How to establish an application security policy

How to establish an application security policy

As organizations increasingly rely on web and mobile applications to conduct business, robust application security has become paramount. Cyberattacks are on the rise, and without adequate protection, businesses risk losing sensitive data, revenue, and reputational damage. Having an application security policy in place is the first line of defense against such threats.

To give you an example: just a month ago, MGM Resorts’ Las Vegas area operations to took $100M hit from social engineering cyberattack and certain customer data up to March 2019 was stolen. The hackers claimed to have accessed the company’s Okta environment, which has been the target of multiple social engineering attacks. A separate attack was carried out against Caesars Entertainment, which compromised rewards data for customers of that casino operator. 

Now both organizations have to work with third-party IT experts to make significant upgrades to its systems to prevent another such attack. But prevention is better than cure though, right?

In this section, we will discuss the importance of having an application security policy in place and the steps to establish one effectively. By the end of this guide, you will have a clear understanding of how to create a comprehensive application security policy that protects your organization.

Key takeaways:

  • Establishing an application security policy is essential for protecting your organization's data.
  • A comprehensive security policy should cover risk assessment, security controls, secure code practices, incident response, and policy review and maintenance.
  • Regular training and awareness programs for employees are essential to ensuring the effectiveness of the security policy.
  • Conducting regular security audits and maintaining an incident response plan are critical components of an application security policy.
  • Policy review and maintenance should be conducted periodically to ensure the policy remains relevant and up to date.

Understanding application security

Ensuring the security of your data is crucial. One of the essential aspects of digital security is application security.

Application security refers to measures taken to protect software applications from external threats such as malware, hacks, and other cyber-attacks. The primary goal of application security is to create a secure environment for both application developers and users.

While many organizations focus on network security, application security is equally important. Without proper application security measures, cybercriminals can easily exploit vulnerabilities and gain access to organizational data and sensitive information.

Application security can be achieved through a combination of secure coding practices, implementing security controls, and regular security audits. By prioritizing application security, organizations can protect their digital assets and provide a secure environment for their employees, customers, and stakeholders.

What is an application security policy?

An application security policy is a strategic document that serves as a cornerstone for an organization's cybersecurity framework. It includes the guidelines and procedures for ensuring the safety and integrity of web and mobile applications throughout their entire lifecycle. This policy is not merely a set of rules; it's a comprehensive plan that details how an organization approaches the security of its applications from inception to retirement.

At its core, this policy aims to establish a standardized approach to managing application security risks. It outlines the protective measures and best practices that need to be followed during the development, deployment, and maintenance of software applications. This includes specifying security protocols, tools, and technologies that are to be used, as well as defining the roles and responsibilities of team members involved in the application development process.

The policy should be tailored to the organization's specific needs and should be reviewed and updated regularly. 

A key aspect of an application security policy is its focus on the entire lifecycle of an application. This means that security considerations are not just an afterthought or a final step in development but are integrated into every stage of the application's life. From the initial design and development phases to testing, deployment, and ongoing maintenance, the policy ensures that security is a continuous and evolving process.

The policy also addresses how to respond to security incidents and vulnerabilities. It outlines procedures for incident detection, reporting, and response, helping organizations quickly and effectively mitigate the impacts of any security breaches.

In summary, an application security policy is a dynamic, comprehensive framework that provides a structured approach to securing applications. It's a living document, one that evolves with changing technologies, threats, and business requirements, ensuring that an organization’s applications remain secure, resilient, and trustworthy.

Why application security policy is necessary?

One of the primary reasons for having an application security policy is to protect sensitive data. Unprotected applications can become gateways for hackers to access and exploit critical business and customer data. An application security policy helps prevent unauthorized access, data leaks, and other security breaches by establishing strict guidelines and security practices.

Want to have a concrete example of the impact of data leaks? Check out our story of how Gorillas' GraphQL API was leaking data from 10000 customers.

Moreover, an application security policy is crucial for maintaining compliance with legal and regulatory requirements. Many industries are governed by strict data protection laws and standards, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). A well-crafted security policy ensures that applications are compliant with these regulations, thereby avoiding legal penalties and fines. This is especially critical for international organizations like Lightspeed that used Escape to stay compliant with GDPR and PCI-DSS.

You can also follow our guide how to stay compliant with GDPR.

The policy also plays a significant role in preserving an organization's reputation. A single security breach can lead to a loss of customer trust and damage to the company’s reputation like in case of Las Vegas' casinos we mentioned above (The Bellagio and Mandalay Bay casino operator said hotel occupancies are down), which can be far more costly than the immediate financial losses. By having a robust application security policy, organizations can demonstrate their commitment to data protection, thereby increasing their credibility and trustworthiness in the eyes of their customers and partners.

Furthermore, an application security policy fosters a culture of security within the organization. It educates and empowers employees to understand their role in maintaining application security and encourages a proactive approach to identifying and mitigating security risks.

In conclusion, an application security policy is an indispensable tool in an organization’s cybersecurity arsenal. It not only protects against the immediate threats of data breaches and cyberattacks but also contributes to the long-term resilience, compliance, and reputation of the organization. In an increasingly interconnected and digital world, overlooking the necessity of an application security policy is a risk no business can afford to take.

How to create an application security policy

Defining application security policy objectives and scope

Before creating an application security policy, it's crucial to define its objectives and scope. This will help establish clear goals and boundaries, ensuring a focused and effective plan.

Define policy objectives

Policy objectives should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART).

Ask yourself:

  • What do I want to achieve with this policy?
  • What are my priority areas?
  • How will I measure success?
  • What is the timeline for achieving my objectives?

Answering these questions will help establish concrete, actionable goals. For example, your policy objectives might include:

  1. Reduce the number of security incidents by 50% within the next 12 months
  2. Ensure all new applications adhere to company-wide security standards
  3. Mitigate the risk of data breaches within the company

Define policy scope

Policy scope outlines the boundaries of the policy by defining what's included and what's excluded.

Ask yourself:

  • What types of applications are included in the policy?
  • What types of data are covered by the policy?
  • What are the geographical boundaries of the policy?
  • What departments or teams are included in the policy?
  • What is the timeline for reviewing and updating the policy?

Answering these questions will help establish a clear scope for your policy. For example, your policy scope might include:

This policy applies to all web applications developed in-house, as well as third-party applications used by the company. The policy covers all data handled by the company, including customer data, financial data, and employee data. The policy applies to all departments and teams within the company and is effective for one year, after which it will be reviewed and updated as needed.

By defining your policy objectives and scope, you can create a targeted and actionable application security policy.

Assessing risks and vulnerabilities

The next step in establishing an effective application security policy is identifying potential risks and vulnerabilities. Conducting a comprehensive risk assessment is crucial to building a focused and actionable plan. The following steps can help you assess risks and vulnerabilities:

  1. Define assets: Identify all applications, data sources, and systems that require protection.
  2. Identify threats: Determine the potential attacks that could compromise the security of your assets. This may include external threats such as hackers and viruses, as well as internal ones like unauthorized access by employees.
  3. Assess vulnerabilities: Evaluate each asset and identify its weaknesses and potential vulnerabilities.
  4. Assign risk levels: Prioritize risks based on their potential impact and likelihood of occurrence.

Once you have identified potential risks and vulnerabilities, you can create a plan to mitigate them and improve the overall security of your applications and systems.

Establishing security controls for your application security policy

Implementing security controls is a critical aspect of your application security policy. These controls help prevent unauthorized access, detect potential threats, and respond to incidents quickly and efficiently. To achieve this, your organization can take several measures, including:

Control Measures Description
Firewalls Firewalls act as a barrier between your system and external networks. They monitor incoming and outgoing traffic, blocking unauthorized access and stopping malicious attacks.
Encryption Encryption is the process of converting data into a coded format, making it unreadable to anyone without the key. Encryption can be used for data at rest (stored on your servers) or data in transit (being sent over the internet).
Access Controls and Authentication Access controls and authentication procedures ensure that only authorized individuals can access your system. This includes password policies, two-factor authentication, biometrics, and other identity verification measures.
Application Security Testing Application security testing can help identify and mitigate vulnerabilities in your system. This includes penetration testing, vulnerability scanning, and code reviews.
Logging and Monitoring Logging and monitoring activities can help detect incidents and identify potential threats. This includes monitoring access logs, system logs, and application logs.
If you need a solution for API security testing, you can check out Escape. Unlike other API security tools, Escape doesn’t need access to your API traffic data and helps you quickly set up a comprehensive and actionable application security program within your organization. It helps you detect OWASP Top 10 and complex logic flaws like sensitive data leaks on all your APIs at scale.

When establishing your security controls, it's crucial to consider your organization's specific needs and requirements. You can consult with security experts and conduct a risk assessment to determine which control measures are most appropriate.

It's also important to note that security controls are not a one-time implementation. Your organization should regularly review and update its controls to adapt to new threats and technologies. By establishing robust security controls, you can ensure the protection of your valuable data and minimize potential losses.

Implementing Secure Code Practices

Writing secure code is a crucial step in ensuring application security. Implementing secure code practices can help prevent data breaches and other security threats. Here are some tips to follow:

  • Input Validation: Always validate user input to prevent attacks such as cross-site scripting (XSS) and SQL injection.
Curious about the difference between XSS and CSFR? Check out this article.
  • Authentication and Authorization: Implement strong and secure authentication and authorization mechanisms to ensure users have access only to what they need.
  • Session Management: Manage user sessions carefully and ensure that any session data is stored securely.
  • Error Handling: Implement proper error handling mechanisms to minimize the amount of information disclosed to attackers in case of an error.
  • Cryptography: Use strong encryption algorithms to protect sensitive data in transit and at rest.

By following these practices, you can ensure that your code is secure and that your applications are protected from potential security threats.

Conducting regular security audits

Conducting regular security audits is essential to maintaining the effectiveness of your application security policy. Security threats and vulnerabilities are constantly evolving, and regular audits can help identify and address potential issues before they become serious problems.

That's something we're also doing at Escape. Auditing more than 1000 GraphQL endpoints told us that

  • About 95% of endpoints still had HTTP level misconfigurations and potential CSRFs
  • 80% of endpoints were vulnerable to Denial of Service or Complexity based attacks
  • About 20% of endpoints were leaking sensitive information

You can find our in-depth guide to conducting a successful application security audit here.

Training and awareness programs

Training your employees on application security best practices is crucial for the success of your policy. Awareness programs can help employees understand the importance of application security and their role in maintaining it.

When designing training and awareness programs, consider including the following:

  1. Overview of security policies
  2. Importance of secure coding practices
  3. Phishing and social engineering awareness
  4. Mobile device security
  5. Responsibilities of employees in maintaining application security

You can also provide hands-on training sessions that allow employees to practice implementing security controls or responding to security incidents.

It's important to make these programs engaging and interactive to ensure employees absorb the information effectively. Consider using gamification or other creative methods to make the training sessions more enjoyable and memorable.

You can also use external courses like CyberPilot.

Regularly evaluating the effectiveness of your training and awareness programs is also important. Use feedback from employees to adjust and improve the programs as needed.

Incident response and recovery

Despite the most robust security measures, incidents can still occur. Therefore, it is vital to have a well-planned and effective incident response plan to ensure an organized response to any security breaches. An incident response plan outlines the steps to be taken in the event of a security breach, including who to contact, how to contain the breach, and how to resolve it.

When developing an incident response plan, it is essential to involve all relevant parties, including the IT department, management, and legal teams. The plan should be regularly reviewed and updated to ensure its effectiveness and relevance.

PagerDuty has an open-source version of "Incident Response Training", training course for incident response and incident command that you can follow to learn how to effectively manage incidents within your organization.

Recovery is another critical aspect of incident response. The recovery plan outlines the steps to be taken after a security breach to restore systems to their normal state. Depending on the nature of the incident, recovery can be a time-consuming and costly process.

To ensure a smooth recovery, it is essential to have a well-thought-out recovery plan that includes backups of critical data and systems. Regular testing of the recovery plan can help identify any potential issues and ensure a quick and efficient recovery in the event of a security breach.

Periodic policy review and maintenance

Establishing an application security policy is crucial for protecting your data, but it's not a one-and-done process. Policies must be periodically reviewed and updated to remain relevant and effective. This section will highlight the importance of periodic policy reviews and provide tips for maintaining your policy's effectiveness.

Why review your security policy?

As your organization evolves and grows, so do its security needs. Your security policy should reflect these shifts, ensuring that it remains comprehensive and up to date. Regular reviews help you identify any gaps or weaknesses in your policy and allow you to make the necessary adjustments.

Additionally, regulatory requirements and industry standards are constantly changing, meaning your policy must keep pace. Failing to maintain an up-to-date policy could result in non-compliance with relevant regulations, leaving your organization vulnerable to fines and legal repercussions.

How often should you review your policy?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. The frequency of your policy review will depend on a variety of factors, such as the size of your organization, the complexity of your applications, and the rate of change in your industry. As a general rule, your security policy should be reviewed at least once a year.

However, certain events may require a policy review outside of your regular schedule. For example, if your organization experiences a data breach or significant security incident, you should review your policy to identify any weaknesses or gaps that contributed to the incident.

What to consider during policy eviews

When reviewing your security policy, consider the following questions:

  • Is the policy still relevant to our organization's needs?
  • Are there any new applications or systems that need to be added to the policy?
  • Have there been any changes to relevant regulations or industry standards?
  • Have there been any security incidents or breaches that require a review of the policy?


Establishing a robust application security policy is not just a preventive measure, but a fundamental necessity for businesses. The rising tide of cyberattacks, as shown by the incidents at MGM Resorts, Caesars Entertainment or Gorillas, underscores the severe consequences of inadequate security measures – loss of sensitive data, financial hit, and reputational damage.

Remember that application security is an ongoing process. Threats are continually evolving, and your policy should be regularly reviewed and updated as necessary. Keep your employees informed and educated on best security practices to maintain the integrity of your applications.

If you are unsure how to proceed in establishing an application security policy, or if you need assistance in conducting a risk assessment or creating a recovery strategy, don't hesitate to seek expert assistance. Many professionals and consultants are available to help businesses like yours establish robust security policies.

💡 Want to learn more about application security?

Check out the following articles and webinars:


How do I establish an application security policy?

To establish an application security policy, follow these steps: assess risks and vulnerabilities, define policy objectives and scope, establish security controls, implement secure code practices, conduct regular security audits, provide training and awareness programs, develop an incident response and recovery plan, periodically review and maintain the policy.

How do I assess risks and vulnerabilities?

To assess risks and vulnerabilities, conduct a comprehensive risk assessment. Identify potential threats and vulnerabilities specific to your applications, evaluate their potential impacts, and prioritize them based on severity. This assessment will help you determine the appropriate security measures to implement.

How do I define policy objectives and scope?

Defining policy objectives involves determining the goals you want to achieve with your application security policy. It's important to align these objectives with your organization's overall security strategy. To define policy scope, establish the boundaries of your policy by identifying the applications and systems it will cover.

What are security controls, and how do I establish them?

Security controls are measures put in place to protect your applications against security threats. These controls can include access controls, encryption, intrusion detection systems, and more. To establish security controls, evaluate the specific risks and vulnerabilities identified in your risk assessment and select the most appropriate controls to mitigate those risks.

Why is implementing secure code practices important?

Implementing secure code practices is important because it significantly reduces the risk of vulnerabilities in your applications. By following secure coding guidelines, developers can minimize the chances of introducing coding errors and vulnerabilities that can be exploited by attackers. This helps ensure the overall security and reliability of your applications.

How do I conduct regular security audits?

Regular security audits involve assessing the effectiveness of your application security measures and identifying any potential vulnerabilities or weaknesses. This can be done through vulnerability scanning, penetration testing, code reviews, and other security assessment techniques. By conducting these audits regularly, you can proactively address any vulnerabilities and ensure the ongoing security of your applications.

Why are training and awareness programs important?

Training and awareness programs are important because they educate your employees on application security best practices. By promoting a security-conscious culture, employees become more vigilant against potential threats and are better equipped to follow secure practices. These programs help minimize human error and strengthen your overall security posture.

Why is incident response and recovery planning necessary?

Incident response and recovery planning are necessary because despite robust security measures, incidents can still occur. Having a well-defined incident response plan allows you to respond promptly and effectively to any security breaches or incidents. A recovery strategy ensures that you can restore your applications and systems to their normal state while minimizing the impact and downtime.

How often should I review and maintain my application security policy?

It is important to review and maintain your application security policy periodically to ensure its relevance and effectiveness. The frequency of these reviews will vary depending on your organization's needs and industry standards. Typically, it is recommended to review and update the policy at least once a year or when significant changes occur in your applications.