Application Security: A Broader Perspective by Hardik Shah


Modern application come with many challenges, and security is indeed critical and often under-emphasized. Apps are the most favorable medium for cybercriminals who seek to steal the data, or breach user’s security defenses. As per research from cybersecurity, there were over 3,800 publicly disclosed data breaches, exposing 4.1 billion compromised records. There’s a vast amount of data stored in applications. With a considerable number of transactions taking place on applications, comprehensive app security is a must.

In this blog post, you will learn:

  • What is application security?
  • What is the importance of application security?
  • Classes of threats
  • Application Security Checklist
  • Security Testing Approaches
  • Application Security Tools

What is application security?

Application security, or “AppSec,” is the process of making apps more secure by finding, fixing, and enhancing the security of applications. In application security, the process of checking the security of confidential data from being exposed to unauthorized individuals is also involved. The purpose of this security is to ensure any user is not misusing the functionality of the application. App security also provides that no user holds the authority to deny the functionality of the app to other users.

What is the importance of application security?

In this modern digital world, going online can expose everyone to several harmful cyber threats. Whether it is about inputting credit card data or confirming our identity, there is always a risk. In a similar manner, the apps developed without considering security can expose users to vulnerabilities that can cause different levels of damage. To get rid of data breaching and secure users’ data in terms of credit/debit cards, bank details, application security is vitally important.  

When it comes to threats, the application layer attacks are a frequent pattern. As this threat intensifies, the security regulations organizations have to understand and comply with. Hence, in the new software-driven landscape, application security has become crucial.

Classes of Threats 

Make sure to take account for the following common classes of threats while designing security into apps:

SQL Injection

SQL Injection (SQLI) is the most common layer for the attack. It uses malicious SQL code for backend manipulation to access information that was not intended to be displayed. This information includes any sensitive data, including the company’s sensitive data, user lists, or private customer details. SQL Injection is a type of attack that takes the benefits of loopholes present in the implementation of apps since it allows a hacker to hack the system. 

If you want to check SQL injection, you need to take care of input fields like text boxes, comments, etc. On the other hand, to prevent injections, special characters should be either adequately handled or skipped from the input. 

Unauthorized Data Access

Unauthorized access refers to individuals accessing the data, networks, endpoints, apps, or devices without receiving permission. This is one of the major widespread threats, which is all about gaining unauthorized access to data within the app. The data can be accessed on servers or a network. This threat includes unauthorized access to - 

  • Data through data-fetching operations
  • Data by monitoring the access of others
  • Reusable client authentication information by monitoring the access of others

Privilege Elevation

It is a category of threat where hackers have accounts on a system and use it for increasing their system privileges to a higher level than they were meant to have. If it is successful, this type of attack results in a hacker gaining opportunities as high as root on a UNIX system. Once a hacker gains privileges, he/she can run code with this level of privilege, and the whole system is effectively compromised. 

URL Manipulation

It is the process of manipulating the website URL query strings and capturing critical information by hackers. It generally happens when the app uses the HTTP GET method to pass information/data between the client and the server. The information or data is passed in parameters in the form of a query string. The tester modifies a parameter value in the query string to check if the server accepts it. 

Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)

XSS is a type of computer security vulnerability, which is commonly found in web applications. It lets attackers inject client-side script into web apps, which is viewed by other users.

This is a trick of making users into clicking into the URL. Once the user’s browser executes it, the code performs actions, such as changing the behavior of the website, stealing personal information, and performing actions on behalf of the user. 

Data Manipulation

In a data manipulation threat, a hacker can make changes to the data used by a website for gaining some advantages. Moreover, hackers will gain access to HTML pages and can change them to be offensive. 

Denial of Service (DoS)

DoS threat is an explicit attempt to make network or machine resources unavailable to its authorized users. Apps can be attacked in ways that render the app. Eventually, the entire machine can be unusable. 

Application Security Checklist

To secure an app against numerous cyber threats means facing a veritable jungle of products, solutions, and services. Stick with the following app security checklist for securing and protecting your data in the current threat environment, 

  1. Eliminate vulnerabilities before apps go into production.

It’s pivotal to address application security once the development is completed. On top of that, it is all-important to build security into your development teams, processes, and tools (technology).

  1. Embrace security tools, which integrate into developers’ environments.

This can be done with an IDE plugin that allows developers to see the results of security tests directly in the IDE as they work on their code.

  1. Don’t forget to address security in architecture, design, and open-source third-party components

If you’re checking for bugs or running penetration tests against your system, you are likely to miss a substantial number of vulnerabilities in the software. 

  1. Make an “AppSec toolbelt”, which brings together the solutions, which needed to recognize the efforts

An effective AppSec toolbelt must include integrated solutions that address app security risks end-to-end. It also provides an analysis of vulnerabilities in proprietary code, open-source components, and runtime configuration and behavior. 

  1. Analyze App security risk profile, so that you can focus on efforts

It’s pivotal to know what is essential in terms of requiring a team of experienced security experts to analyze an app portfolio quickly and identify the specific risk profile for each app and its environment. 

  1. Make sure the team has appropriate resources and skills

It is essential to provide high-quality training solutions to raise the level of application security skills in their firms. 

  1. Develop a program to raise awareness of AppSec competency in your firm

Don’t forget to mention focusing on the actions that will create value and a positive impact on your software security program at the minimal cost. 

  1. Augment internal staff to address skills and resource gaps

It would be better to find a partner that can provide on-demand expert testing, optimize resource allocation at an affordable cost. And it also ensures complete testing coverage of your portfolio. 

  1. Develop a structured plan to coordinate security initiative improvements with cloud migration.

Once you completely understand the risks, you can easily create a roadmap for cloud migration to ensure all teams are aligned and priorities must be cleared. 

Security Testing Approaches

  • Security Architecture Study: The very first step is to acknowledge the business’s requirements, goals, objectives in terms of security compliance of the firm. The testing planning should include all security factors.
  • Security Architecture Analysis: It includes understanding and analyzing the requirements of the app under test.
  • Security Testing Classification: This approach collects all system setup information used for the development of software & networks like operating systems, hardware, and technology. It includes the listing of vulnerabilities and security risks. 
  • Threat Modeling: It is based on the above step, and prepares a Threat profile. It works to identify, communicate, and understand threats. Also, it can be applied to a wide variety of things, including software, application systems, networks, business processes, etc. Threat modeling can be done at any stage of development, especially early - so that findings can inform the design. 
  • Test Planning: This approach is based on identified threats, vulnerabilities, security, and risks. It is all about preparing a test plan to address these issues. 
  • Traceability Matrix Preparation: This approach is prepared for each identified threat, vulnerabilities, and security risks. 
  • Security Testing Tool Identification: Every type of security testing can’t be executed manually. That’s why it’s important to identify the tool to perform all security test cases faster and reliably.
  • Test Case Preparation: This approach is all about preparing the security tests case document. The test case is a set of actions executed to verify a specific feature or functionality of a software app. It contains test steps, test data, precondition, and postcondition developed for particular test scenarios to verify the requirements.
  • Test Case Execution: It is the most important and happening phase in the entire development lifecycle. This is because every team member’s contribution and work gets validated in this phase.

It performs the security test case execution and retests the defect fixes. It is the process of executing the code and comparing the expected and actual results. This approach is also about executing the Regression Test cases. Regression testing is partial or a full selection of already executed test cases, which are re-executed to ensure existing functionalities work seamlessly.

  • Reports: It includes the preparation of a detailed report of Security Testing that contains Vulnerabilities and Threats contained, detailing risks, and issues that are still opened. 

Application Security Tools

Security mechanisms can be included right from the initial stages of development. Businesses have been gradually moving towards incorporating security practices in the process development to achieve the highest level of security. Application security testing is mainly divided into two:

  • Static Analysis or SAST (Static Application Security Testing)
  • Dynamic Analysis or DAST (Dynamic Application Security Testing)

Static Analysis

It is also known as Static application security testing (SAST), a testing technique, which looks at the app from inside out. This type of testing is performed without executing the program, but instead of examining the source code, byte code, or application binaries for signs of security vulnerabilities. Also known as white box testing, SAST scans an app before the code is compiled. 

SAST takes performance in the initial stage in the software development lifecycle (SDLC) as it requires a working application. The best thing about SAST is that it quickly resolves issues without breaking builds. SAST tools provide developers real-time feedback while coding, helping them fix issues from considered an afterthought. 

SAST tools also provide graphical representations of the issues found and help to navigate the code easier. Tools also provide in-depth guidance on how to fix issues and the best place in the code to fix them without requiring in-depth security domain knowledge. 

  • It helps to find the exact location of vulnerability.
  • It scales more easily.
  • It integrates easily into the development process.
  • It finds vulnerabilities earlier in SDLC. 

Dynamic Analysis

It is a form of black-box testing; Dynamic Analysis is also known as Dynamic application security testing (DAST). Using DAST examines an app when it is running and tries to hack it just like an attacker would. It simulates attacks against a web app and analyzes the app’s reactions and determining whether it is vulnerable or not. 

SCA (Software Composition Analysis)

When it comes to delivering code quickly, the developers must have extreme pressure. That’s why the usage of open source components has increased. Thanks to Heartbleed and Struts-Shock vulnerabilities, several organizations are looking for a way to manage and track their component use.  

SCA technologies help to keep track of which apps are using each component and what version are being used. With such data, corporations can more easily update components to the latest version when new vulnerabilities are discovered. 

Penetration Testing 

Penetration testing, also known as a pen test, is a simulated cyberattack against computer systems to check for exploitable vulnerabilities. 

In this testing, a security consultant or pen tester manually checks an app for security vulnerabilities. Plus, there is no visibility into the internal workings of the app. It is commonly used to augment Web Application Firewall (WAF) in the context of web application security. The good thing about penetration testing is it has a shallow rate of false-positive rate and comprehensive method of security testing. 

RASP (Runtime Application Self Protection)

RASP is a technology that runs on a server and kicks in when an app runs. It is specifically designed to detect errors on apps in real-time. When an app starts to run, RASP protects it from malicious input or behavior by analyzing both the app’s behavior and the context of that behavior. 


Since the demand for application is increasing, the need for application security has been growing in organizations for the last few years. Therefore, an application security program has become a necessity for various organizations. People, process, and technology, it’s all-essential to be addressed to ensure effective application security. 

Want to share any suggestions or feedback, please use the comment box. 

About the Author:

Hardik Shah works as a Tech Consultant at Simform, provides application development services. He leads large scale mobility programs that cover platforms, solutions, governance, standardization, and best practices. Connect with him to discuss the best practices of software methodologies @hsshah_





June 2, 2020


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Hakin9 is a monthly magazine dedicated to hacking and cybersecurity. In every edition, we try to focus on different approaches to show various techniques - defensive and offensive. This knowledge will help you understand how most popular attacks are performed and how to protect your data from them. Our tutorials, case studies and online courses will prepare you for the upcoming, potential threats in the cyber security world. We collaborate with many individuals and universities and public institutions, but also with companies such as Xento Systems, CATO Networks, EY, CIPHER Intelligence LAB, redBorder, TSG, and others.
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