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The Power of Collaboration: Uniting AppSec and CloudSec

Businesses have come a long way in their individual journeys to digital transformation, all to enhance their customer and workforce experiences. This shift elevated the importance of both Application Security (AppSec) and Cloud Security (CloudSec) in safeguarding digital assets and ensuring infrastructure resilience. The AppSec team is crucial for identifying and mitigating software vulnerabilities, but the fast-paced software development lifecycle (SDLC) presents security challenges that are difficult to fully address. Meanwhile, the CloudSec team oversees security, compliance, and resilience of cloud-based infrastructure and services, particularly critical as businesses increasingly rely on cloud computing. This blog explores some of the shared security objectives of AppSec and CloudSec teams, the domains’ growing interdependence, and how a better working relationship between the two teams would save time and be more effective in the fight to address vulnerabilities and emerging threats.

 

Application Security

For many companies, the SDLC operates at break-neck speed, and is nearly continuous. It doesn’t leave much room for error or permit enough time to go back and correct mistakes. This puts developers in a predicament where they’re not only expected to make progress on current projects, but also expected to fix code issues for previous launches with their “extra time.” That time, however, is rarely available.  Organizations that neither plan for nor incentivize this type of work will find that it won’t get done.

The AppSec team is essential for any organization that relies on software, as they play a crucial role in identifying and addressing vulnerabilities through static and dynamic application security testing, code review, and penetration testing. Left unchecked, code vulnerabilities can be the cause of catastrophic security incidents.

To give you an idea of what application security teams are dealing with, here are a few of the code security problems they’re trying to prevent (check out the OWASP Top 10 list for even more):

  • Injection attacks
  • Insecure Authentication
  • Insecure Direct Object References (IDOR)
  • Sensitive Data Exposure
  • Security Misconfigurations

In the SANS 2023 DevSecOps Survey, 54% of respondents reported that they made changes to applications in development at least weekly. This is evidence of a fast-changing environment, and it makes it exponentially trickier to make sure code is secure if you only have a couple of days for security testing. In order to combat this, organizations are incorporating automated compliance practices to help ensure security concerns are avoided during the development process, with 62% of organizations reporting that at least half of their org’s compliance enforcement is now automated (SANS 2023 DevSecOps Survey).

 

Open Source Software

A prolific source of security issues your organization should be mindful of is open source software. Not that long ago, companies had to make their own applications from scratch, planning and building software for their own specific needs. To save time, developers copied portions of code and reused them where applicable. This practice has expanded to the point where developers now share huge portions of code in online repositories, saving users the time and headache of writing each portion as a net-new piece of code. As more businesses have felt pressure to create apps and software to compete in the marketplace, the demand for developing code has increased exponentially, and open source repositories have shouldered a good deal of the load of software creation. That’s great for developers, but when vulnerable code is contributed to the pool, and those components are used widely, many organizations may find their applications vulnerable and easy targets. Worse still, cybercriminals have seized the opportunity to seed online repositories with their own tainted code, planting hidden vulnerabilities that can be exploited whenever they wish.

As evidence of this growing threat to organizations, security researchers regularly analyze repositories to find hidden threats, and they’re seeing an increase year over year. They’re also seeing how threat actors are adapting to the changing development landscape. As Python has gained popularity, the amount of open source threats in Python’s repositories have increased as well. In the SANS 2023 DevSecOps Survey, it was found that Python was the “…greatest risk by a wide margin—at least 12% greater than the next option, C/C++.” Code repositories aren’t the only resources that can be seeded with malicious code, as cybersecurity researchers have also warned how generative AI sites could be distributing code containing pre-built exploitable vulnerabilities.

 

Cloud Security

The CloudSec team is responsible for ensuring security, compliance, and resilience of the digital assets and infrastructure they oversee. They manage the maintenance and protection of all cloud-based infrastructure, platforms and services within an organization. Although the CloudSec team’s specific responsibilities vary from organization to organization, they typically cover items related to:

  • Cloud Architecture and Design
  • Security Configuration and Compliance
  • Cloud Vulnerability Management

As online and cloud business becomes more mainstream, the CloudSec team has become more important than ever. Security misconfigurations in cloud services can result in exposure of sensitive data, unauthorized access, and potential service disruptions. High-profile incidents like the Capital One data breach in 2019, where a misconfigured AWS S3 bucket allowed an attacker to gain access to sensitive data, underscores the severity of simple misconfiguration vulnerabilities in cloud environments.

While the CloudSec team is responsible for securing the underlying infrastructure, the development team is accountable for providing applications that won’t disclose sensitive data within the cloud. CloudSec teams play a crucial role in preventing and mitigating misconfigurations by implementing robust security controls, such as access management policies, network segmentation, and encryption protocols. Meanwhile, Application Security teams must ensure that applications deployed in the cloud adhere to secure coding practices and do not introduce vulnerabilities through misconfigurations. By working together, these teams can mitigate the risks associated with misconfigurations and uphold the security of cloud deployments.

 

Combining AppSec and CloudSec

A collaborative approach between AppSec and CloudSec is necessary to effectively address code vulnerabilities and maintain a secure cloud environment. More and more organizations are hosting their applications in the cloud, and AppSec teams know they’ll need to work hand in hand with CloudSec teams to make sure each new application is launched securely, but not at the expense of the speed and scale the business requires.

Not only are more applications hosted in the cloud, but cloud-native architecture and technologies like infrastructure as code (IaC) are blurring the lines between application security and infrastructure security. IaC is used for a number of reasons, since it can help address scalability and elasticity issues, disaster recovery, version control, or to manage deployment consistency. For example, you could use IaC to help with dynamically provisioning and scaling your resources based on demand, rather than manually configuring and deploying servers and networks the moment they’re needed. This could present problems during testing and scanning, however, as those deployments wouldn’t always be up and running when scanning takes place.

Fortunately, IaC is dealt with much the same way as regular application code where it is developed, version controlled, and managed via the CI/CD pipeline. This may feel a bit awkward for CloudSec, but is perfectly natural within AppSec. A combined approach to security would take the best of both worlds, and allow for seamless identification and mitigation of vulnerabilities across both application source code and virtual deployments. This approach is more efficient, avoids disparate tools and processes, and does a better job of defining the extent of vulnerabilities across different layers of the infrastructure stack.

Additionally, if there isn’t good synergy between application and cloud security teams, you’re inevitably left with slower reaction times as teams waste time with manual status updates, approvals, and additional service requests.

To get the maximum benefit of cross-domain cooperation, AppSec and CloudSec teams should seek to:

  • Clearly communicate vulnerabilities, ownership and next steps
  • Define shared goals and responsibilities
  • Provide shared access to security tools and technologies

These initiatives don’t just apply to AppSec and CloudSec teams, as IT operations, SOC analysts, pen testing teams, Governance, Risk and Compliance teams would all benefit from better communication and collaboration on their security initiatives.

 

Get Security Teams Out of Their Silos

In the past, allowing your AppSec and CloudSec teams to operate in their separate silos was sufficient as long as they performed their perfunctory duties. However, in today’s dynamic landscape, businesses need to do more than just keep pace—they need to anticipate emerging threats. With an increasingly expansive attack surface, organizations require a comprehensive digital platform that seamlessly integrates both AppSec and CloudSec domains to effectively manage scan results.

Investing in a security platform to manage shared responsibilities is no longer a luxury but an essential component of modern cybersecurity strategy. In today’s digital era, just as other sectors have embraced digital transformation, remediation operations should follow suit and not only integrate AppSec and CloudSec domains, but pen testing, IT Ops and any other domain involved with remediation tasks. This will allow organizations to respond to emerging vulnerabilities with increased agility and expertise. By consolidating and unifying security efforts to manage vulnerabilities, organizations can defend themselves at pace and at scale.

For unified vulnerability management across all domains, Seemplicity’s RemOps platform is your answer. Click here to learn how you can integrate AppSec, CloudSec and more with RemOps.

Are Your Vulnerable Systems Pets or Cattle?

Vulnerability remediation is no small feat – especially if your security and remediation teams are understaffed and overwhelmed. Because vulnerabilities extend across the code, cloud, and infrastructure in your attack surface, and can vary drastically in their criticality, location, type, or affected systems, one-size-fits-all approaches are rarely the answer. However, creating custom remediation actions for every finding can severely hinder team efficiency, fuel burnout, and leave your organization open to risk. 

Many organizations combat this problem by leveraging the “pets vs. cattle” theory to optimize efficiency and achieve scale by defining their vulnerability findings with this model. 

 

The Pets vs. Cattle Analogy

The pets vs. cattle analogy has been used to help explain DevOps and DevSecOps concepts for a decade or more. As the analogy goes, pets are integral parts of our families. They have personal names. They’re lovingly nurtured. When they’re sick, we often rush to the veterinarian to understand how we can nurse them back to health. When they go missing, everyone notices. In the context of vulnerability remediation, pets are the indispensable, unique systems that can never be down, such as mainframes, solitary services, database servers, load balancers.

Cattle, while important, rarely stand out in a herd. They receive numbered name tags, standardized care, and are removed from the herd when ill. In the realm of IT, these are machines or servers that often have nearly identical names (e.g., svr01, svr02, etc.), are configured identically, and are easily and often automatically replaced in the event of (inevitable) failure. 

 

Types of Remediation by Pet or Cattle 

As mentioned above, different vulnerability types require different remediations. These can be broadly classified into four categories: 

1. Upgrade: upgrading vulnerable software to the latest version resolves all associated vulnerabilities.

2. Patch: patches generally address a specific problem or vulnerability without upgrading the entire software. 

3. Configure: changing configurations eliminates some vulnerabilities entirely while maintaining the existing software. Many cloud vulnerabilities are misconfigurations.

4. Remove: removing or disabling vulnerable software entirely.

Although both pet and cattle vulnerabilities can be addressed with these methods, remediation will look different depending on the system. For example, an upgrade for pets will look different than an upgrade for cattle. 

  • Pet remediation can often lag for weeks or months because of their high stakes nature. Upgrades are commonly released in steps before making it live, with weeks or even months between each stage to minimize the risk of bugs and/or downtime. These delays leave the organization open to risk and are why security teams should strive to keep pets at a manageable level.
  • Cattle upgrades often execute across multiple machines at once and require minimal manual work. 

Because pet systems require so much more time, attention to detail, and manual labor, it’s best to minimize the number of new pets created to achieve scale. By gearing efforts towards building replaceable cattle systems and introducing automated cattle remediation, teams can scale as needed while minimizing critical or overdue vulnerabilities and ensure that manual time and effort are reserved for remediating pet systems. 

 

Scaling your IT farm with Remediation Operations 

Remediation operations platforms can minimize risk and optimize remediation for both pet and cattle systems by mobilizing the right teams with the data, context, and automation.

 

Resource tracking for high-level insights

Remediation operations platforms ingest findings from vulnerability scanners from across domains to provide easily accessible and consumable remediation insights at a glance. By grouping pet and cattle systems, security teams can analyze technologies together to answer questions like, “is this a cloud problem or an infrastructure problem?” and evaluate the health of pets and cattle at a glance. 

 

Aggregations minimize cattle findings 

Remediation operations platforms optimize efficiency and transform the focus for remediation teams from problems to solutions by distilling multiple findings into a singular remediation action for groups of cattle resources.

 

Format and cadence 

Instead of manually coordinating remediation owners and status updates across disparate systems and tools, security can communicate complex remediation plans across departmental and technological boundaries through automated, bi-directional integrations with existing workflow management systems. This consistent flow of information empowers the ability to scale quickly and keeps remediation teams organized. 

 

Specialized workflows

Specialized workflows utilize a series of logic gates to trigger and alert the right remediation owners about a vulnerability. This capability helps remediation teams both stay on top of any complex, multi-phase pet remediation as well as keep cattle healthy with minimal manual interference. 

 

Balance Pets and Cattle With Ease

Remediation is already tricky to track and implement across cloud, code, and infrastructure given the variation in vulnerabilities’ criticality, location, type, or affected systems; and, the variation of criticality in systems adds another layer of complexity when prioritizing remediation actions. By proactively leveraging RemOps technology to automate and balance the care of cattle while giving specialized care and consideration for pets, security teams can minimize reactive, rushed remediation and instead allocate resources effectively. Learn how today.