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Software vs. Application vs. API Security

Derly G



Application security (i.e., AppSec) has been a frequent topic lately for me. I have been on several calls to discuss DevSecOps implementations for new AppSec teams. Like most strategies in InfoSec, DevSecOps is a culture change where the focus is on baking security in advance, so your organization doesn’t have to slow down to implement security requirements. However, before you try to implement a methodology like DevSecOps you should first map out what your Application Security team will be responsible for within your organization. 


Because when it comes to application security it is important to break down what aspects of the software you want this team within your security program to cover and can support with resources to do so. You do not want your senior management to have one expectation and your AppSec team to have another. Everyone needs to be on the same page.






So, if you are you using the term AppSec instead of Software Security because it sounds more modern that is fine. But will they be responsible for the security of both proprietary and non-software security? What about the development of security into internal applications and services as well? Does this also cover API security? Let us discuss each of these and break them down some more to help you understand the differences so you can make an informed decision for your security program development.




Software is an all-encompassing term that is used in comparison to hardware, which are the physical components of a computer. So, everything else in your computer that is not hardware is software. An application is a type of software. So, all applications are software, but not all software are applications. Also, software security is usually managing security  throughout the whole software development or implementation lifecycle. Thus, you will need to determine if your AppSec team will be responsible for software, which kinds, in addition to applications.


However, unlike software security, application security only focuses on apps. Additionally, in most organizations I have seen, the focus is on security scanning within the development lifecycle, not third-party implementations, much less other security best practices. Also, because AppSec focus is usually on the development of the in-house application side, this is where methodologies like DevSecOps, OWASP, etc. are typically used but skipped in the other areas of the organization. 


Finally, there is application programming interface (API) security (i.e., APISec). This is different from software and application security because an API is a computing interface that defines interactions between multiple software agents. An API defines the kinds of calls or requests that are made, how to make them, the data structures that should be used, the protocols, etc. Like software and application, there can be internal and third-party versions. Will your AppSec team be responsible for both of these as well?




Now that we discussed the differences, here are what is common in securing them. All three of these (I.e., Software, Applications, and APIs), you are going to want to implement common best practices like OWAPS Top 10, NIST CSF, CSA CCM, threat modeling, threat intel, etc. When people hear the term AppSec or software security they think of session management and coding best practices, but they forget about the necessary security architecture, inventorying, lifecycle management requirements as well.


Security architecture requirements like WAF placement, not installing your database on the same server as your application server, network connection security, system configurations, and privilege access controls are just as important.


Then there are the basic good security administrative controls. Software, AppSec, or API development all require review lifecycles, risk management, architecture review lifecycles, and change management processes. Activities like annual assessments, PenTesting, and bug bounty programs are also great to include.


As you can see, a great AppSec program requires more than just scanning. It also takes seamless processes and services designed to help developers or your AppSec team fix flaws, write more secure code and secure software, apps, and APIs.


All of the above will help to greatly improve your software security capabilities. I hope this clears up a few common issues I have seen on the development of an application security strategy within your security program

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