Network security protects your network and data from breaches, intrusions, and other threats. It is a broad term that describes hardware and software solutions and processes that can protect network usage and accessibility and mitigate threats to a corporate network.
Network security includes access control, antivirus software, application security, network analysis, specific security solutions for endpoints, local area networks (LAN), wide area networks (AWN) and wireless networks, firewalls, VPN encryption, and more.
Application security was traditionally thought to be a separate field - it refers to security measures designed to prevent an application's data and code from being stolen or hijacked. However, modern organizations are realizing that application security is inseparable from network security, and they must take a holistic approach to securing networks and the applications within them.
Cybercrime and Threats Facing Modern Networks
Before we understand the connection to applications, let’s review the fundamental threats facing modern networks.
Cyberattacks are any criminal activity involving computers, networks, and digital or electronic devices. The motivations behind cybercrime might range from personal or financial gain to a desire to disrupt or damage computer systems. Some attackers use computers and networks to spread malware, illegal information, or other illegitimate materials. Many cyberattacks are able to penetrate network perimeters and even spread to the entire network.
While cybercriminals often use malware and other malicious technology for their activities, social engineering is a key element in most cybercrime operations. Two common examples of social engineering are phishing emails and business email compromise (BEC), in which attackers pose as business owners and convince employees to pay counterfeit bills.
Another common type of attack against networks is distributed denial of service (DDoS). This attack floods systems with fake traffic with the goal of shutting down systems and networks. It overwhelms the network's ability to respond to connection requests using proprietary communication protocols for the network.
Why Application Security is Critical to Network Security
Application security involves security measures designed to prevent an application's data and code from being stolen or hijacked. This includes security considerations that arise during application development and design and systems and methods for securing applications after deployment.
The critical point to realize is that every application running within a network is a potential entry point to that network. Most modern applications are web-based or allow some kind of remote access, typically over a VPN. As soon as a user is able to connect to an application remotely, attackers can do the same, bypassing network security controls.
With the number of applications developed, deployed, used, and updated growing rapidly - the network attack surface grows at the same rate. Essentially - a security vulnerability in a public-facing application is an entry point to the entire network.
Types of Application Security Controls
Application security may include hardware, software, and procedures used to identify or minimize security breaches against applications. For example:
- A router that prevents others from seeing your computer's IP address on the Internet is a hardware-based application security control.
- Application-level security measures can be built into the software layer. An example is an application firewall that defines exactly which activities are allowed and prohibited in a business-critical application.
- Applications might contain security routines or periodic testing protocols as part of their design.
There are four main types of Application security controls:
- Testing controls—help identify and eliminate weaknesses and vulnerabilities in the application development process.
- Access controls—prevent unauthorized access to applications. This helps prevent the hijacking of authenticated user accounts or inadvertently granting unauthorized access to restricted data.
- Authorization controls—used by a user or program to authenticate who or what can access application resources.
- Cryptographic controls—used to encrypt and decrypt sensitive data. Cryptographic controls can be implemented at multiple layers of the network. For example, an application can encrypt user inputs and outputs on its own without additional components. Alternatively, applications can rely on encryption controls provided by external components or network layer protocols, like IP Security (IPsec), to encrypt traffic they send or receive.
Common Application Security Tools
In a large organization, it is not possible to secure applications without using automated tools. Here are some of the tools most commonly used to identify vulnerabilities and risks in applications and remediate them.
Software Composition Analysis
Today's software applications rely heavily on open-source components. Software Portfolio Analysis (SCA) is a process that automates the evaluation of open-source software for risk management, security, and license compliance. SCA helps developers ensure that the open-source components they include in their applications meet basic security standards and pose no risk to their organization.
Software configuration analysis tools can identify open-source security risks and vulnerabilities in third-party components, as well as provide license and vulnerability information for each component. More sophisticated tools can automate the entire open-source selection, approval, and tracking process, saving developers valuable time and significantly improving accuracy. SCA tools are increasingly becoming an integral part of the application security portfolio.
Application Security Testing Tools
Application security testing is the process of making an application more resistant to security threats by identifying security vulnerabilities and vulnerabilities in the source code.
Developers use three main types of security testing techniques to identify security vulnerabilities before software is released:
- Static Application Security Testing (SAST): Finds common bugs before compiling a build. Development teams can use multiple SAST tools to support different languages and development platforms.
- Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST): Inspects running builds and identifies issues related to configuration, error handling, application input and output, and more. SAST and DAST are often used together.
- Interactive Application Security Testing (IAST): Combines SAST and DAST technologies to enable hybrid testing throughout the development lifecycle.
Web Application Firewall (WAF)
A web application firewall (WAF) monitors, filters, and blocks packets as they travel to and from a website or web application. Web-based, host-based, or cloud-based WAFs are typically deployed in front of one or more websites or applications through a reverse proxy.
A web application firewall is a common security control that businesses use to protect their web systems from zero-day attacks, malware infection, spoofing, and other known and unknown threats and vulnerabilities. Custom detection allows WAFs to detect and immediately block some of the most dangerous web application security vulnerabilities.
Endpoint Security Tools
Endpoint security is the practice of protecting end-user device endpoints (such as desktops, laptops, and mobile devices) from malicious actors or activities. Endpoint security systems protect these endpoints from cybersecurity threats on the network or in the cloud. Endpoint security evolved from traditional antivirus software to provide comprehensive protection against advanced malware and zero-day threats.
In this article, I established the importance of application security to the broader field of network security. I surveyed common application security controls and covered automated tools that can help you lock down and secure applications:
- Software composition analysis, which identifies insecure components in a software application.
- Application security testing, which enables automated testing of application source code and configuration for vulnerabilities.
- Web Application Firewall (WAF), which offers real-time protection against malicious application traffic.
- Endpoint security tools, which includes multi-layered security for the server hosting the application and clients used to access it.
I hope this will be useful as you improve application security to create a more holistic network security strategy.