Just prior to this post, it dawned on us just how much ground we are covering. We’re looking at business justification, people, process, tools and technology, training, security mindset and more. Writing is an exercise in constraint- often pulling more content out than we are putting in. This hit home when we got lost within our own outline this morning. So before jumping into the technology discussion, we need to lay out our roadmap and show you the major pieces of a web application security program that we’ll be digging into.

Our goal moving forward is to recommend actionable steps that promote web application security, and are in keeping with your existing development and management framework. While web applications offer different challenges, as we discussed in the last post, additional steps to address these issues aren’t radical deviations from what you likely do today. With a loose mapping to the Software Development Lifecycle, we are dividing this into three steps across seven coverage areas that look like this:


Secure Development

Process and Training – This section’s focus is on placing security into the development life-cycle. We discuss general enhancements, for lack of a better word, to the people who work on delivering web applications, and the processes used to guide their activity. Security awareness training through education, and supportive process modifications, as a precursor to making security a functional requirement of the application. We discuss tools that automate portions of the effort; static analysis tools that aid engineering in identifying vulnerable code, and dynamic analysis tools for detecting anomalous application behavior.

  • Secure SDLC- Introducing secure development practices and software assurance to the web application programming process.
  • Static Analysis- Tools that scan the source code of an application to look for security errors. Often called “white box” tools.
  • Dynamic Analysis- Tools that interact with a running application and attempt to ‘break’ it, but don’t analyze the source code directly. Often called “black box” tools.

Secure Deployment

At the stage where an application is code-complete, or is ready for more rigorous testing and validation, is the time to confirm that it does not suffer serious known security flaws, and is configured in such a way that it is not subject to any known compromises. This is where we start introducing vulnerability assessments and penetration testing tools- along with their respective approaches to configuration analysis, threat discovery, patch levels, and operational consistency checking.

  • Vulnerability Assessment- Remote scanning of a web application both with and without credentialed access to find application vulnerabilities. Web application vulnerability assessments focus on the application itself, while standard vulnerability assessments focus on the host platform. May be a product, service, or both.
  • Penetration Testing- Penetration testing is the process of actually breaking into an application to determine the full scope of security vulnerabilities and the risks they pose. While vulnerability assessments find security flaws, penetration tests explore those holes to measure impact and categorize/prioritize. May be a product, service, or both.

Secure Operation

In this section we move from preventative tools & processes to those that provide detection capabilities and can react to live events. The primary focus will be on web application firewalls’ ability to screen the application from unwanted uses, and monitoring tools that scan requests for inappropriate activity against the application or associated components. Recent developments in detection tools promote enforcement of policies, react intelligently to events, and couple several services into a cooperative hybrid model.

  • Web Application Firewalls- Network tools that monitor web application traffic and alert on, or attempt to block, known attacks.
  • Application and Database Activity Monitoring- Tools that monitor application and database activity (via a variety of techniques) for auditing and to generate security alerts based on policy violations.

Web application security is a field undergoing rapid advancement- almost as fast as the bad guys come up with new attacks. While we often spend time on this blog talking about leading edge technologies and the future of the market, we want to keep this series grounded in what’s practical and available today. For the rest of the series we’re going to break down each of those areas and drill into an overview of how they fit into an overall program, as well as their respective advantages and disadvantages. Keep in mind that we could probably write a book, or two, on each of those tools, technologies, and processes, so for these posts we’ll just focus on the highlights.