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Understanding and Selecting RASP *edited* [New Series]

By Adrian Lane

In 2015 we researched Putting Security Into DevOps, with a close look at how automated continuous deployment and DevOps impacted IT and application security. We found DevOps provided a very real path to improve application security using continuous automated testing, run each time new code was checked in. We were surprised to discover developers and IT teams taking a larger role in selecting security solutions, and bringing a new set of buying criteria to the table. Security products must do more than address application security issues; they need to mesh with continuous integration and deployment approaches, with automated capabilities and better integration with developer tools.

But the biggest surprise was that every team which had moved past Continuous Integration and onto Continuous Deployment (CD) or DevOps asked us about RASP, Runtime Application Self-Protection. Each team was either considering RASP, or already engaged in a proof-of-concept with a RASP vendor. We understand we had a small sample size, and the number of firms who have embraced either CD or DevOps application delivery is a very small subset of the larger market. But we found that once they started continuous deployment, each firm hit the same issues. The ability to automate security, the ability to test in pre-production, configuration skew between pre-production and production, and the ability for security products to identify where issues were detected in the code. In fact it was our DevOps research which placed RASP at the top of our research calendar, thanks to perceived synergies.

There is no lack of data showing that applications are vulnerable to attack. Many applications are old and simply contain too many flaws to fix. You know, that back office application that should never have been allowed on the Internet to begin with. In most cases it would be cheaper to re-write the application from scratch than patch all the issues, but economics seldom justify (or even permit) the effort. Other application platforms, even those considered ‘secure’, are frequently found to contain vulnerabilities after decades of use. Heartbleed, anyone? New classes of attacks, and even new use cases, have a disturbing ability to unearth previously unknown application flaws. We see two types of applications: those with known vulnerabilities today, and those which will have known vulnerabilities in the future. So tools to protect against these attacks, which mesh well with the disruptive changes occuring in the development community, deserve a closer look.

Defining RASP

Runtime Application Self-Protection (RASP) is an application security technology which embeds into an application or application runtime environment, examining requests at the application layer to detect attacks and misuse in real time. RASP products typically contain the following capabilities:

  1. Monitor and block application requests; in some cases they can alter request to strip malicious content
  2. Full functionality through RESTful APIs
  3. Integration with the application or application instance (virtualization)
  4. Unpack and inspect requests in the application, rather than at the network layer
  5. Detect whether an attack would succeed
  6. Pinpoint the module, and possibly the specific line of code, where a vulnerability resides
  7. Instrument application usage

These capabilities overlap with white box & black box scanners, web application firewalls (WAF), next-generation firewalls (NGFW), and even application intelligence platforms. And RASP can be used in coordination with any or all of those other security tools. So the question you may be asking yourself is “Why would we need another technology that does some of the same stuff?” It has to do with the way it is used and how it is integrated.

Differing Market Drivers

As RASP is a (relatively) new technology, current market drivers are tightly focused on addressing the security needs of one or two distinct buying centers. But RASP offers a distinct blend of capabilities and usability options which makes it unique in the market.

  • Demand for security approaches focused on development, enabling pre-production and production application instances to provide real-time telemetry back to development tools
  • Need for fully automated application security, deployed in tandem with new application code
  • Technical debt, where essential applications contain known vulnerabilities which must be protected, either while defects are addressed or permanently if they cannot be fixed for any of various reasons
  • Application security supporting development and operations teams who are not all security experts

The remainder of this series will go into more detail on RASP technology, use cases, and deployment options:

  • Technical Overview: This post will discuss technical aspects of RASP products – including what the technology does; how it works; and how it integrates into libraries, runtime code, or web application services. We will discuss the various deployment models including on-premise, cloud, and hybrid. We will discuss some of the application platforms supported today, and how we expect the technology to evolve over the next couple years.
  • Use Cases: Why and how firms use this technology, with medium and large firm use case profiles. We will consider advantages of this technology, as well as the problems firms are trying to solve using it – especially around deficiencies in code security and development processes. We will provide some detail on monitoring vs. blocking threats, and discuss applicability to security and compliance requirements.
  • Deploying RASP: This post will focus on how to integrate RASP into a development and release management processes. We will also jump into a more detailed discussion of how RASP differs from adjacent technologies like WAF, NGFW, and IDS, as well as static and dynamic application testing. We will walk through the advantages of each technology, with a special focus on operational considerations and keeping detection/blocking up to date. We will discuss advantages and tradeoffs compared to other relevant security technologies. This post will close with an example of a development pipeline, and how RASP technology fits in.
  • Buyers Guide: This is a new market segment, so we will offer a basic analysis process for buyers to evaluate products. We will consider integration with existing development processes and rule management.
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