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RSA Conference Guide 2013: Application Security

See you at RSA 2013...So what hot trends in application security will you see at the RSA Conference? Mostly the same as last year’s trends, as lots of things are changing in security, but not much on the appsec front. Application security is a bit like security seasoning: Companies add a sprinkle of threat modeling here, a dash of static analysis there, marinate for a bit with some dynamic app testing (DAST), and serve it all up on a bed of WAF. The good news is that we see some growth in security adoption in every phase of application development (design, implementation, testing, deployment, developer education), with the biggest gains in WAF and DAST. Additionally, according to many studies – including the SANS application security practices survey – better than 2/3 of software development teams have an application security program in place.

The Big Money Game

With WhiteHat Security closing a $31M funding round, and Veracode racking up $30M themselves in 2012, there won’t be any shortage of RSA Conference party dollars for application security. Neither of these companies are early stage, and the amount of capital raised indicates they need fuel to accelerate expansion. In all seriousness, the investment sharks smell the chum and are making their kills. When markets start to get hot you typically see companies in adjacent markets reposition and extend into the hot areas. That means you should expect to see new players, expanded offerings from old players, and (as in all these RSA Guide sections) no lack of marketing to fan the hype flames (or at least smoke). But before you jump in, understand the differences and what you really need from these services. The structure of your development and security teams, the kinds of applications you work with, your development workflow, and even your reliance on external developers will all impact what direction you head in. Then, when you start talking to company reps on the show floor, dig into their methodology, technology, and the actual people they use behind any automated tools to reduce false positives. See if you can get a complete sample assessment report, from a real scan; preferably provided by a real user, because that gives you a much better sense of what you can expect. And don’t forget to get your invite to the party.

Risk(ish) Quantification(y)

One of the new developments in the field of application security is trying out new metrics to better resonate with the keymasters of the moneybags. Application security vendors pump out a report saying your new code still has security bugs and you’re sitting on a mountain of “technical debt”, which basically quantifies how much crappy old code you don’t have time or resources to fix. Vendors know that Deming’s principles, the threat of a data breach, compliance requirements, and rampant fraud have not been enough whip companies into action. The conversation has shifted to Technical Debt, Cyber Insurance, Factor Analysis of Information Risk (FAIR), the Zombie Apocalypse and navel gazing at how well we report breach statistics.

The common thread through all these is the providing a basis to quantify and evaluate risk/reward tradeoffs in application security. Of course it’s not just vendors – security and development teams also use this approach to get management buy-in and better resource allocation for security. The application security industry as a whole is trying to get smarter and more effective in how it communicates (and basically sells) the application security problem. Companies are not just buying application security technologies ad hoc – they are looking to more effectively apply limited resources to the problem. Sure, you will continue to hear the same statistics and all about the urgency of fixing the same OWASP Top 10 threats, but the conversation has changed from “The End is Nigh” to “Risk Adjusted Application Security”. That’s a positive development.

(Please Don’t Ask Us About) API Security

Just like last year, people are starting to talk about “Big Data Security,” which really means securing a NoSQL cluster against attack. What they are not talking about is securing the applications sitting in front of the big data cluster. That could be Ruby, Java, JSON, Node.js, or any one of the other languages used to front big data. Perhaps you have heard that Java had a couple security holes. Don’t think for a minute these other platforms are going to be more secure than Java. And as application development steams merrily on, each project leveraging new tools to make coding faster and easier, little (okay – no) regard is being paid to the security of these platforms. Adoption of RESTful APIs makes integration faster and easier, but unless carefully implemented they pose serious security risks. Re-architecture and re-design efforts to make applications more secure are an anomaly, not a trend. This is a serious problem that won’t have big hype behind it at RSA because there is no product to solve this issue. We all know how hard it is to burn booth real estate on things that don’t end up on a PO. So you’ll hear how insecure Platform X is, and be pushed to buy an anti-malware/anti-virus solution to detect the attack once your application has been hacked. So much for “building security in”.

And don’t forget to register for the Disaster Recovery Breakfast if you’ll be at the show on Thursday morning. Where else can you kick your hangover, start a new one, and talk shop with good folks in a hype-free zone? Nowhere, so make sure you join us…

—Adrian Lane

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By Mark Troester  on  02/18  at  11:35 AM

Possibly not earth shattering, but related to API discussion and use of Ruby, Java, etc., is the tremendous use of open source components as building blocks for applications. Many of the organizations that we talk to now assemble applications from components - up to 80-90% of apps now consist of components. So the application security focus needs to be expanded to address these components, which requires a different approach than securing custom code via static and dynamic scanning.

Mark Troester
IT/CIO Thought Leader
Sonatype
Twitter @mtroester
Blog http://www.sonatype.com/people/

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