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Application Modernization: Identifying and Addressing Potential Security Risks in Legacy Applications


For IT and security teams, having a complete and accurate understanding of their application portfolio is vital to combat security-related risks. However, many organizations are working with a limited view, due in part to undocumented and heavily modified legacy applications. These modifications that include dead code have created blind spots, which are prime targets for security breaches in today’s rapidly changing cybersecurity landscape.

As a general rule, legacy applications suffer from security issues that can be difficult to mitigate. This difficulty often comes from the lack of detailed knowledge in legacy systems and their source code—blinding IT and security teams to potential security vulnerabilities. The truth is, the old code is an invitation for security breaches

Through the application modernization process, organizations can not only remove outdated, unused, and therefore vulnerable code, but can also enhance existing applications by integrating them with newer frameworks and infrastructure platforms with modernized security protections in place. The application modernization process makes it possible to protect existing investments while upgrading your software portfolio across the business environment. 

Legacy applications contain legacy best practices, which didn’t always include security

For application development teams, goals have historically been centered around speed, agility and innovation. Security has not always been a top priority. This was due, in part, to the fact that cybersecurity threats were not as pervasive as they are today. When legacy systems were developed, these applications may have been on top of then-current cybersecurity practices, but with the passage of even a short time, the threat landscape evolves while many legacy systems get left behind.

Legacy systems may also be incompatible with security features surrounding access, such as multi-factor authentication, single-sign on and role-based access, or lack sufficient audit trails or encryption methods. Whatever the reason, these systems are unable to accommodate today’s security best practices.

Fast forward to today, security is an ever-increasing priority with the average total cost of a single data breach increasing from $3.86 million in 2020 to $4.24 million in 2021It is imperative that an organization’s software security best practices include using application security testing tools. This includes vulnerability testing such as statistical application security testing (SAST) and dynamic application security testing (DAST), open-source security tools, and API security tools – all of which are optimized modern programming languages. 

Potential security blindspots for legacy applications

As technology advances, application environments become more complex and application development security becomes more challenging. Applications, systems, and networks are facing regular security attacks including malicious code or denial of service. And unfortunately, legacy systems just don’t have the chops to keep pace. Although they might monitor performance, for example, legacy systems lack the details and contextual information that provide the true visibility needed by security professionals.

A lack of adequate monitoring and logging can get enterprise businesses into trouble quickly if legacy applications are connected to both the internet and an internal corporate network. Once a legacy application has been exploited without triggering any alerts or logs, cybercriminals have free rein to run through the internal network cracking into other systems—potentially undetected—while the IT team lacks visibility into where the original intrusion occurred. 

To quicken the pace of modernization, many enterprise and government organizations have embraced the convenience of open source software and coding. With open source, it is widely assumed that the proper security is embedded in the product, however, that is not always the case. The recent race to address major vulnerabilities in the widely used Log4j code library is the biggest sign yet that risks within the open source software environment are a growing concern. 

Application modernization best practices can reduce vulnerabilities

As digital transformation initiatives continue to surge, many IT and security teams are finding out that application modernization processes are often required to remove vulnerabilities and lower technical debt. They are also required to make the converted applications compliant with evolving security regulations

Documentation, analysis and business rules extraction accelerates the knowledge of what the legacy application does, with dependencies – allowing for more accurate mapping and security in new systems. To get there, here are some key modernization best practices

  • Gain a clear understanding of legacy application and dependencies: Review a comprehensive set of artifacts and analyze them to understand the logic and impact of potential changes.
  • Penetration testing: Throughout the application modernization process, working with a specialized security partner will provide the necessary checks and balances to ensure nothing is missed.
  • Automate documentation of source code and logic and business rules extraction: If done manually, key dependencies may be overlooked.

Regardless of which modernization path your organization chooses, the Intellisys platform from EvolveWare can identify potential vulnerabilities so they can be solved before they become an issue. Intellisys allows you to eliminate potential vulnerabilities throughout the modernization process by: 

  • Deactivating dead code
  • Consolidating logic to bring together disjointed processes
  • Reducing complexities reported in documentation to ensure zero vulnerabilities in new code
  • Providing features to automate the business rules extraction process for those who either wish to move their applications into standard COTS products or who wish to rewrite the application from scratch

To learn more about the application modernization process and options provided by Intellisys, please click here or contact us.

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