What does it mean to build a holistic AppSec program? Learn what’s involved in a holistic approach and how to get started.
Digital technology is the centerpiece of modern life today. All around us, technology is transforming business operations from end-to-end, from digital-first businesses to those simply updating existing processes. According to Gartner, 65% of executives report that they accelerated the pace of their digital business initiatives in 2021. And this digital agility—technologies, work processes, and activities—all depend on software to run. That makes it critical to be able to trust that the software is safe and secure, and that it can manage risks.
Every modern business is a software business, so software is a big business risk. And as organizations look for ways to decrease their vulnerability to security breaches, many are putting the burden on the shoulders of software development teams to resolve all security issues. Or they are simply buying security software and trusting it to address risk. But in fact, a holistic approach to application security (AppSec) is the better approach to securing the organization and its software.
What does it means to build a holistic AppSec program? Industry sectors and markets are all different, each with unique requirements. But they share the need to develop safe and secure software, obey security standards, and react to threats to keep their business and customers safe.
A holistic approach involves
More complexity, shorter development cycles, and the interconnectedness and always-on nature of software give hackers a continuously available tech surface to try to exploit. Securing that software takes more than just tools—it requires prioritizing security and managing it proactively. That means aligning people, processes, and technology to address security risks based on an organization’s unique policies and business objectives.
We often focus on the technology and tools, and forget the processes when in fact the tools exist to complement the processes. If you focus only on one point of the software development life cycle (SDLC), your security profile is incomplete. It’s necessary to consider the whole life cycle. Place security at each and every step of the development process, including coding, building, testing, release, deployment, monitoring, etc.
Organizations using software live in a constant threat state. For open source software, it can be days, months, or years between the time a vulnerability is introduced and when it is discovered. But once that breach is known, it’s vulnerable, because hackers are always searching and are ready to strike. For proprietary software, you usually only learn about a vulnerability when that vulnerability is exploited.
Traditional methods of security slow down DevOps velocity, and large AppSec testing tools can congest the build, test, and release pipelines. More security tools means more testing, which means more findings that must be correlated, deduplicated, and prioritized to ensure that developers aren’t overwhelmed with data and unable to focus on the security issues that matter most.
A true AppSec culture is one in which people, processes, and technologies are aligned to minimize risk and transform the business. It is a culture shared by the whole organization, not just in the IT or development teams. A comprehensive AppSec culture includes security champions, metrics, planning, a DevSecOps maturity framework, integrated DevSecOps, and training.
Security champions are security-minded employees on the IT or development team, or those who have expertise in security and want take ownership of the application security process by helping enforce that process throughout the SDLC. Champions also educate development teams on security best practices and keep informed of current vulnerabilities and threats for software your organization uses, and internally track vulnerabilities and issues across teams.
If you don’t know where you’re at right now, you won’t know what you need to develop or invest in for the future. A key step is developing a measuring stick to understand how existing processes are working and where they can benefit from improvement or additional resources or budget.
It’s important to build an actionable security plan based on your organization’s policies. A security plan is a living document—It will evolve and mature as you use it, as you discover more about the people, processes, and technologies involved, and as you discover deficits. Any plan is good as long as it works, and then you can create a new one.
To create, or update, a security plan, an organization must
Key to a robust, holistic AppSec program is establishing a DevSecOps maturity framework. That means defining governance and processes, creating a secure design and architecture, and having all processes function within this framework. Then you can identify what tools are deployed in every step of DevSecOps and compare it to the plan.
Integrate AppSec naturally in the organization and at every phase of software development.
Training employees so they know how to handle DevSecOps tools is vital. Using a tool incorrectly is as bad as not having a tool at all.
It is not possible for a security program to be successful without the right tools. Test at the right time and the right level so you can build truly secure software. Tools can show deficits in security and inform about how to handle them efficiently. But tools alone are not enough. An integrated solution centralizes the view and integrates feedback from an organization’s security tools, enabling the development team to prioritize tickets, track remediation, and provide actionable insights.
Many organizations struggle to adapt their AppSec to keep pace with development cycles. It’s a constant challenge to get the right mix of tools, people, and processes. The Building Security in Maturity Model (BSIMM) was designed to provide a roadmap to a mature AppSec program. To learn more, download “BSIMM12 Digest: The CISO’s Guide to Next-Gen AppSec” today.
Boris Cipot is a senior sales engineer at Synopsys. He helps companies of all shapes and sizes to create secure software. Boris joined Synopsys when Black Duck Software was acquired in 2017. He specializes in open source software security, robotics, and artificial intelligence. He has also worked in the cyber security field since 2003 in anti-malware software at F-Secure and Avira.