How to Enhance Application Security and Fortify Your Business

By: Thomas McLaughlin and Dan Beach | December 6th, 2023
In the fast-paced world of business technology, applications serve as the lifeblood of your operations.

They’re the conduits through which data flows, decisions are made, and your business thrives. That’s why it’s critical to wrap them in a protective shield that not only keeps out the bad actors but also nurtures a sense of trust and reliability. 

For this post, we’ll delve into the world of application security, focusing on the processes and governance that ensure your digital circulatory system remains robust.

Access management

Access to applications is the linchpin of security. Picture this: Every application conversing with its peers should carry a badge of trust, vouching for its authenticity. It’s not just about locking external doors–you need to secure the inside too. 

According to Equifax, 60% of security breaches originate from within an organization. 

Protecting against internal threats involves a multi-faceted approach:

1. Network isolation: Applications should be confined to only necessary ports, both internally and externally. In fact, applications with isolated network ports reduce the risk of internal attacks by 35%.

2. Authentication symphony: Multiple factors of authentication between applications that change periodically, such as SFTP key and password, rotating key certificates on a more frequent basis, rotating credentials on a more frequent basis.

3. Protocol termination: Prevent direct connections where feasible. This helps to prevent port flooding since there is an ability to stop connections between the requester and the responder.

4. WAF vigilance: Internal (and of course external) WAF (Web Application Firewalls) should be implemented that can inspect packets for HTTP POSTs between applications.

Active monitoring and auditing

Security isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it initiative. Managing access starts with granting and monitoring it. Every access point should be actively monitored and logged, as should the granting of access itself in whatever form that takes. Periodic auditing and analysis of documented access helps expose any unforeseen vulnerabilities and helps to determine a suitable time to retire access which may not be apparent with the original request for access. Access, after all, is a privilege that needs to be earned, demonstrated, and when the time comes, gracefully retired.

Access recovery and retirement

Part of managing access involves revoking it when it’s no longer required. In many cases access can be automatically revoked after a specified timeframe or a related period of inactivity. Once access is revoked, if it requires recovery, the process should have an extension time range that is suitable for the type of access that needs recovery. In some cases automated cut-off is not appropriate for certain types of access. There are also times when requester access should be revoked and restored for auditing purposes, specific management, or cyclical data provision/requests.  

Below are standard scenarios to consider regarding access revocation and recovery:

  • How is access revoked? Access revocation methods include port, execution, and user access revocation, along with rotated key certificate or SSH key changes, and automated password changes to unknown values.
  • How do you recover access? Access recovery involves file, key, or certificate restoration, or a force change to new credential artifacts, with force change aligning well with credential rotation or forced password changes.
  • How will cyclical users that only require a date range of access be managed? Managing cyclical users often benefits from a combination of credential force changes and port management.
  • When is the right time to make a user unrecoverable? Determining when to make a user unrecoverable, or retire them, involves considering the four ‘Needs’ and setting a retirement date for all unused credentials.
  • What about automatic revocation of IPs to specific ports? This is a good strategy both internally and externally, though it needs to take into account cyclical access where applicable.

It’s important to build your access strategy to include not only access provisioning but revocation and retirement. Accumulating accessible credentials over time accumulates risk–and just as granting access should be an auditable process itself, so should the processes that govern revocation, recovery and retirement.


application development

Testing resilience

Applications need both scheduled and surprise vulnerability assessments to ensure comprehensive security. You should plan periodic evaluations to assess vulnerability against specific and nonspecific exploit scenarios–and unannounced, sudden evaluations to test the application’s real-time vulnerability management. These assessments will cover all potential exposure vectors, including internal, external, or a combination of both. This testing considers each protocol’s uniqueness, examining specific open ports like JDBC, LDAP, SFTP, and investigating UDP ports. It’s also vital to implement availability testing more frequently than vulnerability testing to ensure all application ports are accessible and discrepancies are logged for review and correction. In addition, business continuity and disaster recovery testing should expand to alternate data centers or cloud regions, with scenarios ranging from long-term shifts to weekend tests. Testing across non- and hybrid environments will ensure smooth transition and business continuity. It’s vital to balance the need for security without disrupting regular operations. Your business will thank you.

Ensuring scripts stay heroes, not villains

Automated tasks undergo a crucial security assessment to identify vulnerabilities and prevent them from becoming potential threats, particularly when handling exploitative metadata or files. While these tasks streamline daily activities, they can inadvertently act as conduits for malware and destructive intent. Simplicity is key as your automated scripts should avoid complexity and minimize inputs for decision-making. 

That’s why it’s important to consider an object-oriented approach if additional inputs are necessary. Each subtask should be scrutinized for potential risks and a security-based review is imperative during user acceptance testing. Documented analysis identifies potential risks and outlines mitigation strategies, resembling a responsibility ripple where risks can extend from the task to other applications or processes that call upon it, including scheduling services like Cron and CA-7.

It’s not just about protecting data–it’s about nurturing the lifeblood of your digital ecosystem. Fortify your applications with a blend of foresight, diligence, and resilience to face the evolving landscape of digital threats.

Updating your applications

Applications should be updated regularly to take advantage of fixes, for both stability and for security reasons. Ensure your applications are running with the latest version of software or one sub release below that. This builds upon your availability strategy by having a more stable version of software and your security strategy by ensuring your applications are less vulnerable. Build your deployment strategy to apply fixes on a regular basis commensurate with the risk rating of CVEs reported, as well as taking into account code freezes and other suspensions of application modification activity. Moving to an agile approach to code updates and considering dev/sec/ops to more tightly integrate between developers, operations and security groups.   

Want to learn more?

Our integration practice helps companies like yours solve many of their common daily integration challenges. From communication strategy, data transformation, and translation to data security visibility and analytics—we pride ourselves on being experts on everything integration. That paired with our outstanding client service makes us stand out.

To learn more about how our experts can help you secure your applications, contact us today for a free consultation.

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