Runtime Application Security Importance and Testing

Runtime Application Security can be described as an advancing security technology that enables organizations to stop hacker attack attempts on their enterprise apps and sensitive data. The technology is built into the app or its runtime environment. It has the ability to control different application executions, and it can detect specific vulnerabilities along with potentially being able to prevent real-time hacks.

Simply put, such a solution enhances the running app with security features no matter where it resides on the given server. The solution is a server-based solution that is able to deal with attacks by detecting, blocking, and mitigating them immediately by analyzing app behavior and context, all while the entire system runs in real-time. Runtime application security solutions, theoretically, have the capacity to protect the application and the system from data exploitation and malicious behavior without any intervention from cybersecurity personnel.

The Importance of Runtime Application Security

In more traditional cases, IPS (intrusion prevention systems) and WAF (web application firewalls) are used while the app is running. Still, these solutions work in an in-line fashion while they inspect content and network traffic. While they analyze user sessions or traffic to (and from) the apps, they are unable to oversee how the data and the traffic are being processed within the app itself. Their protective features often lack the necessary accuracy to go forward with session termination. They are typically the most helpful for log collection and alerts.

These are the problems that these solutions aim to solve – a security protocol tool that resides within the runtime environment of the app, with the ability to analyze traffic and data processes.

Security Challenges

Runtime security poses several serious challenges in order to protect APIs and web applications. Below, we will discuss the four most critical obstacles.

  • The difficulty of identifying actual attacks: Every app has its own set of vulnerabilities that can be compromised with specific attacks. A simple HTTP request that poses no threat to one API or app may cause massive damage to the next. On the other hand, data may look entirely different online than after showing up in the app. This is what experts refer to as an “impedance mismatch” problem.
  • Complex formats: Modern APIs and apps often consume advanced and complex formats like XML, custom binary formats, serialized objects, and JSON. The majority of these requests, apart from your basic HTTP, also use WebSocket protocols which are JS-generated in the browser. In mobile applications, rich clients, and a myriad of other sources.
  • Traditional runtime protection methods lack effectiveness: For starters, firewalls that operate separately from the apps they protect by analyzing the HTTP traffic before reaching the app server. The other problem is that many organizations have a firewall in place but lack the expertise and the teams to keep the firewall fully operational and a potential ally in threat mitigation. As such, for the most part, WAFs are only left in “log mode.”
  • Technology advances at break-neck speed: Without a doubt, software development is moving relatively fast. In the last few years, there has been a massive expansion of IaaS, PAAS, containers, elastic, and virtual environments. While these systems allow for quick API and app deployment, they also often leave the code exposed to vulnerabilities.

Luckily, the solution has the capacity to address the majority of these challenges.

How Does It Work?

This technology is a powerful protection method that has the ability to intercept every call from the app to a given system, making sure that the system is out of harm’s way by validating every data request within the app.

Runtime application security improves overall security by monitoring every output and automatically blocking those that may be able to create a breach while protecting the runtime environment from tampering and malicious changes. With unprecedented protection and visibility, these protection mechanisms are able to block potential threats quickly while security staff and developers have the time to correct the underlying vulnerabilities.

These protection systems have two primary capabilities:

  • App threat intelligence: This function gives security staff the chance to look into the nature of the attacks: who is doing it, what methods they are using, and where they target the app (down to code level).
  • App protection: these systems can stop app vulnerability exploitation without having to stop the app itself.

The Benefits of Runtime Protection

What makes this protection mechanism genuinely stand out is the fact that it’s capable of working from inside the app and not as a device on the network. This allows these systems to look at the entirety of the available contextual info inside the API and/or the running application. This includes the framework’s configuration, the code itself, server configuration, runtime data flow, libraries, backend connections, runtime control flow, and more. With more context for the system to look at, the more accurate it will become, improving overall system protection even more.

Other Key Benefits

Runtime Application Security Delivers Lower OpEX and CapEx

  • These solutions block attacks effectively until experts manage to remedy the underlying vulnerability.
  • Less expensive to implement and operate than firewalls.
  • They can simply be implemented into existing servers.
  • Because the technology looks at what the app is actually doing, there’s little to tuning, and verification required.

The Tech’s Accuracy Means Better Protection

Application protection in the past mostly meant trying to block threats at the network level. The problem is that these legacy approaches become increasingly inaccurate when security experts are looking into ways to understand application behavior. Primarily due to the fact that these traditional solutions work outside the app itself.

Similarly, network-based app security solutions can generate way too many false positives, which require constant attention and fine-tuning. Since the dawn of cybersecurity, network protection has managed to get closer and closer to the application. With runtime technology, security managed to move inside the app itself.

  • The instrumentation of these systems delivers superior accuracy when compared to traditional approaches.
  • Runtime application security enables app security to take place within the application (literally).
  • Better accuracy also means a better adoption equation. This means that enterprises and organizations can confidently protect their digital assets with considerably fewer resources.

DevOps and Cloud-ready

  • It is flexible enough to work well with cloud apps, agile development, and web services.
  • It can also accelerate agile development as it can offer protection without any necessary rework, unlike firewalls, which need continuous tuning.
  • The technology observes app behavior, which means they require less recalibration with statistical and other models.
  • The protection is more accurate and faster.
  • The technology can move seamlessly together with the app, no matter on-premises or in the cloud. Also, it can follow the app as it scales up or down.
  • Apps that run with this security protocol are protected from attacks whether they arrive via a user interface or an API.

Outstanding Application Monitoring

  • These solutions can simplify the entire app security monitoring process as they can instrument the whole application.
  • The policies within the runtime app security system can be calibrated to generate specific log events in case relevant parts of the app are being accessed or when other conditions are being met, like privilege changes, transactions, logins, data manipulations, and more.
  • You can also add or remove the policies if necessary (like in the case of incident investigations).
  • You can also use application logging without having the redeploy the solution or modify the application source code.

Runtime Security can Provide More Visibility into Layer Attacks

  • The solutions provide continuous info about the nature of the attacks, which the attackers are, what techniques they are using, and what they are targeting in the system.
  • Runtime security also provides insight into troublesome code vulnerabilities, backend connection details, transaction information, and more.
  • The nature of the technology enables teams to address vulnerabilities faster.

Possible Disadvantages

Now, after looking into the cons, here are a few possible drawbacks that may become troublesome with this technology.

Confined Context

Broken Object Level Authentication is a technique where hackers hide their resource ID in the API call and substitute it with the ID that belongs to another user. In these cases (especially where there are no regular authorization checks), the input will remain the same, and the protocol may find no particular reason to inspect the access request.

The Lack of Distributed Protection

Some experts also argue that these security systems only look at the app’s current context, which means that Bot protections and app-level Distributed Denial of Service protections may not be efficiently solved.

A WAF, on the other hand, can completely isolate that problematic traffic and take the necessary defensive measures before the maliciousness actually reaches the app, however, WAF traditionally detects North-south communication.


There are professionals who state that the solution requires a rather intrusive deployment model that is dependent on the app’s codebase and the platform to work correctly. Some organizations feel uncomfortable when it comes to deploying this technology to oversee critical services. They will end up investing more resources into other solutions instead, which will drive costs up. Also, runtime security does more in-depth protection as it sits inside the app stack, but practical challenges may arise while trying to update runtime security components at endpoints

Unintended Consequences

Even though the technology aims to protect the system as much as possible, it can cause some minor problems. Also, these security systems don’t learn the business context. They might impact some aspect of app functionality, predicting a perfectly normal use function as potentially malicious.

Shift Left Security

Until recent times, the process of security testing was integrated only in the later stages of the development lifecycle, usually after app testing. During these tests, security experts would conduct several security tests and analyses to look for any vulnerabilities and other easily exploitable components within the application.

The end results would either mean that the application would either go into production or go back to the drawing board for remediation. This approach often resulted in long development delays and sometimes even further increased the risks of releasing applications without the key security measures in place.

The shift-left security process bypasses this problem by aiming to implement the necessary security measures during the development cycle, not just at the end. The aim is to develop a piece of software that features the best security practices from the start but also enables security teams to identify and remedy potential vulnerabilities and security weak points early while the app is still in development. Simply put, this makes the entire development process faster, more cost-effective, and the end result, i.e., the application, more resistant.

As a result, security experts realized that they should also shift the security left to keep up with these trends and to lessen the chance of even introducing more security problems. Shift-lift security is driven by several tools and technologies that help security personnel close the gap between app functionality and safety.

Implementing runtime application security mechanism , in this sense, seems like a perfect solution for shift-left security, as this self-protection technology runs alongside the application that is in production. Runtime security observes and examines the behavior of the app and blocks or gives notice of unamortized and potentially harmful actions during the dev Test/Integration cycle.  Also, you can leverage runtime analysis to look for potential risks and mitigate them during the DevOps cycle.

Lastly, shift-left security also plays a major role in introducing new technology and security standards into the development process. Along with runtime security products, other tools such as SCA, SAST/DAST, etc. are crucial not just to improve overall security but also to automate security processes and help teams implement the right security approach at every development stage.

Finishing Thoughts

As you can see, this technology holds a lot of potential and are able to solve a large portion of security problems and signal potential issues, giving security experts and developers enough time to address and mitigate potentially hazardous activities and vulnerabilities. Still, some experts argue that runtime application security is a technology that can still do with some refinement and deep level analysis to mitigate malicious attacks.