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Runtime Application Self-Protection: a game-changer in mobile application security

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Enterprise deployed applications, apart from a complex and fragmented environment, intertwine with a mixture of networks, operating systems, and databases. This oftentimes leads to fragmentation in the application security architecture, combined with the shortage of precise and confident security roadmap. RASP, short for Runtime Application Self-Protection, is largely developed to address the ad hoc methods adopted by developers when threats arise.

Enterprise deployed applications, apart from a complex and fragmented environment, intertwine with a mixture of networks, operating systems, and databases. This oftentimes leads to fragmentation in the application security architecture, combined with the shortage of precise and confident security roadmap. RASP, short for Runtime Application Self-Protection, is largely developed to address the ad hoc methods adopted by developers when threats arise.

RASP is an emerging security technology successful in combating mobile application attacks and enabling real-time prevention and detection of mobile application security threats. A short summary of Runtime Application Self-Protection technical scope would be the control over application execution, security threat detection, and real-time attack prevention.

What is Runtime Application Self-Protection?

RASP is a security component built in the application's runtime environment, enabling protection from the inside. Since Runtime Application Self-Protection is an integral part of the application, it allows monitoring in real-time and detection of any type of anomaly in the mobile app's runtime behavior. With continuous monitoring of the app's behavior, RASP protects the mobile application from data breaches, various mobile app security threats (e.g., hooking and emulator attacks), and tampering – all without any human intervention.

Current data reveals that 38% of iOS applications and 43% of Android apps contain high-risk vulnerabilities. A considerable number of those vulnerabilities, 74% for iOS and 57% for Android affect mobile apps due to weaknesses in their security architecture. Another issue is inter-process communication, a vulnerability found in 38% of Android and 22% of iOS apps.  

Rather than addressing the application design flaws, developers gravitate towards static and traditional application security approaches. These approaches have proved to be futile when it comes to complex security threats. Such diverse layers of security control often turn out to be the bottleneck for multiple components at the application, infrastructure, and security layers.

What does RASP bring to the table?

However, with RASP technology, application security got a brand new definition. It is no longer a casual response to selected threats but a proactive measure able to respond to known and emerging threats in real-time. Runtime Application Self-Protection, RASP, is an innovation in the security ecosystem, equipped to deal with runtime attacks on the software's application layer by providing more visibility into concealed vulnerabilities.

Essentially, it is a security software integrated with the application or its runtime environment, constantly intercepting calls to the application in order to inspect the security. RASP is not just sitting there and waiting for a threat to impact the app. Instead, Runtime Application Self-Protection proactively hunts for malware in the incoming traffic to the app and prevents fraudulent calls from executing inside the app. By protecting the application from the inside, RASP solution neutralizes potential known vulnerabilities – all without any kind of human intervention.

How does RASP work?

When a possible security incident is detected, RASP takes partial or full control over the application. That, of course, depends on the configuration, which can be both hardcoded and customizable. Diagnostic mode addresses a potential threat by notifying the app's user that something doesn't feel quite right. Protection mode, on the other hand, is more proactive. It attempts to prevent a possible attack by, for example, halting the execution of instructions that are the result of a suspected code injection attack.

There are three typical responses when Runtime Application Self-Protection is in place:

  • Notifying the end-user about a potential threat.
  • Terminating the application execution in case of a high-risk anomaly detection.
  • Generating false values to deceive the attacker with false data, making them unable to continue the application misuse.

What makes RASP such breakthrough technology is the ability to protect the application even if the attacker has penetrated perimeter defenses. Since it has access to contextual data, application logic, data event flows, and configuration, RASP counters attacks, minimizing the false positives. This means that it is able to distinguish between attacks and legitimate information requests with high accuracy.

Moreover, ''Self-Protection'' also refers to application data, from its input to its deletion. This is especially useful when it comes to enterprise applications that need to be in line with the latest compliance requirements. For example, in the case of a data breach where the stolen data is unreadable to the attacker, regulators do not require the breach to be reported. Also, the BYOD approach proved to be a challenge for today's security experts – luckily, RASP covers this area as well.

Benefits of implementing Runtime Application Self-Protection

A unique trait of RASP; in comparison to other security solutions; is the fact that it focuses on a single, individual application. This results in a number of security-related benefits, and the most notable ones are the following:

Rich context

RASP enables insight into application logic and the app's state in real-time - during the attack. It can point out vulnerabilities and the exact snippet of code affected by the attack. Not only does it detect and prevent attacks, but it reveals which parts of the code pose a security liability. This makes the process of extracting potential vulnerabilities targeted and efficient.

Zero-day attack prevention

A ''zero-day attack'' is a term for exploiting a vulnerability that the vendor is not aware of. Meaning, they did not address it. By implementing RASP, zero-day attacks shouldn't be an issue.

Reduction of false positives

Other, more robust security solutions, tend to ring alarm bells even in cases where the user's next step within the app is entirely legitimate. Why? Because such solutions rarely have a tailored approach. By implementing a solution that understands the application logic and is able to respond to a threat in real-time, you are ensuring that your mobile application users will enjoy both a secure and an uninterrupted user experience.

Ease of implementation

Despite being a solution that is incredibly easy to deploy, RASP brings numerous benefits in terms of security and costs.

Easy maintenance

Once you equip your app with RASP, that's pretty much it; no learning processes, no traffic rules, no blacklists. Security operations teams love how reliable the technology is, while CISOs appreciate the resource savings. Apps are self-protected and remain so wherever they are. However, it is recommended to update the RASP enriched application once a year. That is to ensure that the latest improvements and features are included in your Run Time Application Self-Protection solution.

Pentesting

RASP allows you to conduct pentesting in order to reveal vulnerabilities and eliminate them. The technology aims to respond to a detected vulnerability in a preselected manner. Either by notifying the end-user or by terminating the application at once. 

Smart incident responses

Because of detailed insight into the application runtime environment and security logging features, you're able to gather real-time application behavior. This enhances the monitoring ability, allowing developers to render more effective security designs.

Runtime attack visibility

RASP equips developers with comprehensive monitoring abilities, allowing them to provide efficient security solutions.

It is safe to assume that with RASP you are taking a completely different direction of security in comparison to traditional app sec approaches. Agile development model is in dire need of a security solution capable of following up on the constant requirement for feature upgrades. All without the need to adapt the security solution from scratch. By implementing RASP technology for your organization, you are choosing a quick and effective solution for dealing with a sophisticated threat landscape.

What to look for in a Runtime Application Self- Protections solution?

  • Easy deployment and maintenance
  • A broad set of detection capabilities, including both known and emerging vulnerabilities
  • Minimal or zero effect on the app's performance metrics; UX is still a priority over security in most app owners' point of view
  • Multiple frameworks and language support
  • Autonomous solution providing cloud and real-time monitoring support
  • Extensive and actionable reporting regarding runtime threats
  • Ability to learn from mobile application behavior in order to achieve dynamic protection for combating known and emerging threats
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