What You Need to Know About Application Security Standards

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Security experts, non-profit groups, and government organizations have developed multiple sets of application security standards over the years. These standards are designed to both protect app developers and app users from attackers who pose constant cybersecurity threats.

Review this primer on the most essential application security standards, plus what you can do as a software developer to stay compliant with them.

The Key Application Security Standards

By addressing the security vulnerabilities these standards cover, you and your development team can take a more proactive, comprehensive approach to protecting your digital assets. This in turn allows you to have a safer application, organization, and customer base.

Here are the most essential application security verification standards cybersecurity experts recommend following.

OWASP Top Ten

An awareness document for developers and app security professionals, this series of web and mobile app security standards captures what leading experts consider to be the most critical security risks for web apps.

The types of security risks mentioned in the OWASP Top Ten are subject to change every few years as the project updates the list. This allows web security teams to keep with OWASP application security verification standards, as well as industry best practices.

While the list changes every few years depending on changing threats, some common entries for the greatest security risks include:

  • Broken access control: In 2021, OWASP identified this as one of the most common issues across every application that was tested.
  • Injection: This common security risk also includes cross-site scripting and SQL injection attacks that leave databases vulnerable.
  • Vulnerable or outdated components: Since so many apps depend on open-source components to run properly, this remains a problem developers need to address to keep their work secure and compliant with regulations.
  • Security misconfigurations: Hackers take advantage of untouched default settings in apps often enough for OWASP to identify security misconfigurations as a perennial problem.
  • Insecure design: While this is a relatively new threat OWASP has identified since past iterations of the Top Ten, it highlights how much design flaw-related risks have become a security threat. OWASP also recommends using secure design patterns as the baseline for addressing these issues.

NIST SP 800-53

Regularly maintained by the government-funded National Institute of Standards and Technology, the NIST SP 800-53 is a regulation unto itself. This essential document outlines a set of security and privacy standards for applications and systems handling federal or otherwise sensitive information.

The NIST SP 800-53 covers multiple families of security controls, including:

  • Access control (AC)
  • Awareness and training (AT)
  • Configuration management (CM)
  • Incident response (IR)
  • System and communications protection (SC)
  • System and information integrity (SI)

This set of standards is updated with patch releases on a semi-regular basis to address emerging threats. It has also become one of the most widely used frameworks for application security worldwide. 

ISO/IEC 27001

The ISO/IEC 27001 is one of the most recognized standards development teams use for information security management systems (ISMS). It’s designed to help developers and IT departments of any size in any industry maintain and improve their ISMS.

Being compliant with the ISO/IEC 27001 standard allows organizations to more efficiently manage risks and take a holistic approach to security that vets people, policies, and technology, rather than just one aspect of the systems they run.

PCI DSS

The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) is a series of essential security standards for applications that handle credit and debit card information. Its standards help keep credit card information safe to prevent identity theft. In turn, the PCI DSS helps protect companies from liability due to customer data being compromised or stolen.

At a glance, the PCI DSS’s requirements include:

  • Maintaining network and system security
  • Protecting stored cardholder information
  • Implementing management programs for preventing malware and viruses
  • Monitoring and testing network resources regularly
  • Maintaining internal information security policies for all employees

CIS Controls

The CIS Critical Security Controls (CIS Controls) are a simplified set of best practices from the Center for Internet Security. These practices are designed to help applications strengthen their cybersecurity posture and reduce their attackable surface area.

There are 18 different CIS Controls that are updated periodically to address new threats. CIS Controls cover every standard from inventory and control of enterprise assets to audit log management and malware defenses.

How to Implement Application Security Standards

There are multiple steps your team can take to maintain a solid level of security and implement security measures—from early in the development process to after your latest update rolls out.

These are some of the steps your team can take to be compliant with the most essential application security standards.

Create Regular Training and Awareness Programs

Since everyone in your organization probably interacts with your applications and data system at some point—even if they’re just checking email—it’s essential to have regular training exercises in place.

Have your employees regularly take assessments and learn about the latest security threats. After all, the beginning of an injection attack that costs your company millions of dollars could be just one click of a suspicious link away.

Conduct Continuous Monitoring and Assessment

Your IT and security teams should constantly be monitoring and updating your systems with the latest patches and updates. Test your code regularly for security vulnerabilities, including on different browsers and device types to ensure your app is functioning as intended and has as few entry points as possible for attacks.

Use Automated Security Tools

Your cybersecurity team can’t be everywhere at once, even if you have a department with 100 or more people constantly monitoring your application. Using automated code review tools and other automated security and testing programs makes it easier for your team to detect potential vulnerabilities and prioritize them by criticality.

Certain automated security tools like Dotfuscator, JSDefender, and DashO can help you obfuscate your code easily and protect your assets and brand.

Obtain Third-Party Audits and Certifications

Third-party audits from an external cybersecurity company can help you more easily verify that your application and organization’s security standards are on par with regulations.

In most cases, this involves a third-party app and cybersecurity firm providing a deep, thorough assessment of your organization’s code, processes, and documentation to uncover potential security risks. In turn, you can more easily prioritize which concerns to address and create patches for first. This allows you to harden your application and organization as a whole, rather than having to take a reactive approach to security.

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