What is Security Testing? How to Check The Security Strength of Your Application

Adam Stead
Published 09/13/2023
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cloud security for applicationsThe average cost of a data breach in the United States amounted to 9.44 million U.S. dollars in 2022. Even the largest tech companies are not immune to cyberattacks and app security vulnerabilities.

To this end, security testing is a crucial step in the software development process. This type of testing method ensures the safety and security of your application, and ensures the optimal experience for the end user.

In this guide, we’ll explore what security testing is, the different types of security testing techniques, and best practices for checking the security strength of your application.


What Is Security Testing?

Security testing is a software testing technique focusing on identifying vulnerabilities, weaknesses, and potential risks in a software application’s security features.

It involves a comprehensive assessment of the application’s ability to protect data and resources from unauthorized access, theft, or damage. Security testing requires several steps – planning, test design, test execution, and reporting.

The goal of security testing is to uncover potential security flaws in the software and mitigate them before they can be exploited by attackers.

The testing process involves a variety of techniques, which we’ll cover next.

Implementing robust security testing means developers can ensure that their applications and sensitive data are secure and protected.


Types of Security Testing Techniques

Some of the most common security testing techniques include:

  • Black Box testing: In this approach, the tester has no knowledge of the internal workings of the application and tests it as an outsider to identify vulnerabilities and security weaknesses.
  • White Box testing: This approach involves the tester having full knowledge of the application’s internal workings and code. It helps identify vulnerabilities and assess the application’s resilience to internal threats.
  • Gray Box testing: This approach combines elements of black and white box testing, allowing the tester to have partial knowledge of the application’s internal workings while also testing from an external perspective.
  • Vulnerability Scanning: The use of automated tools to scan for known vulnerabilities and weaknesses. This test scans network assets like routers, servers, and endpoints, can be automated, and is scheduled weekly, monthly, or quarterly – depending on business need.
  • Penetration Testing: This technique involves simulating a real-world attack on a software application to identify potential security flaws. It must be performed manually by a certified security expert to understand the strength of the security measures in place.

This type of security testing should follow industry best practices. Procedures for these include: Requirement Analysis, Threat Identification, Vulnerability Evaluation, Exploitation, Post-Exploitation, and Reporting.

  • Risk Assessment: Identifying potential risks and evaluating the likelihood and impact of each risk. Risk assessment tasks include:
    • Identifying all potential risks associated with the operation
    • Prioritizing the risks based on the likelihood of occurrence and severity of impact if they occurred
    • Performing qualitative risk analysis for high and medium priority risks
    • Recommending controls and measures to reduce risk appropriately
  • Security Auditing: Code, design, and architecture of a software application review to identify potential security weaknesses. In addition, compliance with frameworks and regulatory standards is assessed.
  • Security Scanning: This technique involves using automated and manual tools to scan a network and system weaknesses. This type of scanning consists of analyzing the network, operating systems, applications, and web servers.
  • Ethical Hacking: An umbrella term that uses the same techniques and tools as real-world hackers. Ethical hacking identifies potential security flaws in a software application and provides the best identity theft protection.
    Ethical hackers hack into computer systems to reveal security flaws and features, not to steal or expose data. The three types of scanning involved in ethical hacking are Port Scanning, Network Scanning, and Vulnerability Scanning.
  • Posture Assessment: A method used to analyze the security state of an organization. Using a combination of ethical hacking, risk assessments, and security scanning, an overall security position can be provided.

Fax online has become a popular way for businesses to transmit documents securely. Careful security testing can help ensure that these transmissions are protected.

Along with the common security testing techniques mentioned, compliance testing is also crucial for ensuring that software applications adhere to industry-specific security standards and regulations, such as those related to fax online security.

For example, compliance testing for fax online security involves testing whether the application complies with standards such as HIPAA (the regulator of handling confidential patient information in the healthcare industry).

Benefits of Security Testing

As well as to identify security vulnerabilities, there’s a variety of security testing benefits for software applications:

Protecting sensitive data: Helps protect sensitive data from unauthorized access, theft, or damage.

Educating employees: Security testing assists with promoting security awareness inside an organization. It raises the importance of educating employees about security and the risks associated with security breaches.

Enhancing Customer Trust: A secure application can enhance customer trust and confidence in the product, leading to increased usage and loyalty.

Compliance with security standards: Security testing helps ensure that applications comply with industry-specific security standards and regulations to reduce the risk of fines.

Cost-effective: Security testing during the development phase is typically more cost-effective than addressing issues after a breach has occurred.

Reputation management: Helps organizations protect their reputation by identifying and addressing potential security issues before they become a public issue.


Best Practices for Security Testing

Security testing is an important aspect of software development, and there are many practices that can help ensure that the testing process is both effective and efficient.

Firstly, it’s important to identify and prioritize risks. Focus on the potential impact on the application and organization to allocate resources in the right places. Be sure to involve security experts throughout the development process to provide the best guidance on how to mitigate potential security risks.

A variety of security testing techniques helps to pinpoint issues from different perspectives. Where possible, seek to automate security testing to improve efficiency and reduce the risk of human error.

In addition to identifying and prioritizing risks and involving security experts throughout the development process, it’s also important to conduct security testing at different development stages, including during beta testing. This can help catch security issues early on and avoid costly rework down the line.

Finally, staying up-to-date with security standards and performing regular maintenance on the application can help ensure it remains secure over time.


Best Security Testing Attributes

The most effective security testing attributes include:

Thoroughness: Security testing must be comprehensive and cover all possible attack vectors, including those that are not immediately apparent.

Realism: Security testing should replicate real-world scenarios and attempt to simulate the behavior of real attackers.

Scalability: Essential to handle large and complex applications, without sacrificing accuracy or efficiency.

Collaboration: Security testing requires collaboration between different teams, including developers, security experts, and testers, to ensure a comprehensive and effective approach.

Continuity: Security testing should be an ongoing process, with regular reviews and updates to keep up with evolving threats and technologies.

Documentation: Security testing should be well-documented, with clear reports and recommendations for fixing identified vulnerabilities.


Check the Security Strength of Your Application

The number of threats and security breaches will undoubtedly increase over time, so implementing security testing is key.

For example, you should take cloud email security practices into consideration when your team is developing applications that involve email communication.

Once the security testing process is complete, it’s vital to conduct regular security assessments and updates to ensure that the application remains secure over time. As new security risks and vulnerabilities emerge, you must address them promptly to prevent potential breaches.

Prioritizing security testing and implementing best practices allows you to create more secure applications. By both protecting sensitive data and promoting customer trust, you can ultimately reduce the risk of costly breaches and reputational damage.


Disclaimer: The author is completely responsible for the content of this article. The opinions expressed are their own and do not represent IEEE’s position nor that of the Computer Society nor its Leadership.