Application security testing growing in Australia but skills gap limits its scope

Targeting customer satisfaction, automated and penetration testing gaining prominence within Agile development cycle

Customer satisfaction is closely linked with the efficacy of information-security protections, a senior quality-assurance executive has warned as new global research reveals that despite their recognition of security's importance Australian companies are struggling to secure the right skills and processes to ensure a high-security customer experience.

Despite Australian businesses leading the world in cloud adoption with 28.4 percent of applications running in a public cloud, respondents to Capgemini's World Quality Report 2016-17 said they were struggling to build the right testing environments for the software they were building.

Smaller companies, in particular, “are feeling the heat of limited investments,” the report notes, “as well as a lack of both test environments and enough time to react to the challenges posed by the digital transformation wave.”

Australian respondents named 'enhancing security' as the highest priority of their IT strategy, although only 52 percent said they had adopted dynamic application security testing (DAST) – which checks code as it runs on the server – while 50 percent were using static application security testing (SAST) that reviews code as it's built.

Some 49 percent of global respondents were manually reviewing code. This last figure was down slightly from the previous survey, which the report's authors attribute to a growing shift towards greater use of penetration testing throughout the development process.

“DAST and SAST are very much automated, yet hackers are human and look for increasingly smart ways to attack applications and gain access to enterprise assets,” the report notes. “Thus expert reviews and penetration testing in combination with autoamted SAST and DAST affords a greater level of security.”

Significantly, 99 percent of respondents said they were conducting some sort of application security testing, compared with 83 percent last year – a significant rise that the report notes “demonstrates that security testing is no longer viewed as an option, but is part of strategic intent”.

Jacko Smit, test director and quality assurance manager with Capgemini, told CSO Australia that the growing recognition of security as being critically important throughout the development process was closely linked to surging investments in digital transformation efforts.

“Looking at the objectives of QA globally, the primary shift has been from reducing cost to reducing production defects,” Smit explained. “Customers value this outcome, which is why in Australia we found that the two things contributing to this change are business growth and outcomes. Linked closely to that is the drive to make or increase the security of applications.”

With outcomes shifting towards quality and security, development processes had been changing to accommodate these priorities. This dovetailed nicely with widespread efforts in recent years to embrace 'agile' development – a highly iterative process in which progress is regularly reviewed and issues resolved quickly before the project progresses.

This offered the ability to identify and remediate security issues well before end-of-cycle penetration and other security testing commences. “Being able to release things quickly and make changes very quickly, but making sure that it's secure when you release it, is very important,” Smit said.

“If something is not secure and not OK to work with, clients will very quickly get rid of the mobile app and move on.”

The focus of IT staff on the security aspect of digital transformation was in stark contrast to recent TRA-Hitachi research that found executives ranked security well below other transformation priorities. This suggests an ongoing IT-business divide that driven by many executives who still have yet to grasp the importance of security to their business goals; nearly 1 in 5 of the TRA-Hitachi respondents characterised their CEO as a 'digital cynic'.

Whatever their executive's attitude towards transformation, the respondents to the Capgemini study also identified significant issues getting the right skills to do security testing at the level that is required.

“You've got a number of tools that are really good at doing testing of code up to a level, but when you get to the really serious stuff you need humans who have different ways of thinking,” Smit explained. “Unfortunately, these skills are few and far between.”

The ongoing lack of cybersecurity skills – particularly in fast-growing areas like the Internet of Things (IoT) – remains a major issue that Australian Computer Society CEO Andrew Johnson recently said has put Australian organisations on a 'burning platform' for change that has spawned skills exchanges like the Cyber Security Online Marketplace and driven companies like Telstra to explore different approaches as necessary.

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Tags VulnerabilitiesJacko Smitapplication securitydynamic application security testing (DAST)CSO AustraliaCapgeminiinformation-security protectionsskills gapapplication testing

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