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How AppSecEngineer helps in building a secure coding program for dev teams

April 4, 2024
Written by
Abhishek P Dharani

It makes no sense to ask if you’ve been noticing how cyber attacks are becoming more frequent and sophisticated.

Because, of course, you do.

The consequences of a major breach can be catastrophic. For organizations in highly regulated industries like healthcare and financial services, the average cost soared past $10 million. And it doesn’t end with the cost of a data breach - we're talking about stolen data, regulatory fines, lawsuits, reputational damage, and a massive disruption of operations. Many companies simply don't recover from a breach of that magnitude.

One of the biggest factors contributing to these costly breaches? Insecure coding and lack of robust application security practices during the software development lifecycle. Developers are under immense pressure to ship new code quickly, often deprioritizing security in the process.

That’s where AppSecEngineer (ASE) comes in. It's a training platform designed to transform the way dev teams approach security from the ground up. Instead of viewing AppSec as an afterthought, ASE enables developers to bake in secure coding best practices from the initial planning stages.

In the following sections, we'll dive deeper into the unique methodology and tooling ASE provides to upskill your developers, foster a security-first mindset, and drastically reduce your organization's risk exposure. Because in today's time, application security can no longer be an afterthought.

Table of Contents

  1. Why secure coding?some text
    1. Top security risks in software development
    2. ​​The bottom line for developers
  2. AppSecEngineer’s hands-on learning approach
  3. Streamlined skill-building with AppSecEngineer
  4. Addressing Secure Coding Training Challenges with ASEsome text
    1. Overcoming secure coding challenges
  5. Maximizing the Impact of AppSecEngineer in Your Organizationsome text
    1. Administering AppSecEngineer
  6. Putting security skills to the literal test

Why secure coding?

Have you been keeping up with the latest data breach headlines? They just keep getting worse - major companies and even government agencies getting hacked left and right. Makes you wonder how many of those incidents stem from insecure coding during the development phase, doesn't it?

Top security risks in software development

  1. Injection Flaws is when untrusted data is sent to an interpreter as part of queries/commands that usually lead to attacks like SQL injection or remote code execution.
  2. Broken Authentication is when improperly implemented login, password management, keys/tokens, etc., makes it easy for attackers to assume user identities.
  3. Data Exposure is when sensitive information like PII, financial data, and passwords get leaked due to a lack of encryption or other protection.
  4. XML External Entities (XXE) is when improperly configured XML processors are exploited to carry out attacks against internal systems.
  5. Broken Access Control is when insufficient access controls allow attackers to gain unauthorized access to crucial data and functions and then compromise the entire system.

​​The bottom line for developers

Look, developers are the first line of defense when it comes to application security nowadays. Every piece of code committed has to be secure by design and continuously validated. Sloppy coding introduces risks that could bring a whole organization to its knees via data theft, malware infections, DDoS, you name it.

Insecure code isn't just an IT problem, it's a business risk that can be translated into compliance nightmares, lawsuits, reputation damage, you get the picture. Developers may not consider themselves security professionals, but their code is the foundation which everything else is built on.

Investing in secure coding know-how has to be a top priority, period. It's the only way to get a handle on risks before incidents inevitably occur. We simply can't afford to keep churning out vulnerable software in this heated cyber climate.

AppSecEngineer’s hands-on learning approach

Secure coding training might seem like it’s not for developers. Like it’s just another training, and it’s disconnected from their actual day-to-day work. That's the problem AppSecEngineer is solving.

Instead of boring lectures or multiple-choice quizzes, ASE focuses on immersive, hands-on labs that replicate real coding challenges with vulnerabilities to identify and remediate. We're talking stuff like:

  • Sanitizing inputs to prevent injection attacks
  • Implementing proper access controls
  • Validating authentication mechanisms
  • Protecting sensitive data from exposure
  • Avoiding deserialization flaws
  • And tackling tons of other common security pitfalls

The labs cover a diverse range of programming languages too - Java, Python, .Net, Angular,js Node.js, Ruby on Rails, Go, Swift & Kotlin for mobile, you name it. So regardless of the stack your engineering teams use, there are relevant, applicable modules.

Here’s what we love about these labs: They're modeled off the kinds of vulnerabilities that show up in real-world applications and code bases. The same sorts of hairy problems. The very same that opens the door to data breaches, defacements, backdoors, you get the idea.

These extensive, reality-based lab scenarios give developers quite literally the skills they need to bake in security from the ground up as they're building software. It's no longer a separate consideration or extra process - it becomes intuitive and ingrained.

For dev teams, this hands-on experience translates to higher productivity, fewer vulnerabilities making it into production, and a more proactive stance on risk management. For managers, it means lower remediation costs, less breach exposure, and engineering cultures that value secure practices.

The end goal? Helping turn out more security-savvy developers capable of pushing secure, high-quality code consistently. And that's something we could all use a lot more of these days, am I right?

Streamlined skill-building with AppSecEngineer

We’re well aware that learning takes a while, and for developers, it just seems like there’s almost never enough time for them to properly learn secure coding skills. Between sprints, meetings, and putting out fires, dedicated training often gets deprioritized or rushed through.

AppSecEngineer gets it - that's why we've designed our curriculum around bite-sized microlearning modules built for the modern dev's insane schedule.

The modules cover vulnerability classes like:

  • Input validation
  • Access control flaws
  • Authentication issues
  • Sensitive data exposure
  • Use of insecure crypto

We understand the constraints of a developer's schedule, and it's clear that traditional long-form courses don't always fit into the fast-paced world of software development. That's why AppSecEngineer has evolved its learning environment to not only include a variety of vulnerability classes but also to expand its curriculum to cover a wide array of programming languages and frameworks.

AppSecEngineer's courses delve into specific security challenges within popular frameworks such as Django and Spring and even extend to cutting-edge areas like AI & LLM Security. With this tailored approach, you're sure that whether you're working on Java EE applications or pioneering generative AI, you have access to hands-on labs and real-world scenarios that resonate with your day-to-day coding tasks.

Instead of lofty security theory, each module gets right into code-level examples and hands-on exercises that map to the real-world tasks devs face. Identify the bug, understand the ramifications, and learn the proper fixes - all in one concentrated nugget of learning.

And because the modules are so focused, that knowledge sticks better. Devs aren't getting overloaded, they're picking up specific skills and being able to apply them right away to the apps they're working on.

Addressing Secure Coding Training Challenges with ASE

Let's be real - getting developers truly invested in security training is an uphill battle. There are so many common hurdles that seem to get in the way, like:

Not having the time

Dev cycles are insane - product deadlines, tech debt, meetings, it never stops. Dedicating big chunks of time to traditional, slow-paced training just isn't realistic. If security learning can't fit into the actual flow of work, it'll keep getting backseat priority.

Too much, too fast

The cybersecurity space is complex and constantly changing. Throwing an overload of information and best practices at devs all at once is a surefire way to overwhelm and discourage them. It needs to be bite-sized, focused, and make an immediate impact.

Not seeing the relevance

If security training isn't transparently mapped to the kinds of real-world code and applications devs are working with day-to-day, they'll tune it out as not pertinent to their needs. Personalization and applicability are critical.

Overcoming secure coding challenges

AppSecEngineer was built to solve challenges like these head-on. We completely rethought how to integrate security learning into fast-paced DevOps in practical, sustainable ways.

First, we ditched bloated, monolithic courses in favor of microlearning modules that can be consumed in short, concentrated bursts - 10 minutes here, 15 minutes there. This allows devs to gradually reinforce and build their skills alongside sprints and other commitments.

The modules are hyper-focused too. Each one narrows in on a specific vulnerability area - data exposure, authentication issues, injection flaws, etc. Devs get laser-targeted lessons, examples, and labs all in one package. They're not drinking from a firehose but getting manageable, applicable knowledge.

And that applicability piece is huge. The exercises are built around real-world vulnerabilities seen in modern code bases and applications. Devs recognize the threats as ones they actually encounter.   We further tailor recommendations based on the tech stacks, tasks, and interests of each individual dev.

Look, AppSecEngineer gets that devs can't pause productivity completely for security. So we reimagined training into a sustainable, personalized approach threaded into existing workflows, and we're making it an integral, collaborative part of their jobs long-term.

Maximizing the Impact of AppSecEngineer in Your Organization

We are trying to push the boundaries beyond conventional methods when it comes to secure coding training within dev teams. Companies are also taking advantage of AppSecEngineer’s assessments capability to roll out technical challenges across a wide range of topics to baseline candidates' security skills. Under the Admin Panel on ASE’s learning portal, these companies are either creating or using the existing Interviews and Tournaments to test the knowledge of their candidates. 

This is a win-win situation. For recruiting, ASE helps in making a true and objective measure of a candidate’s secure coding skills and AppSec foundations. It eliminates a lot of the unknowns around who really groks application security principles versus who just talks a good game. From day one, there's an understanding of everyone's security proficiency.

But maybe even more critically, using ASE to cultivate grassroots security champions means there are dedicated experts and go-to resources embedded across all of an organization's product teams. These champions get advanced secure coding training tailored to their roles, and they serve as the frontline coaches, advisors, and evangelists for security best practices right where the code is being written.

Administering AppSecEngineer

ASE's course library covers the full spectrum of secure coding topics that product teams need to master. And we made sure that it's not just about the training content itself - ASE also packs powerful admin and reporting features that give engineering leaders outstanding visibility into their crew's security upskilling efforts. Here are what to expect:

Users Tab

Create user profiles here. You can also view the names and emails of current users, as well as if they’re still active. The Statistics of your teams are also available: Total users, Total Badges Earned, and Total Outliers.

ASE provides a flexible licensing model for Enterprise Plan subscribers. Admins can deactivate a user from the active user's list and then reassign that seat to another person in the company.

This flexible licensing model allows for more team members access to training and for optimal usage of the platform as those who have completed their set of assigned training can be deactivated, and that seat can be given to others who need it.

Teams Tab

Here is where you can create new teams, as well as view all the current teams under your plan. You can also make some changes here, such as assigning/reassigning a certain user to a team.

Reports Tab

Now, we get to the fun part. You can categorize what to see here: Dashboard, Users, Teams, and Outlier Users.

  • Dashboard: View the number of minutes each week or month your teams spent taking the courses and labs.
  • Users: Check who’s the Top Five Users, the number of minutes they spent taking courses, and the number of Current Users, Certificates Earned, and Total Outliers.
  • Teams: See the Top Five Teams and their Core Development, and check how each team is performing.
  • Outlier Users: View the details of everyone considered as outliers and the number of minutes they spent on courses and labs.

Each report category can be downloaded in both .csv and .pdf formats. 

Course Assignments Tab

Admins can create assignments for each user to give them a guided learning experience. With new learning materials released every two weeks, it can be challenging for users to figure out which course they need to prioritize and complete. So, with the assignments interface, specific courses from different learning paths can be assigned to users and/or teams. 

Admins can track the user's progress, and once completed, the admins can generate and provide completion certificates to the users. 

Assessments Tab

Admins can create and roll out tests to measure the users' skills post-training. With the Assessments Tab, you can bundle different challenges from different learning paths (think AppSec Essentials, AWS, and k8s in one assessment). Admins can also choose the test difficulty and set the pass percentages and the duration, along with start and end dates.

Once a user completes an assigned assessment, the reports will be available for the Admins via the Assessments Tab. Based on their score, Admins can get a perspective on who is doing well and who needs more help with their training.

Build your challenge Tab

AppSecEngineer's Challenges are great, and many of our learners love us for it, but if you are looking for something even more specific and tailored to what your teams need, you can build your own. As an Administrator, you can create custom challenges by selecting the language, framework, difficulty level, etc., and then providing supplementary details for the scenario you want a Challenge for. The AI engine will then generate accordingly. These custom challenges can be rolled out to users and teams via the Assessments tab.

The reporting dashboards let you drill down to each individual's progress, engagement levels, areas of strength, or courses they may be struggling with. You can use that data to identify knowledge gaps to double down on or the courses and challenges that work the best.

Putting security skills to the literal test

At the end of the day, AppSecEngineer is pushing the boundaries on what effective secure software training looks like for the modern security professional. We ditched the old-school approaches that just didn't mesh with fast-paced engineering cultures. Instead, ASE brings you extensive hands-on labs modeled after real-world vulns and attack vectors you actually have to deal with.

But ASE goes further in providing secure software training. Our library of courses in underserved areas like CloudSec, Kubernetes and Containers, Threat Modeling, and DevSecOps is unparalleled. New content is launched every month ensuring that there is always something new to learn. In addition, we pack powerful admin dashboards and reporting tools that give you laser visibility into your team's progress.

We're reinventing secure software training from the ground up. Ditch those stale compliance courses and level up your crew with security skills that'll stick. That's the ASE way.

Source for article
Abhishek P Dharani

Abhishek P Dharani

Abhishek P Dharani is a Senior Security Engineer at we45. Abhishek P Dharani is a self taught security engineer with a keen interest in application security and automation. He is enthusiastic about both offensive and defensive security strategies. With a keen eye for vulnerabilities, he immerses himself in constantly honing his skills to stay ahead in the cybersecurity game. Adept at both cricket and badminton, Abhishek finds solace in the competitive spirit of sports. When he's not on the field, you'll likely find him at the bowling alley, enjoying the precision and strategy required to hit that perfect strike.

Abhishek P Dharani


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