Understanding the Need for Software Security Testing
It’s better to be safe than sorry. Software and app security testing have a distinct relationship in strengthening the quality of a product under test.
Security testing services basically refers to the entire spectrum of services that ensure a flawless functioning of the app in an environment where all potential vulnerabilities have been evaluated, identified and mitigated. These services dedicatedly aim at the evaluation of vulnerability, integrity, authenticity, confidentiality and safety of the data through the application’s features. The security testers focus on the entire stratum of the information system spread across the entire infrastructure (database, network and access channels) to make it safe and free from potential bugs and vulnerabilities.
But over a period of time, things have changed and evolved. With the arrival of the latest technologies and learnings in security testing, black hat hackers have also evolved at an equivalent pace. It thus becomes important for our modern day security testers to stay ahead in this never ending race to optimal security. Keeping a closer look at some of the latest software security testing trends will surely help in strengthening the engineering efforts.
Trend 1: PCI DSS Compliance
Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS)
This is a strict security compliance for all organizations that accept cards as payment modes. The PCI DSS guidelines include few areas, mentioned below, that demands attention from merchants/payment processors/organizations:
- Protecting the cardholder’s data
- Building and maintaining a secure network and system
- Having a solid vulnerability management program
- Deploying robust access control methods
- Maintaining information security policies
- 24 x 7 monitoring
Making it Secure with Vulnerability Scan & Penetration Testing
Deploying a strong security network with vulnerability scanning and penetration testing services can prevent black-hat hackers to access the control system, thereby minimizing the risk of data theft.
Vulnerability scanning simply defines the process of detecting those vulnerabilities in your system which could be exploited by the uninvited ones. These vulnerabilities include defects in web servers, email clients, POS (Point of Sale) software, operating systems and web browsers. These loopholes attracts the attacker to gain access to the control system environment. Keeping the framework secure with latest updates and security patches could effectively prevent sensitive data from being stolen and can also help in the early detection of the new vulnerabilities.
Penetration Tester works with a mindset of a potential hacker, by effectively exploiting the coding errors. In simpler words, the tester himself acts as the hacker and tries to break into the network to detect and report security loopholes. The time taken by a tester to do the pen-testing depends upon the size of the network and its complexity.
The two above mentioned tests are often confused as different phases of one single process; instead, these are 2 totally different activities with their own unique set of features.
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Trend 2: DevSecOps
Secure DevOps or Development Security Operations – call it by whatever name you may like but in a layman’s term, it simply refers to the integration of best security practices into the existing DevOps workflow. So, combined together as DevSecOps it automates the security workflow to create a process for the development and the security team.
Benefits of DevSecOps Approach
The approach helps testers and developers in harnessing the power of agile methodologies as the security testing methods are seamlessly integrated into the development process.
Another benefit with this approach is, it helps the organization to utilize the full capacity of cloud services. With the modern day technologies, organizations relying on cloud services such as AWS (Amazon Web Services) could effectively utilize detective security controls with continuous integration by leveraging the DevSecOps approach. Let’s take a look at some of the other identified benefits:
- Superfast delivery and agility
- Higher trust
- More accountability
- More opportunities for automation builds
- Early detection of vulnerabilities at the code level
So, what’s the difference between DevOps & DevSecOps?
The future is definitely DevSecOps. The key point here is that speed is often termed as an enemy of accuracy and security. This is where DevSecOps takes the lead by implementing the best security practices to reduce the overall risk and within the give time constraints. It should be well taken into account that security is never a ‘job done’ and is an ongoing process and DevSecOps simply helps the developers to throttle the speed while also keeping a keen eye on the critical vulnerabilities.
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Trend 3: The OWASP Top 10 List and Beyond
OWASP (Open Web Application Security Project) is a non-profit organization governed by like-minded professionals and focuses on making software security visible in order to enable organizations and individuals take critically informed decisions. The OWASP Top 10 List talks about the 10 most critical security threats that could affect your applications. But over the period of time, the ‘list’ has been showing stagnancy and due to which other critical security issues have not been dealt with equal importance. Let’s take a look at those which are beyond the Top 10 List.
This refers to any and all unknown attacks which exposes the vulnerability of the app and makes a passage for unauthorized access. The vulnerability could be in the software or in the hardware and could be creating complex problems before detection. The threat is termed as Zero-day because it gives ‘0’ time to the developers to resolve.
A Zero-day exploit is quite tough to detect. The installed malware, spyware and all sorts of anti-virus software are ineffective to detect this intrusion due to the absence of the attack signature in the very first place.
The most commonly used technique to detect any potential zero-day threat is by using user behaviour analytics. The analytics shows the usual authorized entities and behaviour patterns; any activity falling behind the usual is then immediately treated as a threat or as a zero-day exploit.
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Penetration testing with HIPAA Compliance
HIPAA needs no introduction. At a very high level, gh HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) compliance defines the mandatory safety measures and implementations that software developers must adhere to. The HIPAA compliance solution came into existence due to the problem statement of frauds, thefts and unauthorized access in the medical industry.
Manual pen-testing, however time-taking, can reveal real world methods in which the unauthorized attacker may try to compromise the security blocks. The intrusion may be in the physical premises and in the network or IT assets. At this point leveraging a tester from an outsourced QA vendor can be of great help as being an outsider they can easily pin-point the exposed loopholes. Though this threat cannot be prevented however, it can be mitigated by removing certain shortcomings such as:
- Ample employee training
- Crippled, defected or pirated system software
- Workflow flaws
- Absence of stringent policies
- Threat possibility on storage devices
Trend 4: Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning
Artificial Intelligence enables a machine to learn from its own experience, implement the learnings and perform those tasks which were earlier performed by humans. The technology is being effectively used in various scenarios such as self-driving cars, chatbot support, voice assistants and more. It is thus enabling computers to perform tasks that require the processing of large amounts of data.
Machine learning, on the other hand, is a subset of AI where the algorithms analytically build a model based on the derived training data. ML is based on the idea that computer systems too can learn, identify and make decisions. Machine learning has found heavy usage in electronics such as offering recommendations on OTT platforms, voice search assistants and more. Machine learning can thus help organizations to make better decisions with minimal human intervention.
AI & ML have both found extensive usage in effective penetration testing methods which is an amalgam of human expertise, threat reporting & intelligence and comprehensive vulnerability scanning. Security testers nowadays are actively deploying artificial intelligence in their penetration tests to achieve more appropriate results.
AI provides you automation which eases out your pen-testing process and makes it scalable. It must be taken into account that artificial intelligence cannot replace human intervention totally. Instead, one needs to feed weeks and months of activity data in order to train ML models to detect anomalies and threats. The intervention of AI can thus massively impact certain phases of your penetration testing – these include:
Scanning has always required comprehensive coverage because ideally, it’s not feasible to manually scan the entire network nor is it recommended to interpret the results with the reports generated by as scanning tool. AI here can be used to tweak the code of the tool and interpret the results, which can hence save time for the manual pen-testers and help in achieving overall efficiency.
The automatic creation of test cases by AI checks whether the specific flawed program can be tagged or not. These test cases can also help in detecting the response of the system in case of an intrusion.
This is the information gathering phase where observation takes place to locate potential vulnerabilities. In the realm of cybersecurity, it is often said that more the amount of information gathered higher the chance of success. Hence it is recommended to delegate a substantial amount of time in gathering relevant information about the target.
With AI this phase can be automated. By leveraging AI & Natural Language Processing security testers can build an effective security profile of the network and the various hardware and software being used, so as to keep continuous monitoring.
Gaining & Maintaining Access
This phase talks about taking control of the network in case of an intrusion and extracting important data to a safer location. To gain access to the control system, the testers can leverage AI-based algorithms and exploit the loopholes to claim entry. The algorithms, used, can be trained to keep a watch on the patterns of the user data, latest trends and try different combinations of passwords to test the strength of the system.
These algorithms can, however, trigger safety mechanisms which are a natural process. The algorithms can also be used to detect encrypted channels, new administrator accounts, network access channels and any such new path which can turn out to be a vulnerability.
Recovering tracks and reporting them
There might be certain scenarios where an unauthorized attacker may try to remove traces of the attack. The AI-based tools can effectively discover these traces from system logs, access channels and any error notifications rising due to the intrusion process. With AI the system can maintain a detailed timeline report comprising of the duration of every attack, nature of attacks and other important details.
One needs to understand that every organization is constantly being peeped by black hat hackers and every moment new attacking methods are being created or discovered. So, when AI & ML are trained by cybersecurity and data experts, they can be an important addition to your safety system. Thus, in order to stay ahead in the game, it is advisable to implement only the latest security measures and testers with modern AI & ML backing to safeguard your digital ecosystem.
Trend 5: User Behaviour Analytics
According to Verizon’s recent data breach report almost 74% of the organizations feel threatened to an attack done by an insider. This indicates that your security system needs to stay alert proactively to detect all intrusions from external as well as internal sources. This is where User Behaviour Analytics helps by collection, tracking and assessment of user activity with monitoring systems.
Also known as UEBA (User and Entity Behaviour Analytics), this is a unique category of security testing defined by Gartner in 2015. This analytics system extensively uses machine learning and deep learning to construct the behaviour of various vulnerabilities on their corporate networks. The technology is actively capable of detecting any unusual behaviour and checks whether the change in behaviour may cause security vulnerabilities and alerts the security response team accordingly.
The UBA tools offer a detailed profiling and monitoring capability than the SIEM (Security Information and Event Management) systems by defining a basic profile for regular and day-to-day activities specific to the organization and for its users. The UBA system also identifies the deviations from the normal by using big data and machine learning algorithms – this is done in real-time.
The functioning of the UBA system
The analytics system collects a myriad of data such as designations, access liability, permissions, account type, activity logs and locations. The data thus collected comprises past as well as current records. The duration of these activities mentioned are also taken into consideration in order to curate a detailed comparison between normal and unusual behaviour. The system automatically updates all alterations made to the existing data such as a promotion, levels of access rights and change in permissions.
Generally, the organizations presume that the UBA based tool could create a little lag as it might report each and every change arising due to a changed behaviour, which is fortunately not the case. The system does not report every altered behaviour as a risk; in fact, it evaluates the impact occurring overall. So, in case of low-sensitive impacts, it is awarded a lower score accordingly and vice-versa. This helps the security teams to prioritize the issues and pinpoint the ones that need an aggressive follow-up. Meanwhile, the system keeps updating the threat level with reference to the behaviour.
Easy Threat Detection & Optimized Business Process
This system gives the security teams an upper hand over all the internal threats, with the possibility of navigating over to the time when any malpractice was recorded, such as accessing unauthorized content or inserting external drives. For external attacks, the team can track and understand the movement of an unauthorized user through the organization’s network, devices and data systems.
With every action being documented, the UBA system also makes the reporting of the threat detection system more accurate and transparent. This documented data can then be merged with the business intelligence report which would eventually make it clearer for the stakeholders to understand and monitor every single penny spent on security systems. The collected data also helps in audit processes as it depicts the real activities and how each case of deviation impacted the overall output.
Trend 6: Cloud Security Testing
Gartner says that by 2020, 95% of cloud security failures would be due to the organization itself. To avoid the same, the entire digital ecosystem must adhere to robust cloud security testing services.
This is the 21st century and the usage of cloud platforms are inevitable which marks the concrete presence of cloud-based app security testing. In this testing form, the tool is hosted on the cloud platform and the process is somewhat different than the conventional ways of testing. The primary requirement of the organizations today is to serve all endpoints, which is why the applications today are deployed on cloud platforms.
Cloud-based security testing solutions give a cost-effective testing option to businesses alike and empowers firms to utilize testing resources cost-effectively. Various security service models are offered by cloud space providers to cater to a mix of client requirements.
Infrastructure-as-a-Service model allows the organization to do various performance, automation and security tests at a much lower cost as compared to onsite testing services which are otherwise a costly process to own. By leveraging IaaS the organization can get rid of hefty maintenance costs. The cloud-based IaaS can be expanded as per requirement and can be easily scaled back upon low usage. The scalability option makes IaaS a clear winner over other forms. Find below some IaaS security solutions:
Cloud security gateway
This IaaS remedy is, also known as cloud access security broker, responsible for providing visibility and control over the cloud which includes malware detection, prevention of data loss and comprehensive activity monitoring. Upon requirement, IaaS can also be integrated with the firewall to monitor the unprotected data on the cloud storage.
Virtual network security
This solution scans the overall network traffic moving between the IaaS environment. The solution is made to protect and safeguard the virtual resources by detecting and blocking the network intrusion.
Cloud security posture management (CSPM)
As suggested by the name this solution manages the cloud platform for compliance and security related issues with automatic solution system.
Cloud workload protection platforms (CWPP)
It discovers the workloads and applies necessary safety measures, manages the workload instances which if left untouched may result as a vulnerability and provide a loophole to the attacker.
For Platform-as-a-Service the entire scalable development and deployment environment is leveraged. The package contains every element that a developer or a tester may need to create and execute cloud-based applications. What this means is organizations can deploy their own security measures to protect their data. Some PaaS security solutions are:
Cloud security gateway
Deployed by the organization, it monitors the unauthorized cloud services and puts data security policies in place. It has the capability to restrict cloud services according to users, application and devices. It also has the ability to audit cloud configurations.
Cloud security posture management (CSPM)
As described above
Cloud workload protection platforms (CWPP)
As described above
Software-as-a-service gives the flexibility to the organization to subscribe to the applications as per their requirement without having to host them. The motive behind using SaaS is almost the same as PaaS & IaaS described above, which is saving space, infrastructure cost, maintenance cost and staff cost. Some of the most popular cloud service providers are AWS (Amazon Web Services), Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform. To improve SaaS security the below mentioned recommendations can be implemented:
Data Loss Prevention
Active data loss prevention methods secure your network channels for any security breach and protect your valuable data on cloud applications. To ensure a stronger protection system, security policies can be implemented.
Cloud Access Security Brokers
Also known as cloud security gateway, already explained above.
Cloud Penetration Testing
Irrespective of the service type IaaS, PaaS or SaaS, all are prone to security misconfiguration, intrusion and lags. With cloud penetration tests the technical assurance of the environment can be improved and can give a better idea about the attack zone to which your product may be exposed to.
The cloud pen-test is an amalgam of external and internal tests, that gives an idea about the position of the security system. These tests can effectively identify vulnerabilities such as storage blobs and open server ports. However, one strictly needs to understand that standalone penetration tests are not sufficient enough to prohibit the intrusion and needs to be strongly customized and tailored according to the requirements of the organization.
Security testing is one space which stays in a constant state of flux, one method trying to outrun the other. No security policy or measure is enough to keep you safe and protected forever; instead it requires regular knowledge updates to keep your team in-sync with the latest security and other technology related trends and tools.