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Elevating Your Application Security: A Guide on Safeguarding Data

by Mirela Lazar
13 minutes read
hypersense data security guide

Cybersecurity is a critical concern in today’s digitally connected world, and rightly so. When we think about security, our minds often jump to external threats, but this perspective needs to broaden. While external threats pose a significant risk, internal vulnerabilities can be just as harmful, leading to compromised data and potential breaches.

According to an IBM report, the average global cost of a data breach is a staggering $4.4 million, with multiple variables such as country, industry, organization size, breach cause, and security measures playing a part in the final cost. And for small businesses, these costs are proportionately more damaging. Those with fewer than 500 employees bear an average cost of around $2.74 million when a data breach occurs.

Who views the data in your system? Who can add, alter or own it? These questions are essential, regardless of the type of application you’re working with, building, or enjoying. You see, not all data is created equal. And to protect it effectively, we need to understand the various roles within a data ecosystem: guests, authenticated users, authorized personnel, and developers.

In the subsequent sections, we will delve into the types of users interacting with data within applications, discuss potential threats, and explore practical strategies for enhancing data security. This journey will equip you with the necessary knowledge to fortify your data security and guide you in implementing these practices into your application development and consultancy efforts. Buckle up for a comprehensive exploration of safeguarding data in application security.

Identifying Different Types of Application Users

As we delve into the heart of data security, it’s essential first to identify the different types of users who interact with your application’s data. The type of user plays a significant role in the potential risks and the protective measures you should consider. As recommended by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), we must establish and enforce role-based access control (RBAC) within our systems.  We can generally categorize application users into four main groups: guests, authenticated users, authorized personnel, and developers.

Guests are typically granted a read-only role. Any information they can access should be treated as public knowledge. If your application permits guest users to input data, you must address two major concerns: information quantity and quality. Flood control measures control the quantity of information, while the quality requires validation by another user or a built-in mechanism.

Authenticated users interact with data more extensively – they consume and provide information. The data they contribute could be public, private, or shared with other users. These users need to know who can see their data and who can modify it.

See also
Demystifying End-to-End Encryption: A Simplified Introduction to Elliptic-Curve Diffie-Hellman

Authorized personnel are typically employees who work for the company that owns the application. Access to information for these users should be compartmentalized based on their needs. Any changes they make to the data should be tracked, and any unusual behavior should trigger further investigation. According to OWASP‘s principle of least privilege, these users should only have access to necessary information and their activities should be monitored for anomalies.

Lastly, developers have comprehensive access to both the data and the internal mechanics of the application. They understand the system’s intricacies, can access and modify data, and know its vulnerabilities. Consequently, developers pose a unique set of considerations when considering data security.

Securing Your Data: Essential Tools and Techniques

Safeguarding data is a multifaceted endeavor, especially when considering authorized personnel and developers. These individuals require data access to perform their duties, which invariably includes access to potentially sensitive user information. The challenge is balancing this necessary access with our obligation to protect the data and our users’ privacy.

Monitoring Data Access

Detecting access to data is one crucial element in your arsenal of data protection strategies. Regularly tracking user interrogations and access times can illuminate any unusual activities. However, it’s worth noting that too much monitoring can lead to system slowdowns, unnecessary clutter, and increased development time. It’s essential to strike a balance—keep a vigilant eye on the quantity of requested data but avoid falling down the rabbit hole of over-monitoring.

For example, while Oracle has a robust capacity for storing logs, overfilling the allocated storage can lock out non-sys users. Therefore, maintaining an effective monitoring system is about equilibrium—enough to spot irregularities but not so much that it impedes system functionality.

Distributing Responsibility

If a single user has access to all data, it creates a potential security risk. Instead, consider structuring data access so that users can only read or change part of the information. This allows for damage control in case a user’s account is compromised and helps maintain data owner anonymity.

In the subsequent section, we’ll dive deeper into more advanced data security techniques, including data encryption and hashing. Stay tuned as we continue our exploration of safeguarding data in application security.

Encrypting Data Storage

One of the critical aspects of data security is to ensure that all sensitive data stored in your application is encrypted. Even when users can access the database or file storage directly, bypassing the application mechanisms, they should only be able to comprehend the data with the appropriate decryption keys.

The individuals typically entrusted with these keys are developers. It’s important to understand that developers are generally interested in data attributes and properties rather than the actual data. For instance, knowing that a user filled in an address field is useful, not necessarily that the user’s specific address is 221B Baker Street, London.

See also
Strong Authentication in FinTech: Navigating Today's Security Imperatives

For a deeper understanding of data encryption, consider learning about the Elliptic Curve Diffie-Hellman (ECDH) key exchange protocol. We have an in-depth article on our blog that provides a detailed explanation of how ECDH works and how it plays a role in secure data transmission and storage.

By employing strong encryption standards like ECDH and storing encrypted data, we can significantly enhance the security posture of our applications.

Applying Data Hashing

Hashing is a practice that should already be familiar, as it’s commonly used for passwords. Data is transformed into a fixed-size string of characters in a hash, typically a cryptographic hash function’s output. Unlike encryption, hashed data can’t be restored to its original form, enhancing its security.

This practice should not be confined to passwords alone; other sensitive information can also benefit from hashing. For example, create a validation hash for multiple fields to prevent a developer from accessing a user’s account without consent by replacing the hashed password. One could create a hash for combining the user ID and the password hash. If someone tampers with the hashed password, the application will check the control hash and detect the irregularity.

The upcoming section will cover restricting access, data obfuscation, and data inference. These are just a few more ways to create a robust shield for your application’s data.

Enhancing Data Security: Access Restriction, Obfuscation, and Inference

Let’s now explore some advanced strategies to strengthen further your application’s data security: restricting access, obfuscating data, and mitigating data inference.

Restricting Access

It’s essential to understand that while users need access to data—the lifeblood of any application—they do not need access to all of it, nor all at once. Restrict access to only the data that a user requires to complete their tasks. It’s a good practice to start with minimum access and then incrementally grant more as the need arises. Consider how new data types integrate with existing restrictions, especially as your system grows.

Obfuscating Data

Data obfuscation protects data privacy and security by masking data with modified content. This strategy can preserve the data format but alter the data content. Data obfuscation finds its use in several scenarios, like analytics, GDPR enforcements, and test environments. In each of these cases, the precise content of the data in its original form is less important than the data’s overarching patterns or characteristics.

Mitigating Data Inference

Despite access restrictions and data obfuscation, a savvy user with restricted access can logically deduce additional details from the information they have. The aforementioned techniques of restricting access and obfuscating data can be used in conjunction to prevent this. In some instances, adding generated data (a.k.a. “noise”) might be necessary to confuse the inference process further.

See also
A Complete Guide for Continuous Authentication

Recognizing Risks and Pursuing Continuous Improvement in Data Security

Understanding the value of the data you provide and the data you access is crucial in this age of increasing digital threats. It’s no longer enough to guard against external data theft; you also need to consider internal security. This process should start from the initial architecture of the application—it’s more of a mindset or approach rather than a ready-made solution. Each application is unique, with its unique challenges and needs.

Regulations like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and various cookie policies are more than just roadblocks in the path of application and business development. Instead, they are a legal response to the critical data privacy and protection issues in today’s digital landscape. They underline the importance of implementing robust data security measures.

The Impact of Data Inference in Everyday Life

Data inference is not confined to the realms of advanced analytics or artificial intelligence; it’s an everyday reality. Inference, or concluding available data, can often build a detailed picture of an individual or situation. For example, an individual could determine that you’re on vacation by knowing your work email and receiving an out-of-office reply. Therefore, the power of inference should be noticed while designing data protection strategies.

A research study conducted by Imperial College London reveals a more unsettling perspective on this issue. The researchers were able to identify individuals from supposedly anonymized data by using machine learning algorithms. This means that even when data is anonymized, it still presents a high risk of personal identification, which poses significant privacy concerns.

The researchers propose that advanced anonymization methods are required to protect privacy genuinely. The alarming ease of inferring personal details from anonymized data reinforces the importance of implementing robust data obfuscation and inference control measures.

To summarize, the key to ensuring your application’s data security lies in embracing a security-first mindset, understanding the value of the data you handle, and constantly looking for ways to bolster your data safeguards. Stay vigilant, stay informed, and stay secure!

Ready to Elevate Your Application’s Security?

We’ve covered a lot of ground today on enhancing your application’s data security. But remember, ensuring data security is an ongoing process, not a one-time effort. Is your application up to the challenge?

At HyperSense, we specialize in software consultancy and development, bringing a strong focus on security to every project we undertake. Our expert team can help you implement these strategies, improving the security posture of your application while allowing you to focus on what you do best.

Ready to take the next step? Contact us today to start fortifying your application against potential data threats. Let’s secure your application together!

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