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'Nature vs. Nurture' in Application Security Testing

It'll surprise no one in the software-making business to hear an app security vendor claim that the majority of applications contain at least one security flaw. (Really? Only one?) But a new report from Application Security Testing (AST) solutions provider Veracode serves as a cogent reminder that it often takes months to fix those flaws.

The report, "State of Software Security," available as a free download, analyzes 130,000 applications. The report's authors determined that it takes about six months for teams to close half the security flaws they find. The report also outlines some best practices to significantly improve those deplorable fix rates.

Veracode's researchers found that there are some factors that teams tend to have a lot of control over, and those over which they often have very little control. The report's authors went with "nature vs. nurture" categories for these factors. Within the "nature" category, Veracode considered factors such as the size of the application and the organization, as well as security debt; the "nurture" side accounts for such actions as scanning frequency, cadence, and scanning via APIs.

Again, not surprisingly, addressing issues with modern DevSecOps practices results in higher flaw remediation rates, they found. Some examples: Using multiple application security scan types, working within smaller or more modern apps, and embedding security testing into the pipeline via an API. They all make a difference in reducing time to fix security defects, the report's authors found, even in apps with a less than ideal "nature." 

"The goal of software security isn't to write applications perfectly the first time, but to find and fix the flaws in a comprehensive and timely manner," said Chris Eng, Chief Research Officer at Veracode, in a statement. "Even when faced with the most challenging environments, developers can take specific actions to improve the overall security of the application with the right training and tools."

This is Veracode's 11th annual report on secure application development. A partial list of some other key findings includes:

  • Flawed applications are the norm: 76% of applications have at least one security flaw, but only 24% have high-severity flaws. This is a good sign that most applications do not have critical issues that pose serious risks to the application. Frequent scanning can reduce the time it takes to close half of observed findings by more than three weeks.
  • Open source flaws on the rise: while 70% of applications inherit at least one security flaw from their open source libraries, SOSS 11 also found that 30% of applications have more flaws in their open source libraries than in the code written in-house. The key lesson is that software security comes from getting the whole picture, which includes identifying and tracking the third-party code used in applications.
  • Multiple scan types prove efficacy of DevSecOps: teams using a combination of scan types including static analysis (SAST), dynamic analysis (DAST), and software composition analysis (SCA) improve fix rates. Those using SAST and DAST together fix half of flaws 24 days faster.
  • Automation matters: those who automate security testing in the SDLC address half of the flaws 17.5 days faster than those that scan in a less automated fashion.
  • Paying down security debt is critical: the link between frequently scanning applications and faster remediation times has been established in Veracode's prior State of Software Security research. This year's report also found that reducing security debt – fixing the backlog of known flaws – lowers overall risk. SOSS 11 found that older applications with high flaw density experience much slower remediation times, adding an average of 63 days to close half of flaws.

Veracode's native SaaS solution is designed to enable companies to move AppSec to the cloud securely, and it supports cloud-native applications "while empowering developers to fix, not just find, flaws," the company says. Veracode has helped customers fix more than 10.5 million security defects in their software via analysis of more than 7.8 trillion lines of code between Jan. 1, 2020, and Oct. 5, 2020, the company says.

Posted by John K. Waters on November 5, 2020