Low code simplifies application development like no other innovation in recent years. But behind this simplification lies a network of proprietary libraries and third-party APIs.
These features allow low-code application platforms to work seamlessly with legacy systems and create developer-friendly visual front ends that help reduce coding.
Moreover, low code also democratizes application development, letting less technically adept staff create simple applications without help from qualified IT teams.
All these are considered the USPs of low code, but they can also create panic for data security experts. In this blog, we explore why low-code applications might become a data security issue and what teams can do about it.
Why Low Code Might Cause Security Concerns
Low-code platforms have evolved to provide a wonderfully simple environment for creating applications. But by their very nature, the platform and its underlying code are proprietary. By placing their application development needs in the hands of a low-code vendor, companies implicitly trust the platform to be upto the same database security standards that they are used to.
But what happens when that platform is opaque? For example, it might use a proprietary language or framework/libraries that your IT team may have no clue about.
In recent years, low-code developers have become more attuned to this problem. Some are now turning to ways organizations can download the code in traditional languages, such that IT teams can run it through a Java or Node.JS server. However, much still needs to be done in this direction.
Third-party API integrations
One of the key features of low-code applications is their ability to integrate seamlessly with multiple external applications, databases, or cloud services.
However, most of these platforms do not support these integrations natively. Instead, they use third-party APIs. These APIs might have vulnerabilities that neither the business nor the LCAP can control and form a major risk to data security.
Citizen Developers – lack of understanding of security issues
Perhaps the biggest advantage that low-code platforms point out is that they reduce the organization’s dependence on pro-coders to create small business applications.
Using their drag-and-drop-based platforms, even non-technical staff can create applications. However, while this is great for low-code application development, having multiple non-trained persons creating IT applications is a data security expert’s worst nightmare.
They could expose proprietary data to the outside world or create applications that overwrite sensitive databases.
Managing such applications and keeping critical data safe is a new challenge that has cropped up with the large-scale adoption of low-code technologies.
Managing Data Security For Low Code Applications
While managing third-party APIs and proprietary libraries is a business-to-vendor discussion, managing citizen developers is harder to tackle.
We look at some solutions to this problem first, and towards the end of the section, we will talk about the other two issues.
Sandboxing Citizen Developer Applications
One way applications made by non-technical users can be kept in check is by using sandboxing. Sandboxing is a well-known concept in cybersecurity. It allows for creating, testing, and running applications in a sterile environment, where its interactions with the rest of the operating environment are minimal.
When applied to data security, sandboxing means implementing security controls to let only the right people access the right data.
One easy way to do this lies with low-code platforms themselves. These platforms often create a virtual data layer pooling information from underlying sources. At this layer, the deployment team could build in security checks to ensure that citizen developer applications are allowed access to only those parts of the data that are ok to be exposed to the world.
Anywhere else, the system throws up an alarm and disallows the application to run. Apart from data sandboxing, high-quality, low-code platforms also implement regulatory data compliances such as HIPAA, FedRAMP, and PCI.
Role-Based Access Controls
While limiting access to sensitive data is an inward strategy, an external, more restrictive approach is role-based access control. This is a common method whose use is not limited to low code. A hierarchy of roles is created in the system, each being mapped to a certain level of access to a platform.
Each user in the company is then assigned a role based on their need for using the platform. The benefit of role-based access is that it is easier to create new roles and modify them through an external service without touching the application directly. This makes the approach more flexible than sandboxing the database.
Data security training is one of the crucial aspects of low-code applications and one that gets missed most often. While traditional coding teams are well attuned to the criticality of data security, non-IT staff may not have the same understanding of it.
When widening the scope of app development to include non-tech staff, a complete brief of the data structure, critical aspects of data security, and common mistakes are absolutely crucial.
Not only will this improve awareness about the dos and don’ts of data security, but it will also give the non-technical developers a sense of being part of a bigger process.
Managing Third Party Integrations
One way to reduce the risk of third-party integrations is not to use them at all! Developer teams could deploy these integrations in the low-code environment itself with a bit of extra work.
Choosing the right low-code vendor will help. While selecting your low code partner, ensure that they have a robust set of data integration components already built in their platforms so that this kind of ad hoc development is mitigated to the extent possible.
It is also important to test integrations rigorously while creating them and isolating applications to the limit possible so that the ill effects of any kind of data hack are minimized.
Deployment teams cannot check all processes and data leaks during application development and deployment. Moreover, security vulnerabilities keep evolving with time, and new threats arrive quite rapidly these days.
Regular auditing is one way to ensure security policies are up to date. Third-party security auditing using tools such as SonarQube or w3af will help make sure that teams can identify security vulnerabilities and regularly root them out.
Despite the challenges that low code creates for data security, it is clear that these platforms are the way forward for application development. It is important to understand these risks and to deploy strategies to ensure there is no data breach while using them.