Are Application Security Certifications Worth It?

August 9, 2014 by · Comments Off on Are Application Security Certifications Worth It?
Filed under: Security 

In the IT industry there has always been a debate for and against certifications. This is no different than the age old battle of whether or not a bachelors degree is needed to be good in IT. There are large entities that have made a really good profit off the certification tracks. Not only do you have the people that create the tests, but also all of the testing centers. It is a pretty lucrative business if your cert is popular.

I remember when I first started developing applications there were certifications like the Microsoft Certified series or Sun certifications. Anyone remember doing the BrainBench tests online? The goal was to indicate that you had some base level of knowledge about that technology. This seemed to work for a technology, but so far it doesn’t seem to be catching on in the development world for secure development certifications.

You haven’t heard? There are actually certifications that try to show some expertise in application security. GIAC has a secure coding program for both Java and .Net, both leading to the GSSP certification. ISC2 has the CSSLP certification focused at those that work with developing applications. They don’t feel that wide spread though. Lets look at these two examples.

The GIAC certification focuses mostly on the developer and writing secure code. This is tough because it is a certification for a portion of your job as a developer. Your main goal is writing code so to take the effort to go out and get a certification that is so focused can be deterring, never mind the cost of these certs these days. The other issue is that we are not seeing a wide acceptance in the industry for these certifications. I have not seen many job postings for developers that look for the GSSP, or CSSLP certification or any other secure coding cert. You might see MCP or MCSD, but not security certs. Until we start looking for these in our candidates, there is no reason for developers to take the time to get them.

The ISC2 CSSLP certification is geared less at secure coding, and focused more toward the entire SDLC. This alone may make it even less interesting to a developer to attain because it is not directly related to coding. Sure we are involved in the SDLC, but do we really want some cert that says we are security conscious? I am not saying that certifications are a bad thing. I think they can help show some competence, but there seem to be a lot of barriers to adoption within the developer community with security certifications.

When you look at other security certifications they are more job direct, or encompassing. For example, the Web Application Penetration Tester certifications that are available encompass a role: Web Penetration Tester. In our examples above, there is no GSSP role for a developer.

How do we go about solving the problem? Is there a certification that could actually be broadly adopted in the developer world? Rather than have a separate security certification, should we expect that the other developer certifications would incorporate security? Just because I have the GSSP doesn’t mean I can actually write good programs with no flaws. Would I be more marketable if I had the MCSD and everyone knew that that required secure coding expertise?

Push the major developer certification creators to start requiring more secure coding coverage. We shouldn’t need an extra certification for application security, it should just be a part of what we do every day.

Application Logging: The Next Great Wonder

August 2, 2014 by · Comments Off on Application Logging: The Next Great Wonder
Filed under: Security 

What type of logging do you perform in your applications? Do you just log exceptions? Many places I have worked and many developers I have talked to over the years mostly focus on logging troubleshooting artifacts. Where did the application break, and what may have caused it. We do this because we want to be able to fix the bugs that may crop up that cause our users difficulty in using the application.

While this makes sense to many developers, because it is directly related to the pain the face in troubleshooting, it leaves a lot to be desired. When we think about a security perspective, there is much more that should be considered. The simplest events are successful and unsuccessful authentication attempts. Many developers will say they log the first, but the latter is usually overlooked. In reality, the failed attempts are logged most likely to help with account lockout and don’t server much other purpose. But they do. Those logs can be used to identify brute force attacks against a user’s account.

Other events that are critical include logoff events, password change events and even the access of sensitive data. Not many days go buy that we don’t see word of a breach of data. If your application accesses sensitive data, how do you know who has looked at it? If records are meant to be viewed one at a time, but someone starts pulling hundreds at a time, would you notice? If a breach occurs, are you able to go back into the logs and show what data has been viewed and by who?

Logging and auditing play a critical role in an application and finding the right balance of data stored is somewhat an art. Some people may say that you need to just grab everything. That doesn’t always work. Performance seems to be the first concern that comes to mind. I didn’t say it would be easy to throw a logging plan together.

You have to understand your application and the business that it supports. Information and events that are important to one business may not be as important in another business. That is ok. This isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Take the time to analyze your situation and log what feels right. But more thought into it than just troubleshooting. Think about if a breach occurs how you will use that stored data.

In addition to logging the data, there needs to be a plan in place to look at that data. Whether it is an automated tool, or manual (hopefully a mix of the two) you can’t identify something if you don’t look. All too often we see breaches occur and not be noticed for months or even years afterward. In many of these cases if someone had just been looking at the logs, it would have been identified immediately and the risk of the breach could be minimized.

There are tools out there to help with logging in your application, no matter what your platform of choice is. Logging is not usually a bolt on solution, you have to be thinking about it before you build your application. Take the time up front to do this so when something happens, you have all the data you need to protect yourself and your customers.