security requires a culture of security that extends beyond IT and into every part of the organization, including product and project managers, DevOps, UX designers, and quality assurance (QA) professionals.
The best approach to appsec is to build security into the development process organically, rather than as an afterthought or add-on. This means ensuring that all team members have access to the tools and resources necessary for secure coding. It also means integrating automated testing into CI/CD pipelines. This ensures that developers don’t have to choose between speed and security, and that any issues discovered are immediately actionable.
Developers work in a whirlwind of new technology, with frameworks, languages, and tools changing on a regular basis. It’s a tall order to expect them to learn about and incorporate secure coding principles, especially when they have to do so while trying to develop and deploy complex software solutions.
Many organizations struggle to implement the right security policies in the face of tight deadlines and limited budgets. In order to achieve real security, these policies must be supported by a robust security tool portfolio and dedicated security staff. In addition, organizations must invest in tools that make it easy for developers to use and integrate into the development process. This includes dynamic security testing tools that focus on inputs and outputs and help developers understand what their applications are doing when they receive malicious or faulty data.
Ultimately, the key to successful application security is building a culture that reflects the needs and priorities of the organization. Creating this culture will require both senior and junior developers. It will involve security teams working together with developers to provide training and resources – and the reassurance that it’s all a learning process.
Developing and deploying applications without the appropriate level of security is insecure, risky, and potentially costly to the organization. With cyber criminals becoming increasingly sophisticated and determined, it’s time for businesses to rethink their application security strategies and ensure that they remain one, or even several, steps ahead of the bad guys.