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Unifying Code and Security: Pioneering the Future of Seamless Application Protection

Patrick Pushor


January 17, 2024

A notable yet frequently underestimated division persists between application developers and application security professionals. This rift, characterized by contrasting priorities, disparate tools, and differing methodologies, not only results in inefficiencies and frustrations but also hampers the effectiveness of "shift-left" strategies in software development.  This division often leads to a disjointed approach to application security, where the early integration of security measures into the development process - a core principle of "shift-left" - becomes challenging to implement effectively. Addressing this divide is crucial for achieving a more seamless and proactive approach to securing applications at all stages.

The stark reality of application security today challenges the effectiveness of the tools and processes touted by many. The alarming statistic that high-risk vulnerabilities are present on the network perimeters of 84% of companies starkly illustrates the pervasive nature of these security gaps​​. More concerning is that 26% of companies remain susceptible to dated vulnerabilities like WannaCry, showcasing a glaring disregard for critical patch updates​​. In addition, according to an analysis by EdgeScan, 42% of attacks on public-facing systems are based on SQL injection, indicating its continued widespread use as an attack vector. Furthermore, SQL injection was identified as the third most serious web application risk in 2021 by OWASP, with 274,000 occurrences recorded, making it a persistent and prevalent threat. 

These figures forcefully counter the narrative of progress and effectiveness often projected by application security vendors. Despite the profusion of “sophisticated” tools and proclaimed best practices, the application security landscape is riddled with unaddressed vulnerabilities and a palpable disconnect between security promises and on-the-ground realities. This gap in application security efficacy reveals not just a lag in implementation but a fundamental flaw in the current approach

The Development of The Divide

Traditionally, developers have focused on building software with functionality, speed, and user experience, while security professionals have concentrated on safeguarding applications from potential threats and vulnerabilities. This dichotomy has often resulted in a tug-of-war, with security measures being seen as impediments to development efficiency.

For developers, the introduction of application security tools has often been a source of frustration. Approaches like Static Application Security Testing (SAST) and Software Composition Analysis (SCA) have been indispensable in identifying vulnerabilities, but they come with drawbacks. The high incidence of false positives in many SAST tools has led to a trust deficit among developers, who view these tools as more of a hindrance than a help.  The tendency of Software Composition Analysis (SCA) methods to flag high-severity vulnerabilities that may not even interact with the application code has created scepticism among developers, who often see these tools as overly cautious and not necessarily beneficial to their workflow.

On the other side, security professionals face their own challenges. They need to ensure the security of applications without stifling innovation and productivity. Application security professionals often find themselves in a cycle of frustration due to their reliance on software developers to resolve security issues. When they identify vulnerabilities, they can't rectify them independently, leading to a dependency loop that hinders prompt resolution.  When existing tools and processes don’t provide accurate results this infinite loop spins endlessly.

Understanding the Disconnect in Application Security

The regular occurrence of high profile application security-related breaches, such as the MOVEit Transfer (CVE-2023-34362) SQL injection vulnerability, prompts an essential inquiry : Despite having SAST and SCA capabilities, why do incidents continue to happen so frequently? This persistent issue underscores a critical reality: the current methods and tools are not effectively addressing the complex security challenges faced in today's “instant-on” application landscape .

One of the key issues with SAST and SCA tools is the high incidence of false positives. These tools, designed to be thorough, often err on the side of caution, flagging potential vulnerabilities that, upon closer inspection, are either not exploitable or irrelevant to the application's context. This over-caution results in a deluge of alerts, many of which are red herrings that distract security teams from actual threats and ultimately leaves them with little understanding of their effective security posture. Developers, overwhelmed by the volume of alerts and the time-consuming process of verifying them, begin to view these security tools more as obstacles than aids. This skepticism is compounded when developers repeatedly encounter alerts that turn out to be non-issues.

This environment of skepticism and alert fatigue adversely affects the organization's overall security posture. Critical vulnerabilities might be overlooked or deprioritized, buried under a pile of false alarms. Consequently, this diminishes the effectiveness of the 'shift-left' approach, where security is meant to be integrated early in the software development lifecycle. Studying these challenges highlights a crucial realization: the effectiveness of application security does not solely depend on the quantity of tools or the volume of data, but rather on the precision and intelligence of these tools in identifying and prioritizing real threats.

The Solution: A Multi-Signal, Contextual Approach

The answer lies in a holistic approach that combines signals across various aspects of application security: infrastructure security, SAST, SCA, and secret detection. This combined approach offers much-needed context, allowing for a more nuanced understanding of the security landscape.

To enhance the accuracy of alerts, the integration of prioritization technologies such as code reachability, EPSS (Exploit Prediction Scoring System), CISA KEV, and VEX (Vulnerability Exploitability eXchange) support is vital. These technologies provide a basis for assessing the actual risk posed by potential vulnerabilities, focusing attention on those that are most likely to be exploited and that could have the most significant impact.

By employing these advanced techniques, the goal is to support developers more effectively and regain their trust. This support is not just about identifying potential security issues but providing actionable insights that are directly relevant to the application's specific context. It's about ensuring that developers are alerted to genuine threats in a timely manner, enabling them to address these issues without disrupting their workflow.

The ultimate aim of this approach is to increase the overall security of applications. By providing developers with accurate, context-rich information, they can make informed decisions about how to best secure their applications from the ground up. This strategy represents a shift from reactive to proactive security measures, embedding security deeply into the fabric of the software development process.

Conclusion: Restoring Trust in Application Security

The divide between application developers and security professionals, highlighted by trust issues and conflicting methodologies, calls for an urgent and effective solution. The root of this problem isn't just about the tools or processes used; it's about rebuilding the lost trust between these two key groups. By significantly reducing false positives and properly prioritizing risk we can start to mend this rift. This approach not only bolsters the security of applications but also respects the time and expertise of developers, fostering a collaborative environment.

To understand how Backslash Security is pioneering this transformative approach, we invite you to see it in action. Say goodbye to the inefficiencies of traditional security methods and embrace a solution that lets your software developers and security professionals focus on what truly matters.