Today, application security presents one of the most persistent challenges to enterprise cybersecurity policies and platforms. After all, applications comprise more and more of enterprises’ IT environments as they digitally transform to the cloud and away from on-premises networks. Applications can provide functions as diverse and essential and word processing, databases, web browsers, and communication platforms.
As a result, application security adds another layer of complexity to enterprise identity and access management (IAM). Currently, IAM comprises several layers to enterprises’ cybersecurity policies; it serves as enterprises’ digital perimeters, the key to their role management, and as the most common port of entry into the network.
Of course, the identity security challenges inherent within application security work as a two-way street. On the one hand, your enterprise must handle the plethora of user identities and credentials requesting access to these applications. On the other hand, your business must regulate what the applications themselves can access within your IT environment.
Balancing these two identity management concerns forms the core of application security today. Here’s why:
Why Application Security Matters
Thanks to the scaling of enterprise IT environments and their digital transformations, businesses now have increased access to applications. As with so many other recent technological innovations—such as the IoT—this creates a new attack vector for hackers to exploit.
Oftentimes, applications can suffer from security vulnerabilities within their own codes. While this can do extensive damage to the app itself, a lack of control over the application’s identity security can exacerbate the damage done to your enterprise.
Conversely, by optimizing your application security via identity and access management can facilitate your business processes, improving their simplicity and effectiveness.
How can identity management thus strengthen your application security? Here’s what we found:
Passwords present one of the most serious dangers to your application security—perhaps as serious as any malware. Indeed, passwords present a challenge for your enterprise’s traditional identity and access management as much as to your application security.
Indeed, among other authentication factors, passwords remain one of the most easily cracked or guessed. Users often suffer because hackers now possess the tools to crack all but the most complex and intricate of passwords.
Unfortunately, under this single-factor authentication policy, users often suffer; trying to memorize all of the distinct passwords required of them creates a great deal of stress. Moreover, most enterprises do not offer a password input which facilitates the strongest passwords (such as a series of full words).
This runs into conflict with application security, as applications usually require specific password compositions and expirations.
Therefore, users often resort to using the weakest kinds of passwords in an effort to remember them; hackers often don’t need special tools to guess these credentials. In other cases, employees and users often repeat their passwords, which creates new vulnerabilities.
Often, hackers compile the passwords they obtain from previous breaches in credential stuffing attacks. In credential stuffing, hackers attack login portals with different iterations of usernames and passwords one after another.
In other words, hackers brute force their way through by attempting as many passwords as possible. If users repeat their passwords, the credential stuffing attack has a higher chance of success.
If these weak passwords or poor password security practices become applied to applications, your overall application security could suffer. How can enterprises solve this?
Solutions to Application Security Password Issues
A few identity and access management capabilities can help facilitate and supplement your application security by alleviating password security failures. These include:
- Multifactor Authentication: Multifactor authentication strengthens password security by reducing the burden of authentication on passwords alone. The more factors required for access authentication, the more secure your applications. Possible authentication factors include geofencing, time of access request, biometrics, SMS messaging, and hard tokens. Application security shouldn’t rely on single-factor authentication.
- Single Sign-On: Single Sign-On allows users to access multiple applications at once after a single authentication process/access request. This permits users the privilege of only remembering one set of credentials, which speeds up their business processes and curtails password reuse. When paired with multifactor authentication factors, your users can maintain a single unique password relatively securely.
- Active Directory: As part of your application security policies, you should log all of the applications connecting to your enterprise in your Active Directory. This prevents applications from disappearing from your network, which could allow hackers to exploit them for concealed lateral movement or island hopping attacks. Additionally, it helps you maintain visibility over all possible points of entry, ensuring you know the location of all authentication factor inputs.
On a somewhat unrelated note, incorporating the Active Directory as part of your application identity security follows the principle of Zero Trust. As a rule, you should never trust anything connecting to your network until they can verify themselves, user or application alike.
Identity Governance and Administration
At its core, Identity Governance and Administration (IGA) helps enterprises perform consistent role management; in other words, IGA assists your enterprise with governing your multitude of access requests.
As a direct result, this branch of identity and access management handles both sides of application security.
On the one hand, IGA helps control which employees have access to which applications and why. No employee—indeed, no privileged user either—should have access to all of the applications connecting to your network.
In fact, your users should have their access as limited as possible. According to the Principle of Least Privilege, employees should only have the minimum access necessary to perform their jobs. Of course, this means having a clear understanding of what each “job” on your environment should do and what application access it thus requires.
On the other hand, your business must also constrain your application to the necessary permissions for its functions. Applications and other non-human identities on your Active Directory should not enjoy unlimited access to your databases and digital assets. Next-gen identity and access management rely on this rule.
How Identity Governance Helps Application Security
Identity Governance solutions help maintain role management in your enterprise through increased visibility and through its key capabilities.
Through an IGA solution, your IT security team can review the permissions of all users and all applications, ensuring they match with their job descriptions and don’t exceed them. If they do find a case of excess permissions, they can easily remove those permissions without affecting business processes.
In addition, IGA allows for the easy provisioning and deprovisioning of users and application alike. With secure provisioning, applications can receive the proper access permissions they need to perform their functions and ensures the accuracy of those permissions on its initial entry to the network.
With deprovisioning, identity governance ensures the application no longer has permissions to your IT environment when you decide to remove it. Any leftover permissions could create a serious attack vector for the unscrupulous.
Applications need identity and access management as much as any other user. Your business needs to establish clear relationships and rules if it aims to take application security seriously. Now is the time.
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