Application Controls - Cyber Security Guide

 According to the description provided by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, application control is an integral component of the more comprehensive cybersecurity landscape of access control (NIST). However, what exactly does this phrase mean? And maybe most crucially, what is it about this idea that should pique the attention of businesses?

Application Controls

In this essay, I will go over the definition of application control, as well as how it operates, the characteristics that it has, and the advantages that it offers. Continue reading if you are interested in learning more about these subjects, particularly how they relate to the overarching theme of privileged access management.

What exactly is meant by "Application Control"?

Application control is a method in information security that involves limiting the execution of unwanted apps by using whitelisting and blacklisting tactics. This is accomplished by controlling which applications are allowed to run. The technology that underpins it assists in the identification of files and ensures that only those that are not harmful are permitted to access a corporate network and its endpoints. The information that is consumed by or communicated between programs inside a system should be protected at all times thanks to this feature.

What exactly is an Application, though?

A software that may be installed on your computer, tablet, or mobile phone is referred to as an application. There is a wide variety of software available for usage in a variety of contexts, including commercial, private, and entertainment settings. Applications are essential for a wide variety of organizations for the simple reason that they contribute to the effectiveness of the firm. They make the work that humans do simpler and more efficient, which frees up more time for those individuals.

Whitelisting an application as opposed to blacklisting an application

With application whitelisting, some applications will be able to run, but all other programs will be prevented from doing so without the user's express consent. It is possible to see this as an alternative to the use of blacklists, and it offers users a greater degree of control over their computers than would be possible if they just blocked everything and let select applications run without interruption.

A blacklist of apps will prevent some programs from running while allowing all others to do so. This is done in order to prohibit the application from carrying out a number of certain activities. The programs may be blacklisted by adding them to a list that prevents them from being launched. This is called a blacklist.

How the Application Control System Functions

Application control technology is based on a pretty straightforward idea. Specifically, it analyzes the many varieties of network traffic flow based on how closely they resemble established condition models. As a consequence of this, these inquiries have to adhere to a set of standards in order for the computers on the network to successfully interact with one another. The aforementioned criteria are what make it possible for application control to determine which traffic flow originates from where inside the system. Taking this into consideration will allow you to establish a hierarchy for determining which programs need more stringent monitoring than others and which ones should be whitelisted or blacklisted.

Various Types of Applications

When it comes to application control, then, applications may be categorized according to three separate criteria in respect to the network traffic:

the degree of security risk; the consumption of resources; the kind; and the goal.

The Level of Security Risk

The amount of security risk that a company is exposed to by using an application is, in my view, the most relevant factor to consider when deciding how to categorize enterprise software. As an example, high-risk protocols in a firm include file transfer protocols, communication protocols, and other sorts of protocols that convey data. This is due to the sensitive nature of the information that is sent over these protocols.

Because high-risk apps that transport information are always at risk of data exfiltration, the process of protecting these applications is crucial and should be given top priority. As a result, the most effective place to begin is by carrying out a vulnerability risk assessment and implementing application control criteria in accordance with the findings.

Resource Usage

Utilization of available resources is another another factor that should be considered in relation to application control in a business setting. Some of the applications that are utilized in the regular workflow take up a greater portion of the available network bandwidth than others. Applications for videoconferencing that also include chat functions, such as Skype, Slack, or Microsoft Teams, are a good illustration of the kind of thing that falls under this category.

The use of videoconferencing software necessitates the allocation of sufficient computing resources in order to simultaneously broadcast video and audio data during conference calls, in addition to supporting the text chat function. This may put a significant strain on your business network, which is why it is important to properly identify the traffic that is emanating from them and to arrange it with the assistance of application control methods.

Classification and Function

Applications may be categorized in the most understandable manner by the sort of application they are and the function that they do. When thinking about an organization, there are a few key categories that immediately spring to mind. The traffic flow of various applications, such as those dealing with human resources, financial software, and telecommunications, should be controlled and prioritized securely. Other examples of such applications are financial software and software dealing with financial transactions.

Control Functions for the Application

When it comes to application control, there are seven primary elements to take into consideration. Three of these features relate to user accounts, while the other four focus on the management of data. Identification, authentication, authorisation, checks for completeness and validity, input controls, and forensic controls are some examples of these controls. The following is a list of features, along with a short description of each one:

Identification, which guarantees the correctness and individuality of user account credentials.

Authentication, which includes verification system controls for each and every application.

Authorization, which verifies that only those users who have been pre-approved may access the apps that are hosted on the business network.

Checks for completeness ensure that the whole traffic flow record processing procedure has been carried out.

Validity checks ensure that the application control technology is only processing legitimate data inputs by ensuring that only valid data is entered.

Input controls, which ensure that the data feeds that are input into the system have not been tampered with in any way.

Controls based on forensic evidence, which verify the accuracy of the data from a mathematical and scientific perspective.

History and Background of the Application Control

1960 marked the commencement of the process of application development, which was followed by an increasing attention from businesses at the beginning of the 1970s on this process. The increased level of productivity and the simplification of maintenance that came along with application development made it possible for businesses to realize the critical role that application control plays in the protection of a corporate network. This is especially true now that there are more apps than ever before, which means that the need to control them has become increasingly apparent.

In the study titled "Essential Eight" published by the Australian Cyber Security Centre, Application Control was identified as one of the eight most essential techniques for the fight against cybercrime. This is something that should be brought to your attention (ACSC).

The Advantages of Application Control

The purpose of application control is to detect the traffic flows that are generated by the many apps that are running on a network. This makes it easier for businesses to develop and implement network routing and granular security rules in accordance with the requirements set by the traffic flows described before. This makes it an especially helpful tool for securing businesses that have adopted a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policy.

1) Policies that are Unique to Each Application

The capability of application control to enable the enforcement of security rules that are unique to a certain program is the primary benefit that it offers to an organization. These are the components that provide you the ability to allow, prohibit, or limit certain kinds of application traffic. In addition to this, the high level of identity security that is provided by this technology contributes to the development of a greater degree of trust in the process of implementing automated application controls. Move beyond the limitations of traditional white and black lists to regulate the input and output of your network depending on the app certificate, name, publisher, MD5 hash, or file path, among other criteria.

#2 Authentication and Restriction of Access

Application control is a strategy in cybersecurity that goes beyond application-specific controls and makes it easier to implement identity-based restrictions. You have the opportunity to create access criteria for certain users or user groups that collaborate with different resources within your firm. This involves that you have access to a wide range of resources inside your organization. You will also be able to facilitate the implementation of the zero trust paradigm if you take these steps.

The zero-trust model is a security method that protects all network resources without requiring the administrator to have prior knowledge of or confidence in either the user or the device in question. The zero-trust paradigm operates on the presumption that at any point in time, any device might be compromised; hence, its primary concern is the prevention of data loss. This is accomplished by restricting access to sensitive data to just those users who have successfully gone through the authentication process.

#3 Enhanced Visibility throughout the Network

Your company will have a greater degree of insight over the traffic that enters and exits your network thanks to application control. Your security team will thus be able to monitor incoming and outgoing inquiries, either inside the online perimeter as a whole or between particular endpoints. This may be done either within the online perimeter as a whole or between specific endpoints. This will also provide the members of the staff who were appointed the ability to recognize abnormalities and quickly call attention to any efforts at infiltration. When it comes to personnel who have enhanced access permissions, whether temporarily or permanently, a technique such as this one is very helpful.

#4 Making the Most of Available Resources

You will also be able to optimize resource utilization on the corporate network with the assistance of the capacity to discriminate between rules for certain apps. By giving traffic flows from applications that are sensitive to latency more priority than traffic flows from applications that are less important, such as social media, it will be feasible to guarantee that key infrastructure programs enjoy the best possible level of system performance.

#5 Integration of the PAM Solution

Application control works in unison with privileged access management (PAM), a sort of cybersecurity technology that ensures the appropriate use of admin permissions inside a network. This is another significant advantage of application control that should not be overlooked. PAM adheres to the principle of least privilege, often known as PoLP. This means that user accounts should only have the degree of access that is necessary to do the activities they are responsible for on a daily basis.

#6 The Most Advanced Reporting Capability

The application control technology that we use is equipped with a comprehensive audit trail feature that enables the generation of advanced reports in the event that an incident occurs that has to be investigated. You are able to recreate any user's behavior by using precise logs thanks to the forensic input provided by the suite. Therefore, in the event that any questionable or illegal behavior takes place inside the network of your company, you will be able to investigate it appropriately jointly with the appropriate authorities.

#7 Complete Adherence to All Standards

In conclusion, if your business implements an application control solution in conjunction with privileged access management, you will verify that it satisfies the criteria established by NIST AC-1.6 in addition to other international industry standards. Compliance with corporate cybersecurity standards is critical in today's work environment since it provides assurance that a firm is continuously monitoring for and taking measures to avoid rule breaches in this area.

The Most Effective Methods of Application Control

The creation of blacklists should be approached with caution.

The time of day should be taken into consideration when deciding which initiatives may be launched successfully. An authorisation operating schedule will be a help for workers in effectively fulfilling their jobs, coupled with the avoidance of abuse of business-critical files. This assistance will come in the form of a timetable.

In addition, on the basis of the idea that only a subset of users require access to a particular piece of software in order to carry out their tasks, application control policies can also be developed for a specific department or user group, thereby reducing the likelihood of potential security breaches.

Whitelisting is as essential as blacklisting in terms of its implications.

In addition to compiling the list of applications that will be denied, it is also essential to determine which applications will be granted permission without further review. This dynamic approach that combines blacklisting and whitelisting is what makes the strategy more powerful against known and unknown threats. Whitelisting plays an essential role in ensuring that apps are permitted to run in accordance with policies and admin-specified rules, and blacklisting is used to ensure that no apps are allowed to run in violation of those policies.

It is essential that the deployment be carried out effectively.

A step-by-step plan is required for the implementation of an application control strategy, as is recommended by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The implementation of an application control strategy should concentrate on planning and analysis. The possible dangers may be reduced with the use of a staged strategy. In addition, when it comes to deployment, the environment should also be taken into consideration. This is because whitelisting functions more effectively on centrally-managed servers that are characterized by a bigger workload, for example.

The regular maintenance of software has to be established.

You have determined which software is permitted to operate and which is not allowed to run; the next step in the process is the software maintenance phase. Researchers in the field of information security find new software vulnerabilities on a regular basis and then publish patches to fix them. In order to prevent malevolent outsiders from entering your company unhindered, you need to make sure that all of your business software is patched on a regular basis. You won't be able to take care of this in an effective manner without a good automated Patch and Asset Management platform, one that ensures the reliability and consistency of your patching flow.


Application control is a technique used in cybersecurity that results in a number of positive outcomes for a company's network. Not only does it improve the efficiency of the company's traffic and processes, but it also helps to keep the company's digital environment secure in general by limiting or blocking access attempts that might be suspicious. When coupled with PAM, it transforms into the enterprise-grade access control and identity management system that is well suited to meet all requirements.

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