Application Security & How Bespoke Software Development Could Help

Recently, DCSL Software organised a webinar in partnership with Veracode, titled ‘Application Security: Safeguarding Your Business from Cyber Threats’. The topic of discussion was cyber security for businesses and how our latest offering, Application Security Programme, could help.

We designed this programme to protect your business from security flaws in any applications you may create. As discussed in our webinar, such defects can be exploited by cybercriminals to get access to your systems or databases. These breaches can then lead to financial loss as well as loss in reputation for your business.

Here are some common cyber-attacks that could threaten your business via vulnerabilities in your applications.

Common Cyber Attack Types That Exploit Application Security Weaknesses

SQL Injections

SQL is an acronym for Structured Query Language, which is used to access and communicate with a database.

A database is an organised set of information stored in a manner that is easy to read and extract, whether it is for a website or an application. For example, users of your app may store personal details like their name, phone number or email address. This information will be stored in a database.

Let’s say you’re offering a service where people use their accounts to buy items online. To view their outstanding orders, they need to log in. To do this, they would have to enter their username and password. An SQL query would use this information to extract the corresponding orders and display them when the customer requests for them.

As you can see, this type of information can be retrieved and displayed using SQL queries as part of the standard app or website operations.

However, cybercriminals can exploit vulnerabilities in the security of an application to introduce SQL injections, which are malicious queries that take advantage of security flaws. They are designed to retrieve and show sensitive information that was not meant to be displayed.

Hackers can also use SQL injection attacks to interfere with the logic of an application, leading it to malfunction.

Application logic is how a software makes decisions, which allows it to deliver functionality. A simplistic example would be a login form on a webpage. When the user enters the correct login details, the application takes them to their dashboard. If they enter the wrong information, it asks them to try again.

Using SQL injections, an attacker could ‘trick’ the application to gain permissions that were not meant for them. For example, they could use an injection to make the application believe their account is an ‘Administrator’ account instead of a general user. With these new permissions, they could amend or even maliciously delete vast swathes of critical information from the application’s database – even potentially rendering the application inoperable.

Cross-Site Scripting

Cross-site scripting (commonly referred to as XSS) is where malicious scripts are inserted into a trusted website via gaps in its security. A script is a bit of code that the application can run to execute certain functions. For example, a webpage is constructed using HTML and styled using CSS. However, you can use JavaScript to create interactive elements within the page, by linking a script that runs when the website is loaded.

This script is executed, or run, on the user’s browser, because it comes as a part of the website ‘package’. In the case of cross-site scripting, it is not a part of the website but tricks the browser into thinking it is, by taking advantage of flaws in security.

When the user’s browser receives the order to run the script, it assumes it is okay to do so since it is coming from an approved source. Once the browser executes it, the script can access sensitive information like cookies, session tokens and passwords etc.

In some instances, it may also change the content of the web page by manipulating the HTML coding. For example, the XSS injection might display a form on the page, asking for a user’s details. Since it is a form on a page the user trusts, they are likely to give up the information without thinking about it. This information can then be extracted by the hackers and exploited.

Vulnerable Open-Source Packages

Free and open-source software packages are products that can be freely distributed for anyone to use their code. Depending on the license it’s released under, the code for the software can sometimes be copied and changed, allowing developers to customise it or use parts of it for other products.

The benefit of using open source packages is that a developer does not have to spend time building something that’s already been created. All they need to do is copy the feature or functionality code over to their own project.

The disadvantage of using an open-source product is that if it includes a malicious piece of code, that will be included in the new application as well. That can then be a security flaw in every program or product version that uses it.

Other Forms of Attacks

In addition to these, there are many other types of cyber-attacks, for example denial of service (DoS) and distributed denial of service attacks (DDoS), man-in-the-middle attacks and phishing and spear-phishing attacks.

Most of these attacks exploit vulnerabilities in an application. Fortunately, that means you can mitigate their impact to a large extent by ensuring application security right from the development stage.

How Can You Ensure Application Security?

Application or software security is not something that is a one-time task. It needs to be ongoing as cyber security threats are continually evolving. Of course, it is possible to fix security issues in an already-developed application or website, followed by continuous monitoring for new or developing threats.

However, the best way to ensure application security is to work with a software development company that focuses on application security from the start. The resulting bespoke software product will be designed according to your needs and specifications, which means you have greater control over it.

Here are ways in which bespoke software development can help ensure application security:

Security-Centric Design

Before developers can build an application, they need to design it. In an Agile way of working, you would explain your requirements to the designers who would then put wireframe together.

At this stage, the software development company can undertake threat modelling to assess where the security flaws are most likely to occur and plan the development accordingly.

Compliant Development

While application security is something that needs to be assessed and addressed continually, there are industry-standard controls that can ensure secure code is created at the development stage.

Different types of application security testing goes on simultaneously with bespoke software development. These include:

The developers will also:

  • Follow secure coding practices to reduce or eliminate security flaws
  • Peer-review the code, where every piece of code is assessed by other senior developers too
  • Use secure, pre-approved open source components

As a result, most issues that could make the application vulnerable to cyber-attacks are either eliminated or caught before the product is launched or used.

Simple Structure

When you get a custom software application developed, make sure to only ask for features you need. That way, you save money by not investing in unnecessary functionality, which would have not served any purpose for you and would have only added to the size of your product.

However, these aren’t the only benefits of a ‘slim’ product. A less complicated application also has fewer instances of security weaknesses.

How’s that? More features mean more components. Every bit of functionality that a product includes increases the potential for a flaw that could be misused by cyber-criminals. What’s more, the greater the size of the product, the easier it is to miss flaws.

Security Monitoring and Updates

As you may be aware, software needs regular maintenance and updates to fix functionality problems and update security to protect from new threats.

No matter how securely a product is designed, new developments in technology and computing can result in potential new forms of cyber-attack. As a result, your software products could be at risk. Fortunately, you can mitigate these risks by updating the software regularly to protect against these new threats.

When using off-the-shelf software, you may find it convenient to have the creators take responsibility for the product’s security maintenance. However, the disadvantage is that you depend on them for updating the application.

When you develop a bespoke software application, it belongs to you. When you work with us, we’ll partner with you to help you understand your software, get the most from it, and keep it secure.

Conclusion

As you can see, application security can be crucial to maintain the integrity of your business. An insecure application could put your company at risk from cybercriminals, which is why you need reliable software development partners who can build your application with security as its focus.