Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) Compliance – What You Need to Know

5 min read
James Mignacca
July 19, 2023
James Mignacca
July 19, 2023
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Today’s data privacy and data protection regulations focus on measures to ensure businesses are taking appropriate steps to safeguard the sensitive data that lives on digital assets. While the list of available industry frameworks, standards and guidelines seems endless, all are fundamentally designed to give individuals greater control over their own data privacy, help businesses harden data management policies and procedures, and hold companies accountable as custodians of personal data.

The OWASP Foundation is a non-profit organization working to improve software security through community-led, open-source software projects. The Foundation has hundreds of global chapters and tens of thousands of members. The OWASP Application Security Verification Standard (ASVS) Project provides security standards for software and web application developers and designers.

For years, the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) Application Security Verification Standard (ASVS) has anchored web application and development software and security standards, but the severity of supply chain attacks and greater attention from industry regulators makes alignment to the ASVS more important than ever.

This past March, the Biden-Harris Administration released its National Cybersecurity Strategy in response to rampant cyber-attacks and supply chain risk. The strategy’s larger goal is to drive intentional, coordinated, and well-resourced cyber defense through significant focus on secure development practices that better promote and protect personal data privacy and security.

Greater government and regulatory focus mean that there’s more pressure (and benefits) to adhere to data privacy and data protection protocols and standards – OWASP’s ASVS is an essential standard that when appropriately applied supports compliance with broader data governance requirements.

What you need to know about OWASP

OWASP’s ASVS outlines a comprehensive set of requirements that provide organizations with guidance on how they should secure web applications against cyber-attacks and other malicious activities. Teams should be aware of the steps they can take to ensure appropriate alignment with ASVS recommendations, such as making sure applications are properly scanned, having staff trained on up-to-date best practices around building secure systems, and regularly testing environment configurations against known threats.

ASVS recommendations ensure your organization’s software complies with applicable laws related to:

  • Protecting economic assets like trade secrets or customer financial information;
  • Achieving security compliance in public sector and highly regulated industries like healthcare;
  • Withholding sensitive user data;
  • Creating vendor risk assessments for organizations providing services that involve access to systems owned by others; and
  • Ensuring safety when using serverless architectures in cloud computing scenarios where there can be no assurance over runtime environment controls.

Engineering and development teams can achieve compliance with ASVS guidelines with these four fundamental steps:

  1. Continuously assess any risks to maintain adequate coverage;  
  1. Deploy protection measures in real-time systems;
  1. Regularly test applications against potential threats and vulnerabilities; and
  1. Check code for vulnerabilities before release.  

Development teams need to have fundamental awareness of data protection best practices when aligning themselves with OWASP’s ASVS recommendations in order to respond quickly and effectively if they suspect or detect something is wrong within the systems. Not doing so quickly escalates an application’s risk of exploit in the wild, where it becomes much harder to manage and contain.

Using automated data discovery to align to OWASP guidance

OWASP’s ASVS standards help companies and development teams designing software and applications mitigate data privacy risks by ensuring appropriate measures are built around data classification and how applications control data collection, storage, and processing.

Automated data discovery and classification solutions like the Cavelo platform ensure continuous data discovery and classification. Automated data classification supports web application security with a process that starts by identifying business data used on the application. It then tags and categorizes data based on its type, contents, and which compliance policies regulate it. Many data discovery and classification platforms operate with a SaaS model, making them much more accessible and affordable than their enterprise-focused ancestors.

Continuous data discovery and classification ensures alignment to specific OWASP ASVS sections on an ongoing basis. The chart below highlights key data privacy and protection sections within the ASVS standards.

| Data Discovery, Classification and Reporting Requirements | Is it relevant? | What is it relevant to? | | :--- | :--- | :--- | | **Limited Collection and Use** – limiting the collection, use, distribution, retention, disclosure, and creation of personal data beyond what is necessary. | Yes | Section: P6 | | **Data Lifecycle Management** – creating the processes and policies around the entirety of the data lifecycle from creation and collection to storage and destruction. | Yes | Sections: P4, P8 | | **Retention of Personal Data** – ensuring that all records containing personal data are maintained in accordance with a retention schedule. | Yes | Section: P4 | | **Secure Data Processing** – implementing secure data processing practices to ensure confidentiality and integrity through the data lifecycle. | Yes | Section: P10 |

At the end of the day, software and application designers have to make sure their products meet current data security and protection measures. In many cases, software must align with standards in the industry it’s intended to serve; the OWASP ASVS standards provide the baseline for broader compliance.

Download this Guide to Data Discovery for Regulatory Compliance eBook to learn more about OWASP ASVS standards and related compliance requirements.

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