Network security vs. application security: Why you need both for strong enterprise risk management

by | Feb 10, 2020 | Software Development

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It can be challenging to juggle both application and network security and know how many of your resources you should devote to each program. Organizations often take an either/or approach, focusing more attention on either application security or network security. However, both are equally important for a comprehensive enterprise risk management strategy.

Let’s look at both types of security, with the goal of making it easier for you, as a business manager, to clearly understand where the lines are and to more effectively manage each effort to make sure your organization is protected from attacks. We will also share details on an application vulnerability manager that combines the results from the plethora of network and application tools on the market, so you can see both types of vulnerabilities in a cohesive platform. 

Network security vs. application security: Why you shouldn’t play favorites

Network Security

As its name implies, network security is all about securing assets and scanning traffic at the network level. This includes network components such as servers, wireless networks, and routers. (Side note: It’s becoming more common to refer to network security as infrastructure security—so this is an important term to be aware of.)

The rise of IoT, mobile, and cloud computing has created an ever-expanding, increasingly complex network for many organizations. It’s harder to secure the boundaries around your network when almost all of the  applications and databases your employees use every day are hosted in the cloud, and mobile devices are being used more than ever to communicate and collaborate. The Internet of Things is rapidly embedding intelligence into interconnected devices on the “edge” of the network, which increases the chances of your network being hacked via an edge device. 

All of these realities make network security more important than ever. Enterprises are responding. Network security was predicted to be the second largest technology category companies planned on investing in last year when it came to security spending. 

Intrusion detection and prevention systems, VPNs, and firewalls are some of the tools used to protect networks. There are also tools available for network security risk assessment. Examples of network vulnerability tools include:

  • Trustwave AppDetectivePro—A database and big data scanner that identifies missing patches, identification and access issues, configuration mistakes, and more to help prevent data loss and infrastructure attacks. 
  • Nessus—A vulnerability assessment tool that makes it easier to assess and remediate issues across your network.
  • NMAP—A free and open source tool for network discovery and security auditing. 
  • Qualys—A cloud-based vulnerability management tool that provides visibility into network and infrastructure vulnerabilities with constant monitoring and alerting features. 

Application security

Application security deals directly with the applications themselves. It endeavors to secure applications (cloud, mobile, computers, wearable devices, sensing devices, kiosks, etc.); website backend applications (such as plugins); e-commerce applications; application source code; and third-party tools that are used to build applications. An AppSec program aims to identify, remediate, and correct security issues in the applications within the organization.

There are many tools used to monitor application security, including Static Application Security Testing (SAST) tools, Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) tools, and Interactive Application Security Testing (IAST) tools. We have written about what each of these types of tools bring to the AppSec process and why we think a blended approach is the best path to comprehensive application security. 

More recently, we dove into the topic of application security metrics. It’s important to know how many new vulnerabilities are discovered, how quickly they are resolved, and the types of vulnerabilities found. Metrics such as these arm executives and managers with the data needed to show the value and ROI of your AppSec program.

While network security and application security are two distinct things, they both require the same basic approach: 

  • You need to know all of the assets you have.
  • You need to know the weaknesses and vulnerabilities they have.
  • You need to know how to prioritize and remediate issues to best reduce the chances of an attack or data breach.

A truly secure enterprise avoids the either/or approach. If you want to understand your enterprise risk and know how safe you really are, you will need to devote equal attention to both network security and application security.

The challenge: How to manage it all

It may seem difficult to figure out how to juggle both application and network security successfully, but we have a few tips to share. Some basic guiding principles to follow from the C-suite down include:

  • Make risk management a priority.
  • Know what assets you have (at both the application and network level) that need protection so you can properly allocate resources.
  • Assess the risk at each level. How sensitive is the data being stored? What is the risk of an attack?

Because resources are always finite, you’ll be best able to focus those efforts using an application vulnerability manager, which makes it easier to manage all the tools needed to stay on top of both application and network security.

There are a number of application vulnerability managers on the market that can ingest results from a variety of open source and commercial application security tools. The main benefit is that you get one streamlined report that consolidates the findings of your AppSec tools. 

Some vulnerability managers also have a Hybrid Analysis Mapping (HAM) feature that cross-references results from SAST and DAST tools. This allows you to quickly determine which identified vulnerabilities are actually exploitable and pose the biggest threat to your applications.

There are even vulnerability managers that can ingest results from both applications and infrastructure testing tools. This makes it easier to take the combined approach we recommend, one that focuses on both application and network security. You get the same streamlined report back from multiple network security scanners, so you can quickly see which threats exist.

Using a tool that integrates and prioritizes vulnerabilities will give your team more time to devote to fixing hackable vulnerabilities, rather than wasting time sorting through test results. You can confidently decide which area requires more time and money and fix issues before they expose your organization to the reputational and financial damage that attacks cause.

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