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Josh Grant 6 min read

An 8-Step Application Security Risk Assessment Checklist for 2023

Application security continues to become a top priority for organizations. Application security risk assessment checklists can help organizations determine which areas of their application environment need additional protection or attention to ensure that their systems remain secure from malicious actors. Every application is unique and carries threat factors. Therefore, it is critical to implement processes and tools to identify and remediate security issues before shipping.

In this article, I will provide you with an 8-Step Application Security Risk Assessment Checklist for 2023 so you can ensure your applications are secure and protected. I'll also share tips on getting the most out of your risk assessment process.

application-security-risk-assessment-checklist

The Basics of Application Security and Why It's Important   

Application security is the practice of ensuring that application code is secure and protected against malicious attacks. It involves not only preventing application data from being compromised, but also ensuring that application logic is designed securely to prevent attackers from taking control of application functions.    

According to a recently published study by Sophos, 66 percent of the organizations they surveyed were hit by ransomware in 2021. 46% of organizations that had data encrypted in the ransomware attack paid the ransom. These numbers are alarming, especially given the fact that the average cost of a data breach in the United States is $9.44 million, and it took an average of 277 days (almost 9 months) in 2022 to identify and contain a breach. These statistics underscore the importance of conducting regular application security risk assessments. The primary purpose of application security risk assessments is to identify areas of risk before launching or updating an application in production. 

The 4 Critical Elements of Any Effective Security Risk Assessment Model   

A well-run assessment can identify vulnerabilities that could lead to a data breach and help you mitigate those risks before they cause damage. The four essential components of an effective security assessment model include:

  • Identification: Identifying application security risks and threats
  • Assessment: Assessing the application's security architecture and configuration
  • Remediation: Determining and implementing corrective measures to reduce risk
  • Monitoring: Monitoring application activity for any changes and responding accordingly   

A successful application security assessment should include a comprehensive review of the application design, architecture, code, configuration settings, dependencies, libraries, and any other components that could affect the application's security posture.   

8 Steps for Conducting a Comprehensive Application Security Risk Assessment    

Application security is an essential component of any organization's cybersecurity strategy. The following steps will help you conduct a successful application security risk assessment:

Step 1: Determine & Assess Potential Threat Actors    

The first step in an application security risk assessment is identifying which applications are most critical to your organization and determining the potential risks associated with each application. This includes web applications, mobile apps, and any systems or third-party services that may interact with those applications. Once you have identified the high-level application architecture, it's crucial to map out all associated assets, such as databases, servers, networks, hardware devices, etc.   

Step 2: Analyze Application Security Risk Factors   

Once you have identified applications that are relevant for the AppSec risk assessment, it's time to analyze them for risk factors. These can range from application vulnerabilities to application configuration weaknesses and other application-level risks. Related to AppSec is dependency management, where additional internal or external dependencies may increase the security risk of your application. Understanding each risk factor's impact on your application's overall security posture is essential. Thoroughly analyze and understand the regulatory requirements you must meet for your application security. This includes understanding relevant laws, regulations, standards, and policies governing the data your application handles or transmits. These regulatory requirements will inform the remainder of the application security risk assessment process.    

Step 3: Create a Risk Assessment Inventory    

Once you have identified all applications and external services used within your organization and any applicable regulatory requirements, it's advisable to create a detailed application inventory with associated risks for each application. This inventory should also include any third-party services and APIs used by the application. Applications should be grouped according to similar functionalities or characteristics, such as web applications, mobile applications, or payment processing systems. This will help you determine which applications have higher priority for the risk assessment.

Step 4: Analyze Data Flow & Architecture   

Understanding how data flows through your system is essential when assessing security risks associated with an application. Analyzing data flow diagrams can help you identify potential points of compromise where attackers might gain access to sensitive data stored within your system architecture or through external dependencies such as cloud storage services or third-party APIs connected via API keys or OAuth tokens.   

Step 5: Analyze & Mitigate Risk Scenarios    

In this step of the application security risk assessment, you need to analyze what could happen if any particular application were compromised by a malicious actor. This includes detecting potential threats and analyzing the likelihood of those weaknesses being exploited and the potential damage if successful. The assessment should also consider any mitigating controls that are in place, such as firewalls, encryption, monitored access controls, etc. Once the application's security risks are mapped out, you can determine what steps need to be taken to mitigate or eliminate these risks.    

Step 6: Inspect and Track Vulnerabilities    

The sixth step of an application security risk assessment is to inspect and track any vulnerabilities in the application that may arise over time, such as backdoors or outdated code. This can be done through automated application security testing tools. The type of security testing depends on the application and its associated risks, but some common types of tests include static application security testing (SAST), dynamic application security testing (DAST), application penetration testing (APT), and fuzz testing. Continuous testing for security issues and tracking their remediation progress will help ensure that your application remains secure.

Step 7: Implement Security Controls and Test Their Effectiveness    

In this stage of application security risk assessment, it is important to consider implementing all the necessary security controls to ensure the application is as secure as possible. This includes developing and implementing application-specific policies and procedures, such as authentication requirements or data encryption standards. Application administrators should carefully evaluate and implement access control mechanisms to prevent unauthorized access to application resources. It is also essential to consider deploying application firewalls, which can be used to detect and prevent malicious traffic from reaching the application.

You should also conduct security testing to evaluate the effectiveness of the security controls put in place. This can include performing vulnerability scans on application components to identify any weaknesses that could lead to security breaches. Penetration tests can also be conducted to simulate a real-world attack scenario and test how well application defenses stand against them. Additionally, code reviews should be performed regularly to identify potential application code issues or logic flaws that attackers could exploit.

Step 8: Monitor & Update Security Controls    

The final step in application security risk assessment is to monitor and update application security controls as needed. This includes:  

  • Regularly reviewing application logs for suspicious activity or changes
  • Ensuring that application configuration and settings remain secure
  • Monitoring application activity for any anomalies or suspicious behavior
  • Responding quickly to any identified vulnerabilities by deploying patches or other mitigation strategies

By monitoring and updating application security controls on an ongoing basis, organizations can ensure that their applications remain secure and compliant with applicable regulations.    

Conclusion

By following these application security risk assessment steps, organizations can minimize risk and comply with applicable regulatory requirements. Prioritizing application security testing is necessary to build applications that people trust and rely on. My team and I specialize in CI/CD-integrated application security testing solutions for continuous security testing. We focus on solutions to automatically run security tests at each pull request or code change (depending on configuration) to enable developers to find and fix bugs long before they make it anywhere near a finished product. If this is of interest to you and your team, come visit our home page.

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