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Cork That App or Face Attack

By Michelle Drolet
1 Aug 2014

Despite all the news about hackers infiltrating major corporations, most businesses continue to leave themselves woefully unprotected. Some surveys estimate more than 70% of businesses perform vulnerability tests on less than 10% of their cloud, mobile and web applications. A majority also confess they have been hacked at least once in the last two years.

While most large businesses have begun application vulnerability testing, there is still a long way to go. After all, you are only as strong as your weakest link; hackers will undoubtedly find and attack any application without sufficient defenses.

Although testing and creating protection for high-value and mission-critical applications is better than not doing anything at all, leaving low-priority applications unprotected is still a major risk. If hackers can exploit just one application, that means they can then access the rest of your infrastructure. They’ll eventually figure out a way to also attack your high-value applications.

Major Challenges When Protecting Applications

So why in spite of all the risks are organizations not identifying all the vulnerabilities in their cloud, mobile and web applications? Security professionals typically point to several reasons that hold them back:

  • Limited Budget: Businesses simply don’t allocate enough money to test all applications. Whether additional headcount or technology is required, testing costs money, and most organizations do not set aside sufficient funds.
  • Lack of Expertise: Application security is still not a mature science. Even companies with the budget to hire expertise find it difficult to recruit security experts who really understand application security.
  • Compliance Focus: Most organizations are driven first by compliance requirements rather than security. So the focus is only on applications that help achieve compliance while other applications are ignored. Applications assessed for security are tested in many cases only to get a checkbox for compliance—not necessarily for sufficient security.
  • External Focus Only: One misconception when it comes to application security is that companies shouldn’t worry about testing internal applications with no external interface. But think of insider threats. What if you have an internal human resources application with access to confidential employee information? If a less-than-ethical employee exploits a privilege, they can gain access to sensitive records, and your company becomes non-compliant with various standards.

Recommendations for Protecting Your Business

Despite these challenges, there are practical ways to protect your business. Here are a few recommendations to identify application vulnerabilities:

  • Respect the Impact of Hacking: According to research by Forrester and the Ponemon Institute, the average cost per record in the case of a breach is at least $300. Most companies have thousands of records. And more than 75% of attacks occur through web applications.
  • Outsource: You don’t have to do everything yourself. Consider a managed service or a cloud service to help you secure your cloud, mobile and web applications quickly and affordably.
  • Create a Process: You can cut your costs by creating a pyramid according to the value of all your apps. First identify and then test all your applications. Based on what you find, you can prioritize applications that need deeper penetration testing. This way, you’ll cover all your applications without spending a fortune and taking too long. Automated solutions and a good process can help you get there quickly.
  • Manage Your Risk: You will find hundreds of vulnerabilities within your applications, but you won’t have time to fix them all. Take a risk management approach and prioritize these vulnerabilities based on a quantitative score. The ones with the highest score (i.e. most likely to be exploited) are the most sensitive and should be addressed right away. All others should be blocked with a web application firewall or other methodologies.

Raise Your Castle Walls to Thwart Attacks

Any breach can have a severely-adverse impact on your bottom line. Cloud, mobile and web application vulnerabilities are low-hanging fruit for hackers—they would rather pick these than go after the hard stuff.

Hacking, unfortunately for the rest of us, has become a lucrative profession, and intruders will continue to attack to earn their living. Whether their motive is financial gain, espionage, hacktivism or perhaps something even more pernicious, hackers will continue to fire shots until they penetrate.

Although you can’t fire back at the enemy and can’t be 100% secure, you can certainly raise the walls of your castle. This puts you in a much better position to thwart their attempts.

Michelle Drolet is founder of the data security services provider Towerwall.
Special to Innovation Insights