Application security strategy tends to focus on preventing intrusion at the network and host levels. While those measures are important, they don’t go far enough. Given how quickly the threat landscape evolves, a solution that solely relies on blocking known security issues will be underprepared for the next big thing. And security tools that only analyze incoming traffic lack the necessary context to know what is actually happening within the app.

Luckily, there’s a way that you can detect and prevent attacks from inside the app itself. It’s called runtime application self-protection (RASP). RASP is a relatively new solution for common application security pain points. If your organization isn’t using a RASP tool to monitor and protect your applications, here’s what you need to know:

What is RASP and why do you need it?

RASP software sits in or near your application while it’s running to monitor and analyze its traffic and behavior. If an issue is detected, the RASP solution can send alerts and block individual requests. It’s able to watch for whole categories of attacks rather than relying on recognizing the signatures of specific vulnerabilities.

In other words, RASP doesn’t just know what’s being thrown at your app, it knows how your app is behaving. This reduces false positives and makes RASP better than other security solutions at detecting things like SQL injections and cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks. It also means less manual work when going through security alerts and determining how to respond.

Implementing RASP

RASP works by deploying agents that sit close to the application to watch and react to its behavior. Every RASP solution operates differently, but these agents might be on your application or web servers or exist within your browser.

RASP deployment is typically quite easy, with no need to install new servers or appliances, reconfigure DNS, switches, or load balancers. Nor will you need to change code or recompile your application. The quick implementation of a good RASP tool can save your team a lot of time—and that’s just the beginning.

What are the benefits of RASP?

IT organizations that deploy RASP have seen a number of benefits for security, operations, and testing. Here are a few of the main benefits of RASP:

Visibility

Thanks to deep visibility, RASP takes a lot of the guesswork out of application security. Your detailed view of the app lets you see if it’s being attacked and exactly what is happening during an attack. Simply proving to stakeholders that the application is being attacked can be invaluable for justifying the need for future security measures.

Collaboration and DevOps

RASP benefits development as much as it does security—and it’s a great tool for getting both teams on the same page. The relationship between security professionals and developers is critical to an organization’s success, but communication gaps abound. With the transparency that RASP provides into your apps, everyone’s working with the same information. If there are issues that need to be fixed, your security team can send a detailed report to your developers that clearly outlines what the problem is and what fixes are necessary to fix it.

In today’s fast-paced environment, developers are under pressure to push applications out quickly. There’s no time for security processes that add a lot of extra steps to the software development lifecycle. RASP’s continuous monitoring and data analysis integrates well with the rapid pace of development. RASP could even help quickly identify non-security related bugs if they’re introduced.

Related: Learn more about how application security fits into the software development life cycle (SDLC)

Penetration testing

RASP can support your penetration testing efforts through the increased visibility it provides. You can use RASP initially to structure your test and its objectives. You can also avoid duplicate testing efforts by knowing what kind of attacks are happening, what part of the app has already been tested, and which attacks were successful.

Incident response

You probably already have an incident detection and response solution or multiple solutions that log and alert on application security attacks. However, these tools often lack the capability to log events that occur within custom apps. RASP assists logging for security and compliance by letting you report on customized events such as when a certain component of the app is accessed. This is achieved without any need to modify the app itself.

What makes a good RASP solution?

No worthwhile application security tool will hamper the performance of the app itself. Your RASP software should be lightweight and designed to fail open in order to ensure continued operation of the application.

RASP works best when combined with a robust WAF. If the solution you choose isn’t combined with a WAF, choose one that will work well with your existing firewall and enhance the capabilities it already provides.

tCell by Rapid7 is a RASP and WAF tool that gives you complete visibility for application monitoring and protection. With tCell you can monitor, test, and protect—all in one dashboard. Give your applications the power to defend themselves so your team can focus on more strategic work.

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