This post will offer examples for how to integrate RASP into a development pipeline. We’ll cover both how RASP fits into the technology stack, and development processes used to deliver applications. We will close this post with a detailed discussion of how RASP differs from other security technologies, and discuss advantages and tradeoffs compared to other security technologies.

As we mentioned in our introduction, our research into DevOps produced many questions on how RASP worked, and whether it is an effective security technology. The questions came from non-traditional buyers of security products: application developers and product managers. Their teams, by and large, were running Agile development processes. The majority were leveraging automation to provide Continuous Integration – essentially rebuilding and retesting the application repeatedly and automatically as new code was checked in. Some had gone as far as Continuous Deployment (CD) and DevOps. To address this development-centric perspective, we offer the diagram below to illustrate a modern Continuous Deployment / DevOps application build environment. Consider each arrow a script automating some portion of source code control, building, packaging, testing, or deployment of an application.

Security tools that fit this model are actively being sought by development teams. They need granular API access to functions, quick production of test results, and delivery of status back to supporting services.

Application Integration

  • Installation: As we mentioned back in the technology overview, RASP products differ in how they embed within applications. They all offer APIs to script configuration and runtime policies, but how and where they fit in differ slightly between products. Servlet filters, plugins, and library replacement are performed as the application stack is assembled. These approaches augment an application or application ‘stack’ to perform detection and blocking. Virtualization and JVM replacement approaches augment run-time environments, modifying the subsystems that run your application modified to handle monitoring and detection. In all cases these, be it on-premise or as a cloud service, the process of installing RASP is pretty much identical to the build or deployment sequence you currently use.
  • Rules & Policies: We found the majority of RASP offerings include canned rules to detect or block most known attacks. Typically this blacklist of attack profiles maps closely to the OWASP Top Ten application vulnerability classes. Protection against common variants of standard attacks, such as SQL injection and session mis-management, is included. Once these rules are installed they are immediately enforced. You can enable or disable individual rules as you see fit. Some vendors offer specific packages for critical attacks, mapped to specific CVEs such as Heartbleed. Bundles for specific threats, rather than by generic attack classes, help security and risk teams demonstrate policy compliance, and make it easier to understand which threats have been addressed. But when shopping for RASP technologies you need to evaluate the provided rules carefully. There are many ways to attack a site with SQL injection, and many to detect and block such attacks, so you need to verify the included rules cover most of the known attack variants you are concerned with. You will also want to verify that you can augment or add rules as you see fit – rule management is a challenge for most security products, and RASP is no different.
  • Learning the application: Not all RASP technologies can learn how an application behaves, or offer whitelisting of application behaviors. Those that do vary greatly in how they function. Some behave like their WAF cousins, and need time to learn each application – whether by watching normal traffic over time, or by generating their own traffic to ‘crawl’ each application in a non-production environment. Some function similarly to white-box scanners, using application source to learn.
  • Coverage capabilities: During our research we found uneven RASP coverage of common platforms. Some started with Java or .Net, and are iterating to cover Python, Ruby, Node.js, and others. Your search for RASP technologies may be strongly influenced by available platform support. We find that more and more, applications are built as collections of microservices across distributed architectures. Application developers mix and match languages, choosing what works best in different scenarios. If your application is built on Java you’ll have no trouble finding RASP technology to meet your needs. But for mixed environments you will need to carefully evaluate each product’s platform coverage.

Development Process Integration

Software development teams leverage many different tools to promote security within their overarching application development and delivery processes. The graphic below illustrates the major phases teams go through. The callouts map the common types of security tests at specific phases within an Agile, CI, and DevOps frameworks. Keep in mind that it is still early days for automated deployment and DevOps. Many security tools were built before rapid and automated deployment existed or were well known. Older products are typically too slow, some cannot focus their tests on new code, and others do not offer API support. So orchestration of security tools – basically what works where – is far from settled territory. The time each type of test takes to run, and the type of result it returns, drives where it fits best into the phases below.

RASP is designed to be bundled into applications, so it is part of the application delivery process. RASP offers two distinct approaches to help tackle application security. The first is in the pre-release or pre-deployment phase, while the second is in production. Either way, deployment looks very similar. But usage can vary considerably depending on which is chosen.

  • Pre-release testing: This is exactly what it sounds like: RASP is used when the application is fully constructed and going through final tests prior to being launched. Here RASP can be deployed in several ways. It can be deployed to monitor only, using application tests and instrumenting runtime behavior to learn how to protect the application. Alternatively RASP can monitor while security tests are invoked in an attempt to break the application, with RASP performing security analysis and transmitting its results. Development and Testing teams can learn whether RASP detected the tested attacks. Finally, RASP can be deployed in full blocking mode to see whether security tests were detected and blocked, and how they impacted the user experience. This provides an opportunity to change application code or augment the RASP rules before the application goes into production.
  • Production testing: Once an application is placed in a production environment, either before actual customers are using it (using Blue-Green deployment) or afterwards, RASP can be configured to block malicious application requests. Regardless of how the RASP tool works (whether via embedded runtime libraries, servlet filters, in-memory execution monitoring, or virtualized code paths), it protects applications by detecting attacks in live runtime behavior. This model essentially provides execution path scanning, monitoring all user requests and parameters. Unlike technologies which block requests at the network or web proxy layer, RASP inspects requests at the application layer, which means it has full access to the application’s inner workings. Working at the API layer provides better visibility to determine whether a request is malicious, and more focused blocking capabilities than external security products.
  • Runtime protection: Ultimately RASP is not just for testing, but for full runtime protection and blocking of attacks.

Regardless of where you deploy RASP, you need to test to ensure it is delivering on its promise. We advocate an ongoing testing process to ensure your policies are sound, and that you ultimately block what you need to block. Of course you can use other scanners to probe an application to ensure RASP is working prior to deployment, and other tools (such as Havij and SQLmap) to automate testing, but that’s only half the story. For full confidence that your apps are protected, we still recommend actual humans banging away at your applications. Penetration testing, at least periodically, helps verify your defenses are effective.

To WAF or not to WAF

Why did the market develop this brand-new security technology? Especially when existing technologies – most notably Web Application Firewalls (WAF) – already provided similar functions. Both block attacks on web-facing applications. They are both focused on known attack vectors, and include blacklists of attack patterns. Some optionally offer whitelists of known (approved) application functions. And both can ‘learn’ appropriate application behaviors. In fact most enterprises, especially which must comply with PCI-DSS, have already bought and deployed WAF. So why spend time and money on a new tool?

WAF management teams speak of the difficulty maintaining ‘positive’ security rules, and penetration testers grouse about how most WAFs are misconfigured, but neither was the primary driver of the search for an alternative which produced RASP. Development teams were looking for something different. Most stated their basic requirement was for something to work within their development pipeline. WAF’s lack of APIs for automatic setup, the time needed to learn application behavior, and most importantly the ability to pinpoint vulnerable code modules, were all cited as reasons WAF failed to satisfy developers. Granted, these requests came from more ‘Agile’ teams, more often building new applications than maintaining existing platforms. Still, we heard consistently that RASP meets a market demand unsatsfied by other application security technologies.

It is important to recognize that these technologies can be complementary, not necessarily competitive. There is absolutely no reason you can’t run RASP alongside your existing WAF. Some organizations continue to use cloud-based WAF as front-line protection, while embedding RASP into applications. Some use WAF to provide “threat intelligence”, DoS protection, and network security, while using RASP to fine-tune application security. Still others double down with overlapping security functions, much the way many organizations use layered anti-spam filters, accepting redundancy for broader coverage or unique benefits from each product. WAF platforms have a good ten-year head start, with broader coverage and very mature platforms, so some firms are loath to throw away WAF until RASP is fully proven.

Tomorrow we will close out this series with a brief buyers guide. We look forward to your comments!