Rethinking Risk Management: Why Your Company Needs a Hybrid Security Approach
Application security is evolving but it has yet to catch up with the abundance of risks that web applications now present. Threats to web apps are becoming an even greater challenge for DevOps on a near daily basis and many businesses are still using risk management plans that simply do not cut it. Some companies rely solely on automated assessments while others prefer manual penetration testing. And then, in the best-case scenarios, there are those that have the means to provide both. Functioning as separate entities, neither of these approaches provides a full and clear view of the attack surface; instead, security teams are left with gaps where potential threats can be exploited.
Web Applications Make Life Easier (and Riskier)
Businesses rely on agilely created applications for many reasons; namely, they help improve efficiency and streamline processes. And while there are many other reasons high on the list of how web apps can help a company, there is also one glaring problem with them: they introduce a whole new set of security risks. This becomes an even bigger issue when security teams cannot keep up with frequent changes that occur in most web apps. This issue is so widespread that vulnerable web apps were the single most prevalent attack category reported by Verizon in its 2017 Data Breach Investigations Report. Moreover, while agile development allows for near constant changes (that are great for improving functionality and performance), security tends to be an afterthought--if it is considered at all.
Automated Assessments vs. Manual Penetration Tests
With all the vulnerabilities that web applications carry, it is vital that companies understand the tools needed to help prevent and mitigate risks. Manual pen tests, performed by ethical hackers, help uncover flaws that companies are not aware of. These tests also provide an opportunity for another set of eyes to study the application and its underlying infrastructure and spot security issues that internal team members may have overlooked. Of course, manual pen testing is limited in that it occurs at a specific point in time, rather than continuously. Automated assessments, on the other hand, provide constant monitoring and help companies save money. However, the cost savings with automation may be irrelevant when businesses use this method exclusively, as automated tools are not without their flaws. For one, an automated assessment can result in numerous false-positives while also overlooking genuine threats because of alert fatigue; these tools are limited in that they do not account for business context or the type of in-depth audit that a skilled analyst can provide. When these things are not considered or overlooked, potential threats can quickly turn into serious issues, eventually costing companies much more than they initially planned.
Adopting a Hybrid Security Approach
Many small- and medium-sized companies are not equipped to handle the risks associated with agile development. These businesses typically cannot afford the IT security or risk management teams needed to continually assess the risk exposure and respond efficiently to attacks. Because of this, automated assessments are often preferred for their ability to help keep costs low. And while we have seen that automated tools are essential in helping companies identify risks, we also know that they only represent one side of the coin and that manual pen tests are also a vital piece of the puzzle.
Combining these two together in a hybrid security approach is the best way to reduce the attack surface by closing the knowledge (pen testing) and resource (automation) gap for busy security teams. A successful hybrid web application security solution involves utilizing scanning technology that is also supported and improved by regular manual penetration testing to help minimize false-positives and adapt to evolving hacking techniques. Moreover, the manual pen testing itself is handled by external security experts who assess the application and business logic behind it to provide a comprehensive view of the attack surface and present this information in an actionable format. This hybrid security approach cuts back on errors in automation and also eliminates the time-specific issue of traditional manual pen tests, all while allowing businesses to stay within budget.
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