Security

Application Risk Assessments: Why They’re Important and How to Perform Them

A comprehensive application risk assessment guide sharing tips and considerations of the process of evaluating and understanding the security risks associated with an application.

Security Guest Expert
Security Expert
Published on
11/1/2023
8
min.

What is an application risk assessment?

An application risk assessment is the process of evaluating and understanding the security risks associated with an application. This information is used to help organizations make better decisions about how to protect their applications from potential attacks. By examining factors such as the number of vulnerabilities and the time needed to patch them, they are able to estimate the possibility of an attack on their application.

Most organizations are unable to implement all security controls, so they rely on threat models and application risk assessments for a more accurate estimation of how vulnerable their applications are. This allows them to identify where security measures need to be strengthened in order to prevent attacks that could lead to data loss or service degradation.

What are the benefits of application risk assessments?

Companies have seen increases in revenue, efficiency and productivity when they incorporate risk assessments into their operations. Such an assessment can help identify potential threats, the attack surfaces of your application, weak points in your existing appsec process, and more importantly, a roadmap for improving your organization’s overall security posture.

How to perform a security risk assessment

These steps apply to security risk assessments in general, and can be leveraged to perform application risk assessments.

Step #1: Identify and Prioritize Assets

The first step in performing a security risk assessment is to identify the assets. This can be done by working with management to create a list of all valuable assets and then prioritizing them for protection.

Some factors that you should take into account when identifying assets include:

  • The type of asset, such as software, hardware or data. For application risk assessments, this will of course be applications
  • The mission or purpose of the asset
  • Gathering information about IT security policies and IT security architecture in order to assess risk levels at an organization level
  • Gathering physical protection measures for certain types of assets

Step #2: Identify Threats

Now that you know what your assets are, it’s time to start thinking about the threats that could harm them. This might include natural disasters like hurricanes or earthquakes, maintenance issues like hardware failure, or human-driven factors like interference from other businesses, interception of data, or misuse of credentials.

Step #3: Identify Vulnerabilities

After determining the assets and the threats that can harm them, , it’s time to identify the weaknesses, aka vulnerabilities. This can be done through a variety of methods, including analysis, audit reports, the NIST vulnerability database, vendor data, and automated scanning tools.

It’s important to remember that not all vulnerabilities can be identified through automation. Some require human interaction and inspection. You must also consider physical and human vulnerabilities in your assessment.

Step #4: Analyze Controls

Now that you have identified and assessed your organization’s assets, their vulnerabilities and the threats that can exploit these, it is time to analyze the controls in place to protect them. There are two types of controls: technical and non-technical.

Non-technical controls include security policies, administrative actions, and physical and environmental mechanisms. Technical controls include encryption, intrusion detection mechanisms, and identification and authentication solutions.

Step #5: Determine the Likelihood of an Incident

When assessing the likelihood of a vulnerability being exploited, it’s important to use a scale such as “high,” “medium” or “low” categorization. This will help you understand the potential risks associated with that particular vulnerability.

Step #6: Assess the Impact a Threat Could Have

The value of an asset factors into the determination of impact of a threat. For example, an organization may deem credit card information more valuable than employee contact information, and so, the resultant impact of data loss would be more for the former compared to the latter. 

Step #7: Determine the Risk Level

A risk assessment requires four components: a threat, vulnerability, impact, and likelihood of occurrence. To determine the impact of a threat on an organization, you must identify what could happen if that particular threat was realized. Examples of threats include natural disasters (earthquakes), website failures (DDoS) , and corporate espionage (denial of service). Once these threats have been identified, you need to determine which vulnerabilities could be exploited by each type of threat.

For example, outdated antivirus software is a vulnerability that can be exploited by many different types of threats. Another example is poorly secured websites that cannot withstand a DDoS attack; this would make them vulnerable to being shut down completely as part of such an attack. Impact can also refer to financial losses, such as the cost of repairing or replacing damaged equipment. Finally, likelihood is used to describe the probability that a threat will occur. The likelihood can be described as a range, not a specific number.

After completing all of these steps, you should have a good understanding of the risk level for individual assets in your organization.

After completing the risk assessment, you will have a list of risks in order of priority. This is where management needs to get involved and make decisions about which risks should be addressed first. The goal is to reduce or mitigate the high-risk items on the list.

The process of addressing these risks begins with developing a plan that includes specific steps and timeframes for completing the tasks required to remediate them. The next step is implementing the plan, followed by monitoring and reporting on progress.

It’s important to remember that risk assessments are not one-time events; they need to be repeated on a regular basis so that you can gauge your organization’s security posture and make sure your policies and procedures are up-to-date

After the team has completed the risk assessment, it is time to put together a plan of action. The goal of this phase is to identify specific steps that need to be taken in order to reduce or eliminate the risks that have been identified.

What factors should be considered when performing an application risk assessment?

When performing an application security risk assessment, it’s important to consider the following:

  • The type of data being processed by the app
  • The sensitivity of the data
  • Who is using the app and for what purpose
  • What kind of cyber-attacks are most likely to target your organization
  • How well the app has been tested and how many vulnerabilities have been found
  • What measures have been taken to secure the app against attack
  • How easily the source code can be modified to improve security
  • Which third-party services are being used to protect the app

What is the difference between application risk assessment and other types of risk assessment?

Application risk assessments are unique in that they focus specifically on vulnerabilities in applications and their systems. This type of assessment identifies when there are weaknesses in cryptographic algorithms, protocols or keys that could compromise data protection. It also looks at improper validation of server certificates and trust chains, which may expose sensitive data to unauthorized access.

Another common type of risk assessment is infrastructure risk assessment, which focuses on the security of an organization’s entire IT infrastructure. This includes devices such as firewalls, routers and switches, as well as servers and operating systems. Network security assessments are also popular among businesses; these assess the security posture of a company’s network traffic and identify any possible threats.

Application risk assessment should be done regularly in order to ensure that your applications are secure and protect your customers’ data