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Why Cybersecurity Needs to Be at the Forefront of Application Development

IT departments are under constant pressure to build modern applications that improve customer experiences, automate workflows, and meet business objectives. Often, these applications are built on open-source platforms that limit costs and deliver proven functionality. There’s one problem with open-source software—cybercriminals can access the very same software development kit (SDK) that developers use. And because they know you’re building the application package with these open-source libraries, they’ll see where the security flaws are and be able to identify whether or not you’ve hardened the application.

These applications can open the door to new threats like unsecured data transport and application patches that aren’t up to date. Some applications are also written with inherently weak authentication capabilities such as automatic lock outs that can be overcome by a brute force attack. In its effort to help improve the security of web-based software, the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) lists its top 10 application security risks that you should address as the first step toward changing your software development culture. It’s worth a look. Of course, everyone’s goal is to build a secure app dev process that results in more secure code, regardless of whether your application is web-based or hosted.

Exposed back-end vulnerabilities

Stored information and application data are also vulnerable if your back-end infrastructure isn’t protected using tactics like obfuscating user names and passwords that are susceptible to leaks. While they are invaluable because they make it easier for technologies to talk to each other—from applications to databases to monitoring solutions— today’s application programming interfaces (APIs) can also open security gaps. That makes it possible for hackers to gain access or glean information from your application. Closing those gaps has often meant adding ancillary systems, like endpoint protection and network security solutions for many IT pros. Unfortunately, while extremely important, those tools can’t help in this fight, as hackers can use an API’s weaknesses to tunnel through to your applications.

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The solution: Integrate security into the development process

For developers, a focus on security does more than protect your applications. In its Accelerate State of DevOps 2021 report, Google says that application development teams integrating security practices through the development process are 1.6 times more likely to meet or exceed their organizational goals. Successful development teams that deliver on this metric are also more likely to understand they must build security into the application itself. Most often, that success results from a mature software development lifecycle (SDLC) that goes beyond application functionality testing to include deployment vulnerability testing and code reviews throughout the development process.

It is also common for companies to merge or acquire to get ahold of an application that will add value to their business. While you may uncover some issues during due diligence, any missed security risks become yours to address. And if you’re developing applications to be acquired, nothing will kill a deal quicker than a security slip. The same holds for your business partners. If a partner uses your API to connect to their systems, any security breakdowns will spell trouble for everyone involved.

Build in application security from the start

Every application starts with an idea. Building a successful application requires that you take that idea and clearly define its use case for development. You’ll need to consider additional resources, database requirements, and, critically, compliance requirements. You then need to design the supporting infrastructure for your use case. That includes security requirements like authentication, audit capabilities, and, at the same time, establishing the integrity of your data. Then comes implementation in a development environment, with source code reviewed and scanned in parallel. Finally, there’s real-world testing and debugging in a pre-production environment. Once thoroughly tested, the application can move into production. That’s a lot for internal teams to take on and why it makes sense to consider moving to an outsourced application development strategy.

Outsourcing demands caution

Outsourcing can bring its challenges, as our CEO explains in a recent post. He points out that when you hire an app-only developer, you will be responsible for the application’s security—as well as your infrastructure. That’s why, if you choose to go this route, it’s wise to choose a partner that understands both your budget and your objectives. Look for an expert outsourced application development team that can handle the heavy lifting that comes with fast, secure development. You’ll also want a team that offers flexible development strategies—from agile to traditional application lifecycle management—that can take you from concept to secure deployment confidently. Ask for examples of application development projects done for others that demonstrate their security savvy as much as their development prowess.

When it comes to building your applications—yourself or with a trusted partner—keep security in mind from the start. It’s a decision you won’t regret.

Thank you for trusting us to help with your cybersecurity needs. Contact us any time—we’re always happy to help.

Jon

Meet the Author
Jon Bolden is Quest's Chief Information Security Officer
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