7 Application Security Best Practices

June 16, 2023

The nature of today’s digital landscape has made applications a primary target for cybercriminals and malicious attackers. Because of this, application security should be a high priority for organizations. The concept involves the implementation of measures to safeguard applications from various threats and vulnerabilities that could compromise their integrity, confidentiality, or availability.

In this post, we will cover seven best practices that can ensure the resilience of your applications against ever-evolving threats. The aim is to help your organization minimize risks and reduce potential damage, enhancing your overall security posture.

What are best practices to keep applications secure?

  1. Secure your software development life cycle
  2. Adopt the Principle of Least Privilege
  3. Secure data storage and transmission
  4. Leverage monitoring and observability
  5. Perform regular security testing and auditing
  6. Establish an incident response plan
  7. Implement security awareness training

Expert Tip

Stay on top of the most common types of cyberattacks to know how different adversaries choose different attack vectors and take a proactive approach in your cybersecurity. Types of cyberattacks

Best practice #1: Secure your software development life cycle

A software development life cycle (SDLC) involves multiple stages, including design, implementation, testing, deployment, and maintenance. Securing an SDLC involves integrating security measures at every stage of this development process, which should significantly reduce the likelihood of successful attacks occuring after the application has been deployed. In addition, vulnerabilities that are detected and mitigated earlier in an SDLC are easier and less costly to fix.

As an organization, you can conduct regular security reviews and automated security testing to proactively identify and address vulnerabilities. You can take a DevSecOps approach by incorporating security measures such as:

Benefits and challenges

By securing your SDLC, you can reduce security risks and improve software quality. In addition, preventing security breaches and minimizing the need for extensive post-deployment remediation will result in cost savings.

Some organizations, however, find it challenging to ensure consistent implementation of security measures across all teams and projects. The key is to strike the right balance between maintaining a strong security posture and acceptable development velocity.

Best practice #2: Adopt the Principle of Least Privilege

The Principle of Least Privilege (PoLP) is a security concept dictating that users, applications, and services should be granted the minimum required permissions to perform their tasks. By modeling access controls after the PoLP, your organization can limit the potential impact of compromised accounts and reduce the risk of unauthorized data access.

To adopt the PoLP, make a preliminary assessment of the tasks that users, applications, and services need to perform. Next, analyze and assign those entities the minimum necessary permissions for them to perform those tasks. Conduct regular reviews of permissions to prevent unintentional sprawl of access rights and to rein in permissions that are no longer needed (due to changes in task, scope, or personnel).

Benefits and challenges

By allowing the PoLP to guide your security posture, your organization can reduce its attack surface, make it easier to detect suspicious activity, and minimize the potential damage caused by security incidents.

The biggest challenge when adopting the PoLP comes in completing the preliminary assessment and analysis of tasks and necessary permissions. Note that the assessment and change that comes with the PoLP may be laborious, especially if your organization is already deeply entrenched in a culture and mode of operation that uses wide permissions for convenience. Additionally, once in place, you’ll need resources — both in terms of time and people — for the ongoing review and maintenance of permissions.

Best practice #3: Secure data storage and transmission

To protect your applications and systems from data breaches, you must ensure that the way you store and transmit data is secure. Protecting sensitive data from unauthorized access is also essential for regulatory requirements.

Secure data storage and transmission involves implementing encryption for data at rest and in transit. Use strong encryption algorithms and proper key management. One of many ways to protect your data is by using tokenization. This technique replaces sensitive data with tokens with the goal of making the information hard to decipher by attackers.

Benefits and challenges

Protecting your data during storage and transit brings clear benefits to security and privacy. In doing so, your organization can protect its sensitive data from the risk of unauthorized access or tampering. In addition, safeguarding sensitive data helps you comply with key data protection regulations such as GDPR and HIPAA.

It isn’t enough to adopt encryption technologies, however. These need to be used appropriately to ensure the effective implementation of data storage and transmission security. Encryption keys can also be challenging to maintain. You must properly train your personnel, as well as establish processes for secure key management.

Learn More

Read our post to learn about a plethora of frameworks put in place to ensure organizations handle sensitive data in a manner that is compliant with government and industry regulations and standards. Data compliance and standards frameworks

Best practice #4: Leverage monitoring and observability

To maintain a secure environment, gaining visibility into application behavior and detecting anomalies is essential. To achieve this, your organization should implement comprehensive logging and monitoring strategies that utilize observability tools.

Start by aggregating logs across all components of your application, including infrastructure, to a centralized log management system. This helps bring unity to disparate logs, enabling easier correlation of information. In addition, applications should be instrumented to capture important metrics that can be used to tune performance and identify suspicious behavior.

Automated systems should be put in place to continuously monitor application logs and metrics, with alerting mechanisms that notify response teams whenever an incident is detected.

Benefits and challenges

Monitoring and observability can provide valuable insights into potential security incidents. When coupled with alerts, this information facilitates early incident detection, more effective root cause identification, and rapid response.

When implementing this best practice, the trick is to find the appropriate level of monitoring granularity, especially when managing large volumes of log and metric data. Teams need to have a clear understanding of what kind of observability data to capture in order to generate meaningful information, all while reducing unnecessary noise.

Best practice #5: Perform regular security testing and auditing

Regular security testing helps organizations maintain a robust security posture, allowing you to proactively work to identify and address vulnerabilities. Vigilance in testing and auditing ensures that an application remains resistant to evolving threats and attack vectors.

These measures include penetration testing, automated security scanning, and code reviews. By adopting these practices, you can uncover security vulnerabilities, find areas for improvement, and stay ahead of potential threats.

Benefits and challenges

There are numerous benefits that come from regular security testing and auditing, but the top two are early detection of vulnerabilities and the continuous hardening of your applications against attack. This proactive approach to security can prevent security incidents that could result in heavy financial costs, damage to your business reputation, and loss of customer trust.

Allocating sufficient resources is the main challenge in regular testing. Keeping up with evolving threats and attack vectors requires time and resources, and many organizations often do not appreciate the severity of threats until it’s too late.

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Best practice #6: Establish an incident response plan

Many organizations only have a fuzzy idea of what they might do in response to a security incident. But when an incident actually occurs, they can only respond effectively if they have a comprehensive plan already in place.

An incident response (IR) plan ensures your organization is well-equipped to respond to security incidents quickly and effectively, minimizing damage and downtime. Developing an IR plan involves:

  • Outlining the roles and responsibilities of team members
  • Establishing clear communication channels
  • Defining processes for identifying, containing, and remediating security incidents

Once an incident response plan has been established, it should be regularly reviewed and updated to ensure it remains relevant and effective.

Benefits and challenges

The benefits of a well-established IR plan include a faster and more effective response to security incidents. This leads to a reduction of damage from an incident — to systems, data, and customers — as well as shorter application downtime. Having an effective IR plan in place also reduces the financial cost of an incident.

The challenge of adopting this best practice is keeping the plan up to date as threats evolve. After what may seem like a long time without any incidents, organizations may lapse into complacency, which may result in the IR plan no longer being reviewed or updated. Likewise, employees need to keep on top of training and preparedness, so your organization must invest in regular training and practice.

Expert Tip

Follow these steps to create an incident response plan that will help you and other stakeholders in your organization stay prepared in the event of a breach.Incident response: How to plan?

Best practice #7: Implement security awareness training

Related to the previous best practice, it’s critical for the employees in your organization to be trained to recognize and avoid security threats. This reduces the likelihood of successful phishing or social engineering attacks, and more widely, it fosters a security-conscious culture.

Security awareness training programs should cover common threats and best practices for avoiding them. To remain relevant and effective, training content should be regularly reviewed and updated to address ongoing and new threats.

Benefits and challenges

By implementing these trainings, employees in an organization are better able to recognize and defend against phishing and social engineering attacks. Their ability to recognize these threats helps prevent compromised credentials and unauthorized access to your application environments and data. This will go a long way toward enhancing the overall security posture of your organization.

Where your organization might find pushback is in ensuring the consistent participation and engagement of staff. Resources must also be dedicated to keeping training materials relevant and up to date. Nonetheless, your organization must prioritize security awareness training and allocate resources to ensure that staff maintain a defensive posture against such threats.

Learn More

Read this post to learn how to create a comprehensive cybersecurity training program for employees to help your organization stay safe from cyberattacks. How To Create a Cybersecurity Training Program

How CrowdStrike helps with application security

Application security is vital to protect businesses from outside threats. Application security tools can work alongside security professionals and application security controls to deliver security throughout the application life cycle. Having the security tools available and in place is vital. With multiple types of tools and methods for testing, achieving application security is well within reach.

The CrowdStrike Falcon® platform can help you keep applications secure and proactively monitor and remediate misconfigurations, while giving you visibility into potential insider threats across various hosts, cloud infrastructures, and business applications.