Application security

Top 10 Challenges of Building an In-House Application Security Program

Coalfire Cyber Security Team

May 4, 2023
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Building a successful application security program can be a daunting task, as it involves many different skill sets. Resource constraints, lack of expertise, and cultural resistance are among the many challenges preventing organizations from reaping the full benefits of an in-house AppSec program. Partnering with an industry expert that has a deep understanding of security principles, application architectures, and emerging threats is imperative to success.

Key takeaways:

  • Effective planning, execution, and continuous reinvestment are all requirements for success.
  • Program owners should focus on acquiring and training personnel with the necessary skills and experience to implement the program successfully.
  • One of the best ways to overcome the amount of time and resources required to build a robust system is to partner with industry experts.

Developing an in-house application security program

Many businesses traditionally choose to build in-house application security (AppSec) programs to ensure they have complete control over their software products and intellectual property. It makes sense – they get to call their own shots and closely regulate the development process and potentially cut down costs.

Organizations with an in-house program can assemble their own dedicated team responsible for detecting and mitigating security vulnerabilities in their applications, reducing the risk of security breaches and data leaks. This allows them to tailor their security efforts to their specific business needs and industry standards and have better control over their security posture.

While there are numerous benefits and expectations associated with developing an in-house AppSec program, building a successful one can be a challenging and expensive undertaking. Such programs demand considerable resources, expertise, and continuous investment. In this blog post, I will share the common challenges organizations face when building an in-house AppSec program, and what steps can be taken to tackle these difficulties to develop a winning program.

Top 10 challenges of building an in-house application security program

  1. Lack of expertise: Developing an effective application security program requires a deep understanding of security principles, application architectures, and emerging threats. Many organizations lack the expertise to design and implement a comprehensive program. Incorporating security resources with a background in development is essential to establishing the credibility required to effectively implement and maintain an application security program.
  2. Resource constraints: Building an application security program requires a significant resource investment, including personnel, training, tools, and infrastructure. Many organizations need help allocating the necessary resources to build and maintain an effective program. Personnel will likely rotate in and out as a program is being constructed, and replacing and training new staff will only cause further time constraints.
  3. Evolving threat landscape: The cyber threat landscape is constantly evolving, and organizations must stay updated with the latest threats and vulnerabilities to protect their applications effectively. Developing an in-house application security program requires ongoing investment in research and training to stay ahead of emerging threats. Cyber threats are constantly evolving, making it difficult to keep up with the latest techniques and attack vectors.
  4. Compliance requirements: Many organizations are subject to regulatory requirements related to application security, such as PCI DSS or HIPAA. Building an in-house application security program that meets these requirements can be challenging and time-consuming, since it involves a very different set of skills and expertise. In-house application security professionals are not the same as compliance professionals, so it would require either internal or external support from compliance experts to help meet regulatory compliance standards.
  5. Cost: Developing an in-house application security program can be expensive, particularly for smaller organizations. Purchasing tools and infrastructure, hiring personnel, and investing in ongoing training and education can be cost-prohibitive for many organizations.
  6. Lack of scalability: As organizations grow and develop new applications, their application security needs will change. Building an in-house program that can scale with the organization’s needs can be difficult, particularly for organizations that lack the necessary expertise and resources.
  7. Time constraints: Organizations may need to quickly release applications to meet business needs, leaving little time for thorough security testing. There could be additional pressure from corporate leadership, the board, or even investors to speed up time to market to compete with rival businesses.
  8. Cultural resistance: When there isn’t cultural buy-in from the top down, it can be difficult to get other teams to prioritize security best practices. Especially other internal development teams, who may have their own priorities and objectives. They may resist incorporating security into their workflows, prioritizing speed of release over security considerations.
  9. Legacy applications: Older applications may not have been designed with security in mind, making it more difficult to secure them.
  10. Third-party components: Applications often rely on third-party libraries and components, which can introduce vulnerabilities that may not be easily identifiable.


Effective strategies for building a successful AppSec program

Develop a comprehensive strategy

Start planning! Plan a budget and determine staffing options and training requirements necessary to implement your vision. At this stage, it is essential to assess where you are, where you want to be, and how much you’re willing to invest in getting your application security program to the maturity level you’ve envisioned.

Focus on talent acquisition and training

A critical component of any application security program is the personnel responsible for implementing it. Program owners should focus on acquiring and training personnel with the necessary skills and experience to implement the program effectively. This includes hiring experienced security professionals and investing in training programs to improve the skills of existing staff.

Embrace automation

Automation can play a critical role in the success of an application security program. Organizations can free up staff to focus on more complex tasks such as threat hunting and incident response by automating repetitive tasks such as vulnerability scanning and patch management.

Stay ahead of emerging threats

Finally, application security program owners should stay up to date on emerging threats and new attack vectors. The application security landscape is constantly evolving, and organizations must be able to adapt quickly to new threats. Regular threat assessments, penetration testing, and other assessments can help organizations stay ahead of potential threats.

Partner with industry experts

Another way to overcome the amount of time and resources required to build a robust and effective system is to partner with industry experts. Coalfire is a leading cybersecurity consulting firm that offers comprehensive application security services with over 150 cybersecurity technical experts that can provide expert guidance and support at every stage of the process, at scale.

By leveraging Coalfire's expertise and industry-leading tools and technologies, clients can be confident that they are getting the most effective application security program possible. In addition, Coalfire's services can help clients save money in the long run by avoiding costly data breaches and other security incidents that can result from inadequate security measures.

Ultimately, whether you choose to build an in-house program or outsource your application security efforts, it's important to plan, prepare, and have the right experts in your corner.