Enterprise Application Security and Identity Management

Today, application security presents one of the most persistent challenges for enterprise cybersecurity policies and platforms. After all, applications increasingly comprise enterprise computing environments as they digitally transform to the cloud and move away from on-premises networks. Applications can provide functions as diverse and essential as word processing, databases, web browsers and communication platforms.

Therefore, application security adds another layer of complexity to enterprise identity and access management (IAM). Currently, IAM comprises several layers in companies’ cybersecurity policies; it serves as the digital perimeter for businesses, the key to managing their role, and the most common gateway into the network.

Of course, the identity security challenges inherent in application security work as a two-way street. On the one hand, your business must manage 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 computing environment.

Balancing these two identity management concerns is at the heart of application security today. Here’s why:

Why Application Security Matters

With 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 that hackers can exploit.

Often applications can suffer from security holes in their own code. While this can significantly damage the app itself, a lack of control over the app’s identity security can compound the damage to your business.

Conversely, optimizing the security of your applications through identity and access management can facilitate your business processes, improving their simplicity and efficiency.

So how can identity management make your application more secure? Here is what we found:

Password Security

Passwords present one of the most serious security threats to your application, perhaps as serious as any malware. Indeed, passwords represent a challenge both for the traditional management of your company’s identities and access and for the security of your applications.

Indeed, among other authentication factors, passwords remain one of the most easily hacked or guessed. Users often suffer because hackers now have the tools to crack all but the most complex and intricate passwords.

Unfortunately, under this single-factor authentication policy, users often suffer; trying to memorize all the separate passwords that are asked of them creates a lot of stress. Also, most companies don’t offer password entry that facilitates the strongest passwords (like a series of complete words).

This conflicts with application security, as applications generally require specific password compositions and expirations.

Therefore, users often resort to weaker types of passwords in order to remember them. hackers often do not need special tools to guess these credentials. In other cases, employees and users often repeat their passwords, creating new vulnerabilities.

Often hackers compile 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 make their way through trying as many passwords as possible. If users repeat their passwords, the credential stuffing attack is more likely to succeed.

If these weak passwords or poor password security practices are applied to applications, the overall security of your applications could suffer. How can companies solve this problem?

Solutions to app security password issues

A few identity and access management features can help facilitate and complement your application security by mitigating password security failures. These include:

  • Multi-factor authentication: Multi-factor authentication strengthens password security by reducing the authentication burden on passwords alone. The more factors required for access authentication, the more secure your applications. Possible authentication factors include geofencing, access request time, biometrics, SMS messaging, and hardware tokens. Application security should not 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 allows users to remember only one set of credentials, which speeds up their business processes and limits password reuse. When combined with multi-factor authentication factors, your users can maintain a single, unique password relatively securely.
  • Active Directory: As part of your application security policies, you must register all applications that connect to your company in your Active Directory. This prevents apps from disappearing from your network, which could allow hackers to exploit them for hidden lateral moves or island hopping attacks. Plus, it helps you maintain visibility into all possible entry points, ensuring you know the location of all authentication factor entries.

On a somewhat independent note, integrating Active Directory as part of your application’s identity security follows the principle of Zero Trust. As a general rule, you should never trust anything that connects to your network until it can verify itself, user or application.

Identity governance and administration

At its core, Identity Governance and Administration (IGA) helps organizations achieve consistent role management; in other words, IGA helps your company manage your multitude of access requests.

As a direct result, this branch of Identity and Access Management handles both aspects of application security.

On the one hand, IGA helps control which employees have access to which applications and why. No employee, or even privileged user, should have access to every application 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 work. Of course, this means having a clear understanding of what each “work” on your environment needs to do and what application access it therefore requires.

On the other hand, your company should also limit your app to the permissions necessary for its functions. Applications and other non-human identities in your Active Directory should not be granted unlimited access to your databases and digital assets. Next-generation identity and access management relies on this rule.

How Identity Governance Helps Application Security

Identity governance solutions help maintain role management in your business through increased visibility and key features.

With an IGA solution, your IT security team can review the permissions of all users and applications, ensuring that they match their job descriptions and do not exceed them. If they discover a case of excessive permissions, they can easily remove those permissions without affecting business processes.

Additionally, IGA makes it easy to provision and de-provision users and applications. With secure provisioning, applications can receive the appropriate access permissions they need to perform their functions and ensure that those permissions are correct when they first enter the network.

With deprovisioning, identity governance ensures that the application no longer has permissions to your computing environment when you decide to remove it. Any remaining permissions could create a serious attack vector for unscrupulous people.

Applications need identity and access management as much as any other user. Your business needs to establish clear relationships and rules if it wants to take application security seriously. The time has come.

Ben Canner
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