What is application security?

Application security (appsec) refers to the technology, tools, and processes used to protect applications—including cloud, SaaS, and web applications—from internal and external threats. Because web applications often contain sensitive data and are available over multiple networks, application security has become a key component of cybersecurity strategies. Solutions range from hardware such as encrypted routers, software like security analytics, and app delivery tools such as an application delivery controller (ADC) with an integrated web application firewall (WAF) and runtime features to protect APIs.

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What is cloud application security?

Cloud application security refers to the solutions and practices used to protect data exchange within collaborative cloud environments such as Slack, MS Office 365, and ShareFile. Common cloud application security measures include application security testing and secure web gateways to protect branch users. With the increasing popularity of cloud and SaaS apps, as well as IoT devices, cloud application security is an important part of any application security solution.

Another important element is cloud application security architecture. As enterprise technology infrastructure continues to evolve toward hybrid cloud deployments and multi-cloud environments, it’s important for enterprises to have a holistic view of how their cloud application security is configured. This is known as cloud application security architecture. By assessing cloud application security within the context of cloud connections like enterprise datacenter deployments, application gateways, cloud services, and identity verification systems, enterprises can design a cloud application security architecture that protects sensitive data inside cloud apps.

Why is enterprise application security important?

While enterprises have relied on applications for decades, most of the business apps that end users now demand are web apps or cloud applications. It’s also common for enterprises to rely on cloud storage and cloud deployment for applications. This increases the risk of attack as web server technology, data cases, and website-enabling technologies such as CGI, Java, JavaScript, PERL, and PHP all have underlying security vulnerabilities. Browsers and other client applications that communicate with web-enabled applications also have weaknesses that hackers can exploit. Because all these web applications are connected to multiple networks and clouds, a breach of one web app can easily compromise an entire enterprise.

As enterprises rely more on cloud services, it’s likely cybercriminals will increase attacks on cloud apps, apps hosted from a cloud infrastructure, and other cloud resources. Most cloud application security breaches are motivated by a desire for money, often by obtaining and ransoming sensitive data and private information or by gaining unauthorized access to a website or web server. To mitigate security risks, enterprises need software security solutions that cover their entire app infrastructure, including cloud applications, mobile applications, and SaaS apps.

The best web application security is multi-layered to protect web and cloud applications from multiple attack vectors. There are many application security tools, which can be divided into security at the application development level and security at the IT level.

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Application security at the development level

Securing applications begins with the software development lifecycle by creating source code using secure development processes. (This is often referred to as DevSecOps, which stands for “development, security, and operations.”) Secure coding requires an awareness of common threats to web applications, such as SQL injection, DDoS, malware, denial of service, and broken authentication. The OWASP Top 103 is a popular list of web application security threats that developers should address in their source code. Because software updates can create new application vulnerabilities, it’s important for developers to use application security testing to find flaws over the lifespan of an application. This is especially true of open-source applications because it’s easier for bad actors to find security flaws.

According to Gartner, IT managers should protect against common attack methods rather than only identifying application development security errors. This is especially true when organizations rely on web applications they have not built themselves. Software security requires a defense that can block both known attacks and unknown attacks, which are often detected because they look different from the normal traffic to an organization’s websites and web services.

Application security at the IT level

At the IT level, there are several tools organizations should factor into their application security strategies.

Secure application delivery

As more organizations adopt multi-cloud infrastructure, they need a strong application security posture to protect APIs as well as monolithic and microservices-based applications. The best solution is having strong application delivery security, which includes an ADC that shares a single code base across all ADC form factors. This makes it easier for IT to apply consistent security policies across multi-cloud environments, such as whitelisting or blacklisting certain IP addresses or using TLS to encrypt APIs in transit between the client and API server.

Web application firewall

Because new threats to web applications are constantly emerging, it’s important to protect against both known and unknown attacks. Web application firewalls are a proven solution, especially when they employ a positive security model that uses AI and machine learning to monitor user interactions and app behavior. This enables organizations to mitigate unknown attacks, provides insights for faster remediation, and helps ensure compliance for standards like PCI-DSS. Web application firewalls are often integrated inside app delivery controllers, but they are also available as a standalone or hosted service.

Application data security

Because applications access data from across the enterprise, application data security is key. Common application data security methods include centralizing and hosting sensitive data inside the enterprise datacenter, adopting secure file sharing to reduce data loss, and containerizing data in transit and at rest. These measures help ensure that applications only access data they need, and that this access is secure from cyberattacks.

Application delivery management

Another common application delivery security solution is to pair an ADC with an application delivery management (ADM) platform. ADM solutions provide visibility into monolithic and microservices-based application delivery across distributed environments. This gives IT admins insight into the performance and use of apps and APIs to flag suspicious activity or diminished performance.

Access security and application security policies

Cloud applications can be accessed by remote workers from essentially anywhere. This makes it important for organizations to adopt application security policy tools that ensure secure, adaptive access to these web and cloud apps in order to keep out bad actors. Access control is closely related to zero trust security because it forces remote users to verify their identity with multi-factor authentication before granting access to cloud applications. To simplify the user experience, single sign-on (SSO) solutions are a popular way to combine secure access with ease of use.

Secure digital workspaces

Employees want access to cloud applications and applications hosted in the cloud from all kinds of mobile devices, even personal ones. To enable bring your own device (BYOD) policies while also protecting applications, it is helpful to have remote workers sign into a secure digital workspace to access all their cloud apps. This improves data security and cloud application security by providing everything employees need for work in one place. It also enables IT to apply additional security protocols for the workspace, such as an on-premises datacenter firewall.

Monitoring and analytics

Even with regular application security testing and other cloud application security, it’s important for organizations to have visibility across all SaaS, cloud, and mobile apps and how they are being used. This is where application monitoring and security analytics come in. These tools provide continuous risk assessment across all users and applications, flagging unusual behavior to detect an external or internal threat before it leads to a data breach. It’s common for app monitoring and analytics tools to be integrated in application delivery management solutions to provide visibility across all environments in an organization’s app delivery infrastructure.

Network security

When remote workers and branch employees need to access cloud applications, they can rely on local internet connections that lack strong cybersecurity. To protect this attack surface from local internet breakout, organizations can adopt a consolidated SD-WAN solution with strong network security at the WAN edge. This should include a stateful firewall that allows IT teams to centrally define traffic policies that limit or reject traffic by applications and zones.

Application security best practices

Getting started with application security can seem like a big challenge. Nevertheless, every organization can begin to improve its application infrastructure security by following several application security best practices.

Application security assessment

The first application security best practice is to conduct an application security assessment. This shows you what applications you have, who uses them, and which compliance or regulatory mandates you need to follow. The first point gives you an accurate assessment of which applications you need to test and secure, and the second point will help you create zero trust and access security protocols that fit your organization. Finally, the compliance question will help you know how best to ensure data security for any private information that your applications can access. Mandates like PCI DSS and HIPAA have their own rules for how data in web applications must be secured.

Application security testing

Once you have a clear view of all the applications and users you have, it’s time to test the security of your cloud and web applications. This application security best practice will help you identify potential vulnerabilities and security issues in these applications to prevent future breaches. It is helpful to use third-party security testing tools or penetration testing services in order to avoid potential biases or internal blind spots.

Address vulnerabilities

Now that your testing has revealed potential vulnerabilities in your applications, the next application security best practice is adopting a security program to address these weaknesses. This could mean implementing a strict software updating schedule to ensure everyone in your organization is using the latest security patches. It’s also a good idea to engage outside technology vendors or security teams who can help you secure your access security, information security, and mobile security. This will help you adopt the application security tools that fit your application portfolio instead of paying for what you don’t need.

Citrix solutions for application security

Citrix application delivery and security solutions provide the holistic visibility you need to maintain a consistent security posture—even in multi-cloud and hybrid cloud environments. 

  • Citrix App Delivery and Security Service removes the guesswork from application security with a fully automated, intent-based app delivery and security service. Holistic, layered protection—web app firewall, DDoS protection, bot mitigation, and more—protects your valuable apps from threats and keeps your business running.
  • Citrix ADC helps organizations achieve a strong security posture across environments with a single code base across all form factors.
  • Citrix Application Delivery Management uses machine learning to thwart a variety of cyberattacks, with analytics that make it easy to track issues like web application firewall and bot violations.
  • Citrix Web App and API Protection provides layered protection for any application, anywhere, with a holistic security approach that combines bot mitigation and volumetric DDoS protection with an integrated web application firewall solution.

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