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Secure Application Development Challenged by Disconnect at Executive Level

Application security is being challenged by a disconnect between developers and executives, according to a new study by the Ponemon Institute.

Application security is being challenged by a disconnect between developers and executives, according to a new study by the Ponemon Institute.

The research, which was sponsored by application security firm Security Innovation, surveyed 642 IT professionals in both executive and engineering positions. More than half were employed in organizations with more than 5,000 employees.

According to the research, there is a vast gap between the opinions of executives on the maturity of their organization’s secure application development process and the opinions of the rank-and-file. While 75 percent of executives agree that defined secure architecture standards exist in their organization, only 23 percent of technicians and 35 percent of staffers thought so.  

When asked if they agreed development teams are measured to determine compliance with secure architecture standards, 75 percent of executives again said yes, compared to just 23 of technicians and 23 percent of staff.

“Seventy-one percent of execs and 66 percent of directors think they keep their secure coding training up-to-date, versus only 19 percent of technicians,” said Ed Adams, CEO of Security Innovation. “That’s nearly a [four-fold] difference. And the technicians’ results are much more believable; they are the ones getting trained – or not, as the case is here.”

Larry Ponemon, chairman of the Ponemon Institute, said he was surprised by the findings as well.

“For whatever reason, this gap suggests executives are out of touch with day-to-day realities that programmers face in the application development environment,” he said.

“Other surprising findings suggest a majority of companies are not doing the basic “blocking and tackling” to secure the application development process,” Ponemon said. ” For instance, a large number of companies do not provide any training whatsoever on secure coding and even fewer organizations attempt to monitor developers and their outputs.”

The report contains more bad news. According to the research, just 43 percent said their organizations have a defined software development process in place. Of these, only 69 percent adhere to the defined process, while 21 percent said their organization doesn’t. Ten percent were unsure.

“Mature organizations are aware of the effectiveness of the implementation of standards because on a regular basis they conduct audits and assessments to understand the threats against their organization and to improve security, architecture and coding standards,” the report noted. “Measures are also critical to becoming more strategic about investments in application security based on an understanding of the security risks they face.”

“Forty-three percent and forty-two percent of organizations are conducting automated and manual security testing on their applications, respectively,” Adams said. “Though this is an encouraging data point, up quite a bit from 5 years ago, I would’ve expected to see it even higher given the number of widely-reported data breaches and cyber security attacks over the past two-plus years – most of which are targeting and exploiting the application layer.” 

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