Cloud costs
May 14, 2021
min read

What is AppSec? The Challenges and Rewards


The definition of application security (AppSec) is found in the name itself. It consists of the process and tools used for securing the application software that computers, end-users, consumers, and organizations rely on to operate various programs. Think media players, word processors, and more complex B2B applications, like those delivered by SaaS-based technology companies. And security includes the measures taken to protect this software, often with the use of different security scanning tools. AppSec is about improving the quality of an application by finding, fixing, and ultimately preventing vulnerabilities at different phases in the software development life cycle (SDLC).

These software weaknesses known as vulnerabilities represent points of concern or risk, where cyber attackers can focus their effort on breaching the security of an application. As a result, checking for security flaws in an application is essential because it protects the integrity of the software we build and use every day. In a nutshell, AppSec is about making software safer during development phases — but also once it is deployed, especially as hackers grow more innovative.

Challenges and Rewards of AppSec

A closer look at some of the top AppSec challenges from both a threat standpoint and a business management one is key to overcoming them. As more organizations assume an agile approach to application development, while new software releases are moving faster than ever, security becomes a critical factor – and more challenging. Aside from the ongoing threat of outside interference, here are the main hurdles seen in the world of AppSec right now, including the benefits of overcoming them.

1. The Pressure of Speed

Maintaining velocity is key to delivering software at the pace of business. But these aggressive development timelines become a problem when hitting deadlines take precedence over software security. If products are released without addressing all vulnerabilities, the quality and security of applications decline as organizations expose themselves to considerable risk and crippling liabilities. AppSec is a complex, time-consuming, and resource-intensive process that needs to remain agile and adaptable so it can keep pace with the speed of digital transformation.

Get it right and developers are free to innovate while also addressing the ongoing need for AppSec, all without disturbing DevOps processes. Rather than juggling more and more tools, the answer is found in properly managing existing ones. This “shift left” to address security earlier in the SDLC leads to benefits like:

  • Better workflows, remediation, and overall management
  • Safer products and a better reputation
  • Higher quality results with less cost
  • Seamless collaboration among teams

2. Problems with DevSecOps 

Successful AppSec is a group sport, demanding participation from developers, security teams, quality assurance, and executives. The DevSecOps model seeks to bring AppSec and DevOps teams together under the common goal of delivering high-quality software quickly and securely—but it’s not always easy. While developers today recognize the need for better security, they are not always equipped or incentivized to take it on. Typically, their goal is to keep innovation rolling while maintaining the flow, agility, and speed required by the DevOps pipeline. Security is not the priority.

This issue is compounded when developers are asked to invoke scanning tools in the name of security while also finding ways to plow through piles of undecipherable vulnerability data and prioritize remediation efforts. Worse, developers often lack the experience needed to manage and optimize these technologies. When security and development teams don’t agree on how to streamline this DevSecOps process, risk skyrockets, and unsafe software is launched into production. This problem can lead to more devastating ones like digital breaches, spiraling costs, and loss of revenue.

Get it right and security becomes an integral part of the software development process. Bringing continuous, end-to-end security into the DevOps process to deliver better software vulnerability management is key. Harness delivers the platform to achieve this goal, enabling the business to better visualize and address risk. Benefits include:

  • More secure applications
  • Lower security costs
  • Full visibility into application and enterprise risk
  • Effective vulnerability discovery and remediation

3. Scanning Tool and Data Overload 

Security scanning tools, including open-source ones, provide the backbone of any robust AppSec program—but they are not always easy to use or optimize. Running scanning tools within a DevOps pipeline, easily and transparently, is key to finding a true picture of organizational risk. This means practitioners must find a strategy for making sense of scanning tool data and translate it into clear and actionable information without slowing down development. Without this level of AppSec visibility, effectively managing tools and data overload is nearly impossible.

Get it right and ensure that your security scanning tools are optimized throughout the SDLC. Harness can help centralize and automate AppSec tool management by orchestrating them to unify and simplify vulnerability data. This makes resulting data usable and operational for security and development teams, including executives, who can gain critical visibility into the security posture, as well as a common framework for understanding and managing risk. Meanwhile, developers get streamlined findings prioritized by risk, which allows them to remediate what matters most. This unlocks benefits such as:

  • Better AppSec visibility
  • A collaborative and friction-free work environment
  • More effective business decisions based on data
  • Consistent security standards across the organization

4. Failure to Establish a Strong Program

Establishing a mature and successful AppSec program that aligns with the new role of software in today’s development environment needs to be the priority of every modern organization. But unfortunately, business and security leaders often don’t know how or where to begin when standing up a new program. Without the high-level visibility into vulnerabilities and risk that comes with a strong program, there is no way to make informed business or operational decisions regarding an application, including delivery timeframes and revenue projections. It is essentially impossible to assess the overall security posture of the application portfolio, let alone communicate it to investors and executives. To address the challenges of AppSec, practitioners must find a strategy that includes the automation and orchestration of AppSec tools in concert with DevOps pipelines

Get it right and organizations are better protected across the board with a comprehensive AppSec program in place, one that ensures software is secure to protect the business and their customers. Using an automation and orchestration platform like that of Harness enables practitioners to remove the overhead needed to stand up or extend an effective program.

When open-source tools are integrated into concert with commercial ones, it is possible to execute and centrally manage scanning and its copious findings. This capability allows businesses to streamline and prioritize their vulnerability findings, thereby reducing the complexity and manual effort. And with this ability comes a windfall of benefits, including:

  • Available overhead to select, deploy and manage scanning tools
  • Faster identification and remediation of vulnerabilities
  • Gain value in open-source tools
  • Create trust and support business continuity
  • Better collaboration and unity between security and development teams

Continuous, Uninterrupted, Secure Product Delivery

Harness brings security, DevOps, and the business together to improve application security performance and reduce organizational risk. The company’s application security automation and orchestration platform unite enterprises to rapidly identify, prioritize and remove the vulnerabilities standing in the way of software excellence. In an age where the security of applications needs to be everyone’s responsibility, Harness is where organizations come together for the good of software. For more information, reach out to us today!

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