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What Are Application Security Frameworks? 

Shiv Sujir - October 20, 2022

Application security frameworks are structured processes that can help organizations protect mission-critical applications. Some frameworks are created by research organizations or standards bodies, while others are mandated by regulators for certain industries. An application security framework provides a detailed and comprehensive approach to protecting applications and the sensitive data they hold.

An important role of application security frameworks is to help organizations manage risk by providing visibility into the security controls used during all stages of an application’s development, deployment, and operations. Frameworks are also important because they are based on in-depth knowledge of vulnerabilities and threat vectors, which individual organizations typically do not have.

Application security frameworks are often used to prepare for compliance with standards the organization is obligated to. Each standard or regulation has specific requirements for security controls and best practices. An application security framework details the best practices and security controls required to ensure compliance and guides the organization on implementing and operating them effectively.

Why Do We Need Application Security Frameworks?

An application security framework makes it easier to protect applications. It provides operations and security teams with a reliable, standardized, and systematic approach to mitigating cyber risk. Most frameworks provide a strategic plan for protecting data, infrastructure, and information systems, which can help IT and security organizations effectively manage cyber risk.

Some companies attempt to create their own application security framework, but this is only suitable for very large organizations or those with highly specialized security needs. Most organizations can save time by leveraging existing frameworks and adapting them to their needs. The biggest advantage of existing frameworks is that most of them are already aligned with common compliance standards and regulations such as GDPR, HIPAA, or PCI DSS.

Beyond the need for compliance with external standards, an application security framework can help companies establish their internal cybersecurity practices, clarifying how units within the organization should address cyber risk. The end goal is not only to improve security posture and reduce the chance of a breach but also to reduce compliance risk and improve customer trust.

Related content: Read our guide to application security vulnerabilities (coming soon)

Key Application Security Frameworks

NIST Cybersecurity Framework

The NIST Framework aims to secure critical infrastructures such as dams and power plants. NIST cybersecurity principles can also help other organizations enhance their security. The framework is broad (41 pages long), and implementing it can be time-consuming and complex.

However, understanding the NIST framework’s core is straightforward—it lists basic security functions such as threat identification, prevention, detection, response, and discovery. It provides a structured way to identify vulnerable assets and risks.

Center for Internet Security (CIS)

The CIS focuses on improving security preparedness in the public and private sectors. It has four divisions promoting global cybersecurity:

  • Integrated Intelligence Center—facilitates security coordination between government agencies and private organizations.
  • Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center—improves cybersecurity at different government levels by encouraging collaboration between private- and public-sector entities and the Department of Homeland Security.
  • Security Benchmarks—promotes security best practices and standards to protect the privacy of Internet transactions.
  • Trusted Purchasing Alliance—helps public and private organizations cost-effectively acquire security tools.

To assist organizations and individuals with cybersecurity, the CIS offers resources like guidelines and reports to help organizations secure their systems. It provides policy advice nationally and internationally.

Cloud Security Alliance (CSA)

The CSA is another nonprofit that promotes cloud security research and helps organizations implement best practices. It supports secure cloud computing with government and industry expertise, providing research, products, training, and certification.

The CSA supports cloud customers and service providers with information and a forum to connect the cloud community. It offers security guidance and educational activities to organizations at various stages of the cloud adoption process. All interested individuals or companies with cloud expertise can become CSA members.

SAP Secure Operations Map

SAP, a major enterprise application vendor, provides its own application security framework known as the Security Operations Map. The map shows how to secure an SAP environment, including all organizational aspects:

  • People
  • Systems
  • Processes

The Security Operations Map takes a holistic approach to SAP security, stating that security cannot be relegated to a specific program, a specific employee, SAP itself, or any third-party vendor. It must be a continuous process that starts with awareness across all elements of the organization that operates or uses SAP systems.

The SAP Security Operations Map includes the following layers:

  • Organization—create awareness, manage risk, and implement security governance.
  • Process—compliance with regulatory processes, data privacy and protection, audit, and fraud management.
  • Applications—user management, authentication and single sign-on (SSO), authorization, secure coding best practices.
  • Systems—security Hardening, monitoring, and forensics.
  • Environment—network security, operating system and database security, and client application security.

SAP Security with the NIST Cybersecurity Framework

SAP offers various compliance and security solutions, which the NIST cybersecurity framework positions according to the following diagram. The legend at the bottom indicates the color representing each solution’s focus (i.e., compliance, cybersecurity, standard SAP tools, or support). The bars indicate how the products and services are related to the NIST framework.

The NIST framework assesses SAP applications by identifying the most critical systems and how users access the most critical data. Here are examples of SAP tools and how to evaluate them using the NIST framework.

SAP EarlyWatch Alert Workspace

This service relates to the framework’s “Identify” and “Protect” functions—it is a free, standard tool for scanning SAP instances, analyzing critical vulnerabilities, and recommending security patches. It is also useful for initial security assessments and patch visualization. While the workspace helps organizations prioritize security tasks, many companies are unaware of its benefits.

SAP Configuration Validation

This standard tool also addresses the “Identify” and “Protect” functions. It checks the configuration of SAP systems using SAP Solution Manager data, helping ensure consistency and compliance. It validates a system’s current configuration against a target system.

System Recommendations

Security Recommendations is another SAP standard tool that addresses the “Identify” and “Protect” functions. It provides lists of SAP security notes and is part of SAP Solution Manager.

SAP Focused Run

This licensed solution covers the “Identify,” “Protect,” and “Detect” functions in the NIST framework. It leverages SAP HANA to enable large-scale monitoring and analytics, helping companies maintain SAP applications in a secure, automated, and centralized environment.

SAP Code Vulnerability Analyzer

Also addressing the “Identify” and “Protect” principles, it integrates into the familiar ABAP test cockpit, allowing developers to review and test code for performance, usability, and robustness.

SAP Fortify

This software from Micro Focus secures applications in any deployment environment, covering the NIST framework’s “Identify” and “Protect” functions. It works with Code Vulnerability Analyzer to automate key secure development and deployment processes throughout the SDLC.

SAP Business Integrity Screening

This compliance tool addresses the “Detect” and “Respond” functions, helping reduce errors and risks by detecting and blocking anomalous transactions. It uses SAP HANA to scan high-volume data, identify suspicious patterns, and alert the security team.

SAP Data Custodian

This SaaS product addresses the “Protect” function by helping maintain data security and compliance in public cloud environments. It offers cloud applications and resources visibility, allowing organizations to secure their deployments.

SAP Enterprise Threat Detection

This security event management solution covers the “Detect” and “Respond” functions, offering real-time security monitoring and helping security admins identify, analyze, and mitigate cyber threats as they occur. It offers a single source of truth for SAP systems, recognizing suspicious or risky behavior and generating readable logs. It helps prevent data exfiltration, privilege escalation, and brute force attacks.

Enhance Your Application Security Framework with PathLock

Pathlock is the leader in Application Security and Controls Automation for business-critical applications. Customers rely on Pathlock to streamline critical processes like fine-grained provisioning, separation of duties, and detailed user access reviews. Pathlock offers coverage for 140+ applications and counting, with support for key applications like SAP, Oracle, Workday, Dynamics365, Salesforce, and more.

With Pathlock, you can:

  • Configure policy-based access controls and enable automated policy enforcement.
  • Automate user access management processes (e.g., role design, provisioning, de-provisioning, access recertification, emergency access management, and privileged access management).
  • Perform vulnerability assessment with over 4,000 pre-configured risk and threat scans to proactively avoid threats.
  • Perform compliant provisioning at a transaction code or function level into both cloud and on-premise applications.
  • Define Separation of Duties (SOD) rules, both within an application and across them, and enforce them to prevent access risks and stay compliant.
  • Enrich User Access Reviews (UARs) with fine-grained entitlement details and usage about transactions performed with specific access combinations.

Interested to learn more about Pathlock’s application security capabilities? Request a demo today to see the solution in action!

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