There’s been some recent chatter and speculation on the upcoming enhancement to the PCI standard. Among the discussions, I’d like to publicize my opinion on one argument I’ve heard multiple times during the last few days. The argument goes something like this: The cost of performing security code reviews is too high, but the cost of performing black box reviews and/or implementing web application firewalls is lower. Therefore, the solution is to recommend that organizations rely on penetration assessments and/or web application firewalls.
First, no company should ever strategize their overall security efforts based on a 3rd party requirement. A company’s strategy should be based on its specific business goals that should be used to drive the security strategy. Tony Spinelli, CSO of Equifax, has articulated this point very well. He says: Most companies and [their] security leaders are getting lost because of [having to be] compliant — regulations saying you have to do X or Y…. A lot of people are letting compliance drive security, and that’s as wrong as you can get….You have to become secure to be compliant; otherwise, you respond and react and reinvest without leverage.
Second, it is not true that security code reviews are overwhelmingly more expensive than black box reviews. The entire purpose of a security code review is to combine it with a solid security SDLC process, with the aim to push left, and the goal to find and remediate security vulnerabilities earlier on in the development cycle - the overall costs of which is likely to be lower than the cost of relying upon black-box penetration assessments. Run, don’t walk, from any vendor that tells you to base your application security strategy on black-box penetration assessments because anything else is too expensive - you’ll end up paying through your nose while failing to fix the root cause of what’s ailing your development efforts.
Third, web application firewalls can be useful, yet the most terrible band-aids when applied for the wrong reasons. Just because a 3rd party standard may require it doesn’t mean it’s the only thing you need to do.
In summary, please do not let a requirement like PCI drive your overall strategy. Understand your goals and needs, aim to be secure, and you will be compliant. Try the formula the other way around, and your strategy will be flawed, your security budget won’t be big enough, you will struggle to keep up with requirements & regulations, and you will fail to demonstrate risk reduction to your organization.