Why Are Applications Difficult to Secure?

With the onset of digital transformation, applications have become a priority for businesses. They’ve also grown as a target to would-be hackers. We know that securing applications is paramount, but why are they difficult to secure?

Gone are the days where cybersecurity for applications can mimic hard candy – a protective outer shell that surrounds the inner portion. Applications need not only a wall around the application as a whole, but security perimeters to protect individual workloads. This can make applications trickier to secure, with so many more perimeters to defend from breaches and malicious activity!

To understand application security, look no further than the application life cycle – the three-part process that includes development, deployment and testing, and runtime. Each part of this cycle requires different security measures to fully protect an application at each turn.

Application security starts in the development phase, where most tested applications are found to have a security concern in the code. Since the flaws can show up early in the process, it’s important to fix security issues before they’re born. If a problem is not caught in the coding, and the application passes through the rest of the life cycle and into runtime without the issue being solved, major, expensive damages can be expected. Reputation damage due to poor user experience can also be a result.

Beyond development and testing, you’ll need to keep up with an application’s rapidly changing nature while remaining compliant with necessary policies. The difficulty in securing applications stems from the constantly moving and updating workloads living on your application. Securing individual workloads and the many changes that happen to keep your application running can be stressful – depending on if your environment is on-prem, cloud, or hybrid, there is a chance that if one workload is compromised with a breach, the rest will follow. How could this happen? Compromises can float via east-west traffic from workload to workload, relatively undetected. Segmentation is a great risk management option, specifically micro-segmentation, can contain the lateral movement and ultimately reduce your attack surface. Going back to the ‘hard candy’ model, you’re essentially bringing the hard, protective shell into the candy to surround individual portions.

Application security can also be difficult due to the need to remain compliant with various policies. For example, the financial services industry has many regulations that require controls to maintain privacy. As data is transferred between on-prem and cloud environments, these policies create workflows within systems to establish access control. Consistency is key when it comes to this data transfer and remaining compliant, so you need a solution that can bridge these environments through automatic configuration.

You can learn more about Cisco’s solutions for micro-segmentation and policy compliance here: Tetration

With applications housed in cloud or hybrid environments, visibility into network and application behavior is minimized. It’s important to protect the network in which your application is housed. Baselining behavioral patterns helps to find even the smallest violations so that your IT team is alerted to the issue and can quickly counter an attack. This extra layer of protection provides the analysis needed to make sure your application workloads cannot be compromised.

See more about Cisco’s answer to this problem: Stealthwatch

So; what makes applications difficult to secure? The teams managing development of application and securing them are currently two different teams, and having shared context between the two is key to having integrated management of securing application. There are ways to improve your security posture and empower your teams by bringing security and application teams together.

Learn more: Cisco Application-First Security