It’s best practice to kick off your AppSec inititive by starting small, scanning your most business-critical apps, and addressing the most severe flaws. But it’s also best practice to scale your program to eventually cover your entire app landscape, and all flaws. Why? First, because you can be breached through non-critical apps; JP Morgan was breached through third-party software supporting its charitable road race, and Target was breached through its HVAC vendor’s software. Second, you can be breached through a low-severity vulnerability. Oftentimes, a low-severity flaw could be just as risky, if not more so, than a higher-severity flaw. For example, a low-severity information leakage flaw could provide just the right amount of system knowledge an attacker needs to leverage a vulnerability that might otherwise be difficult to exploit.
How do you make this transition from few to many, especially with limited security staff and expertise? This is a significant challenge. In fact, we typically see AppSec programs fail for two reasons: Lack of experience in running an application security program, and the inability to hire enough qualified staff to run application security tools at scale. Very few application security managers have run large programs before and have the experience to predict ramp up and adoption. The global shortage of security professionals also makes it difficult to hire enough people to coordinate between development and security teams. The 2018 Cyberthreat Defense Report found that a rising shortage of skilled personnel is the number one inhibitor organizations face when trying to establish a security program.
Yet, we’ve also helped thousands of customers grow and mature their AppSec programs over the past 12 years, and we know there are a few keys to effectively scaling an application security program. These keys include:
The right partner
Considering the skills shortage, engaging outside AppSec expertise goes a long way, both to establish your program’s goals and roadmap and keep it on track, and to guide you through fixing the flaws you find. We aren’t suggesting you replace your security team with consultants, but rather that you complement it with specialized AppSec expertise and free your team to focus on managing risk by taking these tasks of their plates:
Addressing the blocking and tackling of onboarding
- Application security program management
- Identifying and addressing barriers to success
- Work with development teams to ensure they are finding and remediating vulnerabilities
We’ve seen the difference this support makes: Veracode customers who work with our security program managers grow their application coverage by 25 percent each year, decrease their time to deployment, and demonstrate better vulnerability detection and remediation metrics.
Another way to scale your AppSec program is to develop and nurture security champions within your development teams. While these developers aren’t (and don’t have to be) security pros, they can act as the security conscience of the team by keeping their eyes and ears open for potential issues. The team can then fix the issues in development or call in your organization’s security experts for guidance. An embedded security champion can effectively help an organization make up for a lack of security coverage or skills by acting as a force multiplier who can pass on security best practices, answer questions, and raise security awareness. Because your security champion speaks the lingo of developers and is intimately involved in your organization’s development projects, he or she can communicate security issues in a way that development teams will understand and embrace.
How can you start developing security champions?
- Get leadership buy-in. Make sure management, the security team, and the Scrum leaders are willing to invest the time, money, and resources it will take to make security champions effective.
- Set the standard. Create expectations for what security champions should do and incorporate it into their pre-existing peer review work to minimize disruptions.
- Track success. Make security a KPI so your organization can evaluate the ROI of the program
- Provide training. Volunteers can bring passion, but it’s up to your security experts to provide the knowledge your security champions will need to review code for flaws and pass best practices on to the development team.
- Build community. Make sure security champions have ample opportunity to meet with each other and the security team to discuss specific issues and overall trends.
In addition, a cloud-based application security solution can help you scale your program without a lot of extra cost or hassle compared to an on-premises solution. When an on-premises application security program needs to be scaled, enterprises frequently need to track down more of hard-to-find security specialists, in addition to installing more servers.
Things that usually cost extra in an on-premises solution — features such as integrations, onboarding, upgrades, and maintenance — are all included with a cloud-based solution. This allows your security team to focus on scaling your AppSec efforts without worrying about going over budget.
Application security is about more than scanning; the ability to scale your program is a critical factor that can make or break your program. Learn more about AppSec best practices in our new eBook, Application Security: Beyond Scanning.