Is Low-Code Development a Security Risk?

Content By Devops .com

According to Gartner, the worldwide low-code development market is projected to be $13.8 billion in 2021, a whopping increase of 22.6% from 2020. Gartner also predicts that the surge in remote development during COVID-19  will continue to boost low-code adoption, despite budget cuts and efforts to optimize cost.

Low-Code’s Popularity Among Professional and Citizen Developers

Low-code is no longer the new kid on the block. From simple dashboards to complex applications, low-code applications are becoming more and more diverse, with mainstream adoption in the enterprise world. In essence, low-code is a visual paradigm of application development that involves drag-and-drop of pre-built components and integrations resulting in fast, easy and less-error-prone development.

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The advantage of low-code is that it enables users from a non-traditional development background to participate in the app development process, thus democratizing development and accelerating project timelines. It also narrows the demand-supply gap that arose as organizations catered to ever-rising digitization needs with limited resources and developer scarcity. Many low-code platforms make it easy for citizen developers (business analysts, line-of-business users, junior developers, for instance) to build applications while drastically reducing delivery time compared to traditional coding methods.

But citizen developer productivity and speed are not the only benefits of low-code development. Today, low-code platforms also come with capabilities purpose-built for professional developers from enterprise IT teams to ISVs. These platforms are hardened for enterprise use, are able to leverage the scalability and security needs of a complex application and have integration capabilities mature enough to seamlessly fit in with existing tools and technologies. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses reinvented themselves through adoption of low-code platforms and applications that helped them adapt to the sudden shift to a remote work scenario and enable the necessary modern application needs that came with it.

Security Challenges with Low-Code and Remote Work

Compared to traditional development, low-code involves a variety of personas working together to build applications while dealing with automatically generated code, ready-made components and built-in default configurations. This shift in environment revealed some unique challenges that need to be addressed. There are a few common security challenges with remote teams building on low-code.

Application Development and Remote Team Collaboration

  • Lack of security awareness: Low-code users come from both business and tech backgrounds. Some practitioners aren’t familiar with application security best practices and lack awareness and understanding of potential vulnerabilities and security holes.
  • Platform access and admin controls: Low-code is deployed centrally and available for users across an enterprise via browser access. This introduces a risk of network intrusion; providing access to unauthorized developers and opening up greater permissions to users that do not need it when accessing the platform remotely.
  • Code repository and team collaboration: Low-code platforms must ensure that the automatically generated code can committed to enterprise-sanctioned repositories. This code access shouldn’t be misused, and ought to have sufficient protocols in place for code control and upgrades.

Code Generation and DevSecOps Best Practices

  • Securing custom code: Low-code tools allow for writing custom code to extend and enforce platform coding guidelines and design patterns to protect sensitive data from unauthorized access.
  • Adhering to secure release practices: Integration with the existing enterprise CI/CD pipeline is important so that dev teams can extend the same release governance protocol to the auto-generated code before going to production.

End User Application Access and Data Protection

  • Preventing malicious attacks: Today, both web and mobile apps are becoming constant targets for security breaches. Automatically generated code, and citizen developers working remotely, can make low-code applications more prone to vulnerabilities. Platforms should generate apps that are fully protected against phishing attacks, SQL injections, brute force attacks and DOS attacks.
  • Secure data and application access: Low-code platforms should provide a comprehensive access control mechanism preventing unauthorized access to data and app functionality. With remote teams accessing apps from anywhere, at any time and from any device, data breaches can be prevented with the right controls in place.

Low-Code and Security – The Future of Development

As enterprises and ISVs turn to low-code for more serious use cases, the larger question still remains. Can low-code platforms enable modern development teams to deliver applications faster, while still enabling a secure and tightly governed environment?
The answer is, yes, they can! However, development teams must consider the following security checklist when considering low-code platforms:

  1. The chosen low-code platform must be set up within an enterprise secure DMZ or secure private cloud, and must effortlessly pass cybersecurity clearances.
  2. The platform must enforce best practices in programming (coding conventions, design patterns and data encryption) for automatically generated code as well as custom code written by the developer, facilitating easier integration with existing CI/CD processes and tools.
  3. The platform must offer full protection against the top 10 OWASP vulnerabilities for web and mobile apps, and have third-party certifications to guarantee code quality and security. Also, organizations should ensure that there are no vulnerabilities in their chosen platform’s binaries, as well as all third-party dependencies (including open source libraries) as listed in the CVE library.
  4. The solution must support multiple authentication providers (database, LDAP, AD, SSO, SAML, Open-ID, multifactor, biometric) to build applications with strong user security. For user authorization, ensure support for both coarse-grained as well as fine-grained access control policies to protect various aspects of the application based on RBAC.

Development teams can embrace low-code technology while ensuring security best practices are in place. Low-code is here to stay, and with the right platform, enterprises and ISVs can make sure security is shifted left and addressed by developers much earlier in the development process. The result is a highly productive, remote workforce churning out applications that are modern, scalable and secure.

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