Cisco is one of the largest providers of digital communication technologies in the world. From enterprise infrastructure to emergency network comms, their tech is deeply rooted throughout both commerce and government.
This lends particular concern to the fact that, in September 2023, their XE IOS was found to contain one of the highest severity vulnerabilities possible. Attackers are freely able to access account profiles, create their own, and take full control of the XE device – all thanks to an oversight that leaves the web-based UI exposed.
The zero-day exploit affects swathes of networking gear, from enterprise switches and industrial routers to access points and wireless controllers. For 3 weeks, the only form of protection was to turn off HTTPS access to any high-risk login pages.
The cybersecurity tools in every customer’s arsenal must now provide a greater degree of protection than ever before. Key to zero-day protection is Runtime Application Self-Protection (RASP).
What Is RASP?
In the context of application security, the firewall has historically held one of the most important roles. This traditional approach places a key emphasis on defining and maintaining a perimeter around the app in question.
However, decades of zero-days, such as Cisco’s have proven the limitations of this approach. Perimeters have never been harder to establish than in today’s hyper-malleable microservice architecture. RASP takes a wholly new approach by sitting within the application and monitoring its behaviors whilst the app runs.
Some RASP products achieve this through Language Theoretic Security (LANGSEC), which analyzes the grammar and context within which code will execute. This deep integration into the application code lends access to the application’s execution flow, data, and interactions with external components.
Ahead-of-time behavioral analysis becomes possible thanks to a comprehensive understanding of the application’s behavior. This means they can make security decisions based on the application’s logic and data, which enhances their accuracy in distinguishing between legitimate and malicious actions.
This real-time security monitoring provides protection as code executes, allowing it to detect and respond to security threats the moment they occur, rather than relying solely on pre-configured rules or external security devices.
When RASP detects a potential security threat or anomaly, it can take proactive measures to defend the application. This might involve blocking the malicious request, logging the incident, alerting administrators, or even modifying the application’s behavior to shut down an ongoing attack.
Why RASP Is Important
50% of application vulnerabilities are classed as high or critical risk. This fact becomes even more concerning in the wider context of digital adoption: nearly 65% of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) is now digital, while digitized organizations account for more than half of the world’s GDP.
This expansion can be attributed to several factors, such as the prevalence of personal devices in the workplace, leading to fraudulent activities and privacy breaches, which RASP technology effectively combats by integrating server-based security into applications.
The growing demand for integrated security suites in response to increasingly complex network infrastructures further fuels market growth, particularly as businesses implement BYOD policies.
Thanks to this, the RASP market is poised for significant growth, with an anticipated ~33% Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) from 2023 to 2035. By the end of 2035, the market is expected to reach a revenue of USD 6 billion, a substantial increase from the ~USD 1 billion it generated last year.
The advantages wielded by RASP technology offer a number of opportunities to enhance web application security, from reducing the attack surface to protecting applications from both known and unknown vulnerabilities.
While not a standalone solution, it is commonly employed alongside other security measures, including Web Application Firewalls (WAFs), secure coding practices, and regular security audits, to create a comprehensive security strategy for web applications and APIs.
One key strength of RASP security lies in its proactive approach to threat prevention: evident in its ability to patch vulnerabilities, block malicious inputs, and halt suspicious activities within the runtime environment, some RASP solutions leverage machine learning and behavioral analysis to adapt to evolving threats. As the market grows and develops, so do their threat detection capabilities.
How To Start Implementing RASP
Developers have two primary methods for implementing RASP. They can either incorporate the technology into an application’s source code by including specific function calls, or they can encapsulate a finished application within a wrapper, enabling one-click security.
The former method is more precise, as developers can make granular decisions about which aspects of the application to protect, such as login processes, database queries, and administrative functions.
However, there is a potential drawback to implementing RASP, as it may impact application performance – although the extent of this impact remains a subject of contention among critics and proponents of the technology.
The self-protective processes inherent to RASP may introduce latency and slow down an application, which could lead to user dissatisfaction if noticeable. Nonetheless, the severity of these performance issues will remain uncertain until more applications adopt RASP as a part of their operations.
It’s vital to keep in mind that RASP serves as a protective barrier. If an application is severely flawed or defective, RASP cannot rectify those issues; it merely adds a layer of security on top.
Additionally, RASP is not a comprehensive solution for all types of vulnerabilities, so while it significantly enhances application security, it cannot match the level of security achieved by incorporating security measures from the inception of the application development process.
Consequently, many security experts recommend using RASP in conjunction with other security methods to comprehensively secure applications. Ultimately, when security measures are prioritized earlier in the development process, several of the attacks that RASP prevents can be defended against from within the application’s own source code. Until then, however, RASP remains an integral piece of the modern security stack.
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