What is ASPM(Application Security Posture Management)?
ASPM stands for Application Security Posture Management. It is a modern approach to unlocking AppSec (Application Security) visibility across the entire continuous development and continuous deployment pipeline.
ASPM practices are usually complemented by tools and strategies around security testing and code scanning to create and manage a robust defense against security threats. It also involves monitoring, assessing, and improving the security of applications throughout their application lifecycle. All in all, ASPM refers to a set of security best practices and tools designed to manage and enhance the security posture of an organization’s applications.
Who is ASPM for?
In today’s day and age, where the need for security and securing cloud native applications is well understood, ASPM is beneficial for any enterprise that wants to implement DevSecOps and automate security controls.
ASPM can not only help enterprises implement DevSecOps at scale, it can assist them shift their security practices to the left. Particularly in companies whose tech stack is predominantly made up of cloud-native applications. Especially given that cloud-native applications are more prone to security threats, ASPM practices can form an integral part of your DevSecOps strategy.
Why is ASPM important? And what is the need for ASPM today?
ASPM provides a comprehensive approach to managing and improving the security posture of applications. There are several factors for the increase in popularity of ASPM today:
- Growing complexity of software applications
- Increasing cybersecurity threat landscape
- Tool sprawl and siloed security data (unified view of application health)
1. Growing complexity of software applications
Applications are becoming significantly more complex. Especially at enterprises, new tools are constantly added to the tech stack, and to make matters worse, distributed teams each have their own ecosystem of tools which only add to the existing complexity.
With so many different teams working in parallel, and each with their own set of tools, it becomes difficult for central teams to get visibility into the security posture of applications. The lack of data consolidation about the different applications, their ownership status, and their respective health is a primary driver for the need for ASPM.
2. Increasing cybersecurity threat landscape
Due to the increasing threat landscape, new vulnerabilities are reported almost on a daily basis. Enterprises must take special care in ensuring none of the threats/ CVEs find their way into the codebase. Infact, the need of the hour is to ensure that there is a robust vulnerability remediation plan in place to address issues during such eventualities.
3. Tool sprawl and siloed security data
This is one of the more significant problems that enterprises face today. With distributed teams subscribing to their own set of security tools, security data is scattered across numerous tools. This makes it difficult to bring it all together, and make sense of the data to get any real insight into the health of the application. One needs to scramble across these tools in realtime to determine the health of individual applications.
These are some of the reasons that highlight why ASPM should be an important aspect of an enterprise’s DevSecOps strategy.
How does ASPM fit into DevOps / DevSecOps?
‘ASPM’ as a concept was born to address the security issues that arise in DevOps and DevSecOps. Traditional AppSec practices focussed on testing applications for security issues at various development stages, resulting in the use of different tools that provide security results in silos. While this helped developers address issues in siloed stages of software development in yesteryears, the same technique failed to keep pace with modern methodologies like DevOps and DevSecOps.
Since DevOps and DevSecOps deploy changes in fast iterations, security issues cannot be addressed successfully in individual stages, often resulting in disjointed testing amid an increasing backlog of security issues. Oftentimes, developers also tend to miss out on alerts and lists of vulnerabilities reported by AppSec tools and security teams, leading to challenges of enforcement and trust between developers and security teams.
In order to effectively mitigate security issues, the need for a tool/system that can track security issues across different stages of development and prioritize them in a timely manner has become apparent. ASPM thus plays a crucial role by tracking security issues throughout its lifecycle, automating security monitoring, and enforcing AppSec policies within the delivery pipeline.
ASPM, CSPM, AppSec and SecOps are terminologies used frequently in this blog. Before I confuse the readers too much, let me clarify what the differences between these terminologies are.
Difference between AppSec, SecOps, CSPM, and ASPM
1. AppSec (Application Security)
AppSec focuses specifically on securing an application (web apps/ mobile apps/other software systems).
It involves identifying and addressing vulnerabilities in the application code, design, and architecture. The primary goal of AppSec is to ensure that applications are developed and maintained with security in mind, reducing the risk of security breaches and vulnerabilities.
AppSec activities include Secure Development Practices, and Security Testing, etc.
2. SecOps (Security Operations)
SecOps focuses on the operational aspects of cybersecurity (incident detection, response, and monitoring of security events). It involves managing and responding to security incidents, as well as maintaining the overall security posture. The primary goal is to ensure the ongoing security and resilience of an organization’s IT infrastructure by responding to incidents, managing vulnerabilities, and implementing proactive security measures.
Activities include Incident Response, Security Monitoring, and Vulnerability Management, etc.
3. CSPM (Cloud Security Posture Management
CSPM refers to the tools and practices designed to help organizations secure their cloud environments by managing and enhancing the security posture of cloud infrastructure, services, and configurations. The goal is to identify and remediate potential security risks, misconfigurations, and vulnerabilities in cloud environments.
Activities include Identity and Access Management (IAM) Analysis, Continuous Monitoring, and Compliance Management among others.
4. ASPM (Application Security Posture Management)
ASPM is a broad term that encompasses the overall management and assessment of an organization’s application security posture. It involves not only securing individual applications but also ensuring that the organization’s approach to application security is comprehensive and effective.
Activities include Vulnerability Management, Compliance Management, Risk Mitigation, and Continuous Monitoring.
What are the components of ASPM?
As I explained earlier, ASPM does not exclusively refer to a single process or tool, it is in fact the process of incorporating various best practices in order to improve the overall security posture of an application. Following are the most common practices that an ASPM process at an enterprise will comprise of:
- Vulnerability Management
- Risk Mitigation
- Incident Response
- Secure Development Practices
- Third-Party Risk Management
- Continuous Monitoring
- Protection Against Emerging Threats
1. Vulnerability Management
Vulnerabilities are inevitable no matter how secure your development practices are. A robust ASPM process should include a mature vulnerability management program. By leveraging the right tools, you can effectively identify and manage vulnerabilities as and when they are reported, conduct regular security scans and assessments to discover potential weaknesses or security gaps in the code, libraries, or configurations.
In industries such as banking/ finance, companies often need to comply with various regulations and industry standards. ASPM solutions can help in codifying policies, and ensure applications adhere to these compliance standards, thus helping organizations avoid legal and financial consequences due to non-adherence.
3. Risk Mitigation
Understanding and mitigating security risks associated with applications is crucial. An active ASPM program helps organizations prioritize and address the most critical security issues, reducing the overall risk of security breaches and data compromises.
4. Incident Response
In the event of a security incident or breach, having a robust ASPM strategy in place allows organizations to respond quickly and effectively. It aids in identifying the root cause of the incident, assessing the impact, and implementing corrective measures to prevent similar incidents in the future.
5. Secure Development Practices
As the saying goes, ‘prevention is better than cure’, maintaining securing standards and best practices from the start of software development can help companies reduce the likelihood of introducing vulnerabilities and ensure that security is an integral part of the application development process. Secure coding standards, role-based access control, user authentication and authorization and application security testing form the basics of secure development practices.
6. Third-Party Risk Management
A report published on the Linux Foundation states that nearly 70%-90% of any given piece of modern software solution consists of Free and Open Source Software. And by now, it is common knowledge that most open source packages/ libraries are prone to security threats. A formal ASPM program can help organizations assess the security of these third-party elements, ensuring no vulnerabilities are introduced into the application.
7. Continuous Monitoring
When it comes to software vulnerabilities, you can only mitigate what you can detect. So the critical first step is to actually monitor & detect. Security is an ongoing process, and continuous monitoring of applications is an essential aspect of an ASPM process if we are to detect and respond to emerging threats in a timely manner. This proactive approach helps organizations stay ahead of potential security issues.
8. Protection Against Emerging Threats
ASPM tools often leverage threat intelligence to identify and protect against emerging cyber threats. This is important for staying vigilant in the face of rapidly evolving cybersecurity landscapes.
What are the benefits of ASPM?
Practicing Application Security Posture Management (ASPM) offers organizations several benefits. Some of the key benefits are:
1. Early Detection of Vulnerabilities
ASPM tools and processes conduct regular security scans and assessments, thus enabling early detection of vulnerabilities in applications. Thus this allows for timely remediation and reduces the risk of exploitation.
2. Improved Compliance Management
A structured ASPM process enables organizations to adhere to industry regulations and compliance standards. By automating compliance checks and providing audit reports, organizations can demonstrate their commitment to security and meet legal requirements.
3. Improved Incident Response
ASPM recommends the use of tools and processes for effective incident response and remediation. Such formal practices are bound to improve a team’s incident response game.
4. Business Continuity and Resilience
A robust ASPM process contributes to the overall resilience of applications, ensuring business continuity in the face of security threats. This can help organizations maintain critical business operations even during security incidents.
5. Customer Trust and Confidence
Users are more likely to trust applications that have undergone rigorous security assessments and actively managed to address potential risks. Thus, demonstrating a commitment to ASPM enhances customer trust and confidence.
6. Reduced AppSec Silos
This is one of the greatest benefits that central DevOps teams can gain with a robust ASPM program. ASPM by definition will consolidate security data scattered across siloed tools and give greater visibility into the security posture of an application.
How to integrate ASPM with your development process (CI/CD pipelines)
ASPM can be integrated into your software development workflows by incorporating the various components of ASPM explained earlier in the blog. Off the different best practices, let me summarize the 3 most important ones below.
1. Automation of Security Testing
Integrating various security tools with your CI/CD pipeline and automating security checks such as SAST, DAST, and SCA as part of your release checklists in an automated build and deployment workflow is an effective strategy to implement ASPM.
2. Shift-left Security
Educating developers of secure coding standards, providing frequent security training to employees, prioritizing security checks and scans from the very beginning of software development are key initiatives that can help a team integrate ASPM into their software development workflows.
3. Vulnerability Remediation Program
Last but not the least, having a structured vulnerability remediation program shows that the organization is always prepared to tackle security threats and shows a strong commitment towards ensuring Application Security.
These are some of the activities that can be undertaken to quickly establish ASPM in your organization. However you are not limited to these, and I recommend you to incorporate the other best practices mentioned above in the ‘components section to establish a more mature ASPM program.
I hope this blog helped you understand what ASPM is and why you should steer your organization towards adopting these best practices. The benefits associated with establishing a structured ASPM practice are plenty. By unlocking visibility into your application’s security posture, not only are you protected against security threats, but you can also build a strong brand image on the pillars of trust and user experience.
If you’re looking to integrate DevSecOps practices within your software deliver pipeline or looking to improve your application security posture, then I recommend you check out OpsMx’s Deploy Shield which is CD-agnostic and extends the capabilities of your current CI/CD tooling with application security orchestration, correlation, and posture management.
If you have any feedback for this blog, you can contact me on LinkedIn, or reach out to me via one of our CI/CD experts.