How secure are your Web applications? Unless you conduct application vulnerability testing throughout the lifespan of your applications, there’s no way for you to know about your web application security. Unfortunately, that’s not good news for your security or regulatory compliance efforts.
Companies make significant investments in developing high-performance Web applications so customers can do business whenever and wherever they choose. Unfortunately, while convenient, this 24-7 access also invites criminal hackers who seek a potential windfall by exploiting those very same highly available corporate applications.
The only way to succeed against Web application attacks is to build secure and sustainable applications from the start. Yet, many businesses find they have more Web applications and vulnerabilities than security professionals to test and remedy them – especially when application vulnerability testing doesn’t occur until after an application has been sent to production. This leads to applications being very susceptible to attack and increasing the unacceptable risk of failing regulatory audits. In fact, many forget that compliance mandates like Sarbanes-Oxley, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, Gramm-Leach-Bliley, and European Union privacy regulations all require demonstrable, verifiable security, especially where most of today’s risk exists – at the Web application level.
To mitigate these risks, companies use firewalls and intrusion detection/prevention technologies to try to protect both their networks and applications. But these web application security measures are not enough. Web applications introduce vulnerabilities, which firewalls can’t block by allowing access to an organization’s systems and information. Perhaps that’s why experts estimate that a majority of security breaches today are targeted at Web applications.
One way to achieve sustainable web application security is to incorporate application vulnerability testing into each phase of an application’s lifecycle – from development to quality assurance to deployment – and continually during operation. Since all Web applications need to meet functional and performance standards to be of business value, it makes good sense to incorporate web application security and application vulnerability testing as part of the existing function and performance testing. And unless you do this – test for security at every phase of each application’s lifecycle – your data probably is more vulnerable than you realize.
Neglecting Application Vulnerability Testing: Risks and Costs of Poor Security
Consider supermarket chain Hannaford Bros., which reportedly now is spending billions to bolster its IT and web application security – after attackers managed to steal up to 4.2 million credit and debit card numbers from its network. Or, the three hackers recently indicted for stealing thousands of credit card numbers by inserting packet sniffers on the corporate network of a major restaurant chain.
The potential costs of these and related Web application attacks add up quickly. When you consider the expense of the forensic analysis of compromised systems, increased call center activity from upset customers, legal fees and regulatory fines, data breach disclosure notices sent to affected customers, as well as other business and customer losses, it’s no surprise that news reports often detail incidents costing anywhere from $20 million to $4.5 billion. The research firm Forrester estimates that the cost of a security breach ranges from about $90 to $305 per compromised record.
Other costs that result from shoddy web application security include the inability to conduct business during denial-of-service attacks, crashed applications, reduced performance, and the potential loss of intellectual property to competitors.
What’s so surprising, aside from all of the security and regulatory risks we’ve described, is that it’s actually more cost-effective to use application vulnerability testing to find and fix security-related software defects during development. Most experts agree that while it costs a few hundred dollars to catch such flaws during the requirements phase, it could cost well over $12,000 to fix that same flaw after the application has been sent to production.
There’s only one way to ensure that your applications are secure, compliant, and can be managed cost-effectively, and that’s to adopt a lifecycle approach to web application security.
The Web Application Security Lifecycle
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Web applications need to start secure to stay secure. In other words, they should be built using secure coding practices, go through a series of QA and application vulnerability testing, and be monitored continually in production. This is known as the web application security lifecycle.
Remedying security problems during the development process via application vulnerability testing isn’t something that can be achieved immediately. It takes time to integrate security into the various stages of software development. But any organization that has undertaken other initiatives, such as implementing the Capability Maturity Model (CMM) or even undergoing a Six Sigma program, knows that the effort is worth it because systematized application vulnerability testing processes provide better results, more efficiency, and cost savings over time.
Fortunately, application assessment and security tools are available today to help you get there without slowing project schedules. But, to strengthen development throughout the application life cycle, it’s essential to pick application vulnerability testing tools that aid developers, testers, security professionals, and application owners and that these toolsets integrate tightly with popular IDEs Eclipse and Microsoft’s Visual Studio.NET for developers.