/ Unified Security Guide / Chapter 4: Application security

Application security

In our application-driven economy, many organizations have turned to web applications and application programming interfaces (APIs) to power a wide range of business processes. From streamlining customer communication and employee collaboration to securely storing data, these tools have become vital components of modern business workflows. For this reason, apps and APIs have also become primary targets for motivated cyber criminals.

Because apps and APIs contain more valuable information than ever before, bad actors are attempting to exploit their vulnerabilities—such as application design flaws or weaknesses in APIs, open-source code, or access management security—at any chance they can get. Worse, attack vectors against apps and APIs are expanding, especially as application architectures become more complex and apps are deployed across multiple IT environments.

Organizations with remote or hybrid workforces have introduced even more app and API security risks as well, as the networks and devices that employees use to access their company’s apps may not be properly secured. This, combined with the ever-evolving sophistication of cybercriminals and their attack techniques, makes properly securing your apps and APIs a challenge.

Protecting your organization’s applications and APIs is critical to avoid things like reputation damage, financial loss, or legal exposure in the event of a successful cyberattack. To ensure your organization's apps and APIs are protected regardless of their complexity, where they are deployed, or what networks or devices your employees are using to access them, robust application security is essential.

What is application security?

Application security is the practice of deploying security tools, processes, and best practices throughout the entire application lifecycle to safeguard enterprise applications and APIs from internal or external attacks, privilege abuse, or data theft. As apps and APIs contain valuable data, cyber criminals are more motivated than ever to source and exploit their vulnerabilities to steal sensitive information or intellectual property.

Why is application security so important?

Enterprise applications are critical components of our modern-day businesses, as they work to integrate core business programs and processes into a single software architecture to enhance efficiency, productivity, and communication across your entire organization. This means that your applications inherently provide gateways to valuable corporate data and sensitive information, and that makes them a primary target for sophisticated cyber-attacks. Protecting your enterprise applications with the proper security measures is key to safeguarding your business.

What are common application security threats?

The application threat landscape is vast, which means your organization must mitigate security risks throughout the entire application lifecycle. The Open Web Application Security Project® (OWASP), in its bid to help businesses reduce their security exposure, has compiled a list of the top 10 critical security risks for applications your organization should be prepared for, including the following types of attacks:

  • Injection
  • Broken authentication
  • Sensitive data exposure
  • XML external entities (XXE)
  • Broken access control
  • Security misconfiguration
  • Cross-site scripting (XSS)
  • Insecure deserialization
  • Using components with known vulnerabilities
  • Insufficient logging and monitoring

Today, many types of multi-vector attacks seek to take advantage of security risks flagged by OWASP to target applications and application programming interfaces (APIs). Some of the most common include:

Application layer (L7) distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks attempt to disrupt traffic on a web application by overwhelming it with a flood of traffic.

Structured Query Language (SQL) injection allow bad actors to do things like read sensitive data from a database, modify data, execute admin controls, and sometimes issue commands to the operating system (OS).

Bot attacks use automated web requests to manipulate or disrupt an application or API. Common bot attacks include web content scraping, account takeover (ATO), form submission abuse, and API abuse.

What are cloud application security threats?

As organizations move their enterprise applications from on-premises hosting to cloud hosting, cloud application security threats present a unique set of challenges. Outside of mitigating the OWASP security risks and application attacks mentioned earlier, many organizations struggle with the complexities surrounding the deployment of applications in the cloud. In fact, some of the most common cloud migration security challenges are due to the fragmentation of security tools and human error. A lack of cloud knowledge from enterprise IT teams, for example, could lead to misconfiguration or accidental errors that facilitate data exposure or loss—especially if this is their first time migrating apps from on-premises to the cloud.

Illustration on how common security cloud migration challenges are due to human error.

Why application security is challenging

Adhering to application security best practices is challenging, especially for organizations that deploy several enterprise applications both on-premises and in the cloud. Organizations with a distributed workforce typically feature a considerable number of apps in their enterprise IT systems, and the larger an organization is, the more apps it normally requires. This makes application security even more difficult to manage.

According to the 2020 KPMG Cloud Threat Report, 78% of organizations use more than 50 cybersecurity tools to secure their hybrid, multi-cloud environments. Unfortunately, using so many fragmented tools and disjointed security strategies ultimately leads to an inconsistent security posture, a lack of holistic visibility, and higher chances of human errors—all of which open the door to network and application vulnerabilities. Additionally, each cybersecurity tool an organization uses comes with its own management and training costs.

Best application security practices for IT

A good start to securing your hybrid workforce is by adhering to the following application security best practices:

  • Authorization management: Check the application for access levels and what a user has access to, and what actions they can perform. Also conduct tests that simulate attacks like path traversal against the web servers that aim to access files and directories that are stored outside of root folders, as well as tests against attacks that exploit direct object references, etc.
  • Security assessments: Conduct regular security assessments to determine which apps your organization uses most, who uses the apps, and what data security controls you need to maintain regulatory compliance.
  • Security testing: Use a third party to provide penetration testing to identify vulnerabilities and security issues in the applications you use.
  • Mitigating vulnerabilities: Update software and use the latest security patches. Additionally, be sure to address the security issues uncovered during penetration testing.

How to improve cloud application security

For enterprise applications hosted in the cloud, security is a shared responsibility between the cloud provider and the organization. While cloud providers are responsible for the infrastructure applications run on, organizations are responsible for their own cloud application data security measures. Organizations can work to improve their cloud application security by:

Implementing multi-factor authentication (MFA): MFA is a security practice that requires users to present two or more credentials to access an enterprise application. Credentials could include a password, a badge or key, or biomarkers.

Managing user access levels: Only allow users to access applications, resources, or data they need to do their jobs—and ensure continuous device posture assessments are being made while they are using them. Once a user no longer needs access to an application, change their permissions accordingly.

Monitoring end user activity: Keep track of the actions your end users take while using your applications, accessing data, or connecting to unsanctioned networks.

Developing a proper employee off-boarding process: When an employee leaves your organization, be sure to revoke all access to applications immediately and change passwords, as necessary.

Providing anti-phishing training: Educate employees on proper email best practices and how to identify and report phishing attempts.

Using cloud-to-cloud backup services: Protect your information by backing up data stored on one cloud hosting service to another.

Common application security tools

As we mentioned earlier, many organizations use a variety of application security tools from different vendors, which leads to an inconsistent or fragmented security posture. To successfully maintain security across enterprise applications hosted both on-premises and in the cloud, it’s important to partner with a vendor that takes a unified, multi-layered approach. A comprehensive, layered application security solution should be comprised of tools that provide:

  • DdoS and volumetric DDoS protection
  • Bot management
  • Web app firewall (WAF)
  • API protection

Citrix application delivery and security

Citrix application delivery and security is designed to provide comprehensive enterprise application security and deliver a top-line user experience for apps running on any infrastructure. Centered around a robust application delivery controller (ADC), our platform uses AI and machine learning capabilities to provide a consistent security posture against application security threats, both known and unknown. With our single-vendor enterprise application security solution, all application types can be monitored and controlled using a single pane of glass with end-to-end visibility, no matter where they are deployed.

A complete application delivery and security platform

Citrix ADC

At Citrix, we make it easy for organizations to keep their hybrid workforce productive and protected against enterprise application and API attacks with Citrix ADC. Along with providing an always-on application experience and holistic visibility across your entire network, Citrix ADC keeps malicious actors from exploiting security vulnerabilities with:

  • Secure, adaptive remote access to all your applications
  • Always-on, holistic layered protection for your apps and APIs
  • Consistent security posture across hybrid and multi-cloud environments
  • Built-in compliance and governance controls

Citrix ADC also uses the same code base across all form factors (including all types of ADCs running in different environments), which means it works the same across applications hosted on-premises and in the cloud. This capability provides your organization with operational consistency, because it enables you to apply, manage, and monitor security policies across all applications no matter where they are running.

Citrix Application Delivery Management

Citrix Application Delivery Management provides one-click provisioning and gives you holistic visibility and operational consistency across both your on-premises and cloud environments. With Citrix ADM, you can see your entire hybrid or multi-cloud environment in one view, which allows you to focus on specific details of your ADC infrastructure such as application performance, health, and security.

Citrix Web App and API Protection

Citrix Web App and API Protection offers proven, layered protection against known and zero-day application attacks. This cloud-based service keeps all application types secure across a hybrid, multi-cloud environment, allowing your organization to maintain a consistent security posture. It also features always-on bot management and DDoS protection—including against sophisticated volumetric L7 DDoS attacks. 

Safeguard your enterprise applications and provide a seamless user experience with Citrix

As hybrid workforces continue to use unsanctioned personal devices and unsecure networks to access enterprise applications—as well as thousands of other apps for all sorts of uses—application security is of the utmost importance. Rather than trying to maintain an inconsistent, fragmented security posture through different solutions, your organization needs a unified application security platform that’s controlled through a single pane of glass. With Citrix Application Delivery and Security solutions, you can safeguard your organization's enterprise applications no matter where they are deployed. Through our platform, you can enable a great user experience, gain holistic visibility across your multi-cloud environment, and simplify the process of protecting increasingly susceptible enterprise applications and APIs.


What is application security?

Application security is the practice of deploying security tools, processes, and best practices throughout the entire application lifecycle to safeguard enterprise applications from internal or external attacks, privilege abuse, or data theft.

What are application security issues?

Common application security issues include providing unrestricted outbound access, unencrypted storage, no multi-factor authorization (MFA), and a misconfiguration of apps and security settings. Another key issue is deploying multiple application security solutions from different vendors, which results in a fragmented, inconsistent security posture across a hybrid, multi-cloud network.

What are application security best practices?

Application security best practices include providing proper application access to authorized users, continuous user verification and validation, conducting regular security assessments and network penetration testing, and keeping software updated.