Application Security: Your First Steps

One of the areas of information security that Asterisk has a keen interest and involvement in is that of Application Security. Whilst security of your infrastructure, in particular the perimeter and end-points, has been a focus point for a number of years now most of the important information stored by your business doesn’t usually reside in those locations. Sure, transient remnants of information are always likely to exist on your end-points, but centralised storage and management of sensitive information has been a central enabler for IT since the concept of client/server architecture began. For most people involved in information security, or even information technology, this is not news at all. In fact, it’s been the message that organisations like OWASP have been hammering on about for over a decade now. Unfortunately traditional firewalls and anti-virus don’t really help you when it comes to assuring the security of your applications, especially your web-applications, on the contrary your firewalls are usually configured to explicitly allow access to your web-applications, I mean that’s what they’re for.

As part of our involvement with the application security space we participate in conferences and events focused on the security of applications, unfortunately, these events always struggle to draw in the people that would really benefit from this knowledge. I’m talking about the masses of people who actually run their businesses online, or the people that rely on the Internet for their commerce, and there’s lots of us (yes us too, we utilise various online services for the management of our business too).

So where do they start? Can they talk to their IT guy? Can they talk to their AV vendor? If there were an easy solution to securing applications, we would have all done it already, right? And if you’re in the business of relying on your staff, or contracted staff, to build applications for you, then trust us, this is definitely an issue that you should be aware of. If you haven’t had an opportunity to read Verizon’s Data Breach Investigations Report for 2012 then you should get your hands on it [pdf] (Or a really good high level summary can be found over on Securosis). One of the takeaways from the report is the number of breaches where the vector was hacking via web applications. (The recent report indicates that overall 10% of external hacking incidents, leading to breaches, where related to web applications. This statistic increases to 54% when looking at organisations with 1000 or more employees)

Honestly, starting is the simplest bit; it is being aware of the problem. Awareness that a lot of attacks are opportunistic in nature, and that you aren’t necessarily a target, except for the fact you reside in some form on the Internet. The tools and the methods employed by these attackers are not a dark art; they’re relatively simple and widely discussed in the industry and by many ‘above-board’ organisations. One such organisation is OWASP, a not-for-profit worldwide organisation focused on improving the security of application software. And you know how they do it? The publish materials and tools, for free, online. Asterisk is so keen to dedicate itself to this cause that two of our founders are local chapter leaders within OWASP.

If step one is increasing your awareness of just how exposed your applications are online, then step two would be dedicating your morning read to some of OWASP’s materials (If I had to choose a starting point, the latest version of the OWASP Top 10 is as good as any), or better yet, finding out when your next OWASP chapter meeting is and heading on down to say ‘hi’.

Don’t give up hope, and don’t worry, this is going to be the first of many posts on how you can start looking a little closer at the security of your applications.