Incorporate Application Security Checks and Balances Into Your Organization’s Citizen Developer Initiatives

The first time I heard the term “citizen developer,” I thought it might be the name of a new blockbuster summer movie. However, citizen development has morphed from a trendy IT catchphrase to a powerful force that’s transforming the way organizations develop software. But as your organization opens its doors to citizen developers, how do you prevent this practice from impacting the effectiveness of your application security testing program?

Organizational Drivers for Citizen Development

Citizen development permits organizations to reduce their application development backlogs by enabling nontechnical users to create and modify business applications. Simultaneously, as demand for new applications grows, it becomes more challenging for IT departments to devote significant resources to the development of the complex internal apps that their business units crave.

In a nutshell, citizen developers utilize no-code or low-code platforms to create basic applications, frequently using drag-and-drop technology. As such, business relationships between organizational units and IT departments can be characterized as symbiotic partnerships instead of the contentious relationships often associated with shadow IT.

What Is a Citizen Developer?

In a recent DevOps article, George V. Hulme presented the results of a FileMaker survey of citizen developers who work at companies with five to 1,000-plus employees. The citizen developer survey respondents were involved in the creation of customized applications, didn’t view themselves as IT professionals and didn’t consider themselves full-time customized application developers.

The survey results illustrated the baseline motivations of citizen developers:

  • Eighty-three percent of respondents wanted to create a better way to work.
  • Sixty-three percent of respondents wanted to be more productive.
  • Forty-two percent of respondents wanted to help others in their organizations.
  • A mere 12 percent of respondents were asked by their organizational superiors to build new applications.

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The Need for Application Security Protection

However, with this newfound IT freedom comes the requirement that citizen-developed applications are built with the requisite level of security protection. Realistically, application security needs to be baked into the development process. The FileMaker survey found that 71 percent of citizen developer respondents had their new applications functioning in fewer than three months, and 15 percent were able to do so in less than a week.

Below are some steps that can help your organization secure citizen-developed applications.

Educate Citizen Developers About Application Security

Although your organization shouldn’t expect citizen developers to be security experts, they should be exposed to the same level of security awareness training as other developers in your organization. As such, they should be aware of the potential impact of a security breach on your organization’s brand image, bottom line and compliance efforts.

Adopt an Application Security Risk Management Program

If your organization hasn’t implemented a formal application security risk management program, you need to take action now. Our complimentary Application Security Risk Management E-Guide outlined five convenient steps you can take to successfully implement such a program at your company. If you’re already managing an application security risk management program, you need to confirm that your organization’s citizen development activities are reflected in the scope of its coverage.

Simplify Your Approach to Application Security Testing

As you can tell, personal freedom is a core component of citizen development. You should also consider offering your security team more flexibility in testing the applications that your company develops. Many organizations don’t know that solutions such as IBM Application Security on Cloud permit them to conveniently perform static application security testing (SAST), dynamic application security testing (DAST), mobile testing for iOS and Android devices, and open source component testing, all in the cloud. The most experienced citizen developers in your organization might even be able to perform rudimentary testing on their own.

Be Wary of Mobile Application Code

Businesses of all sizes and across all industry verticals are under intense pressure to develop mobile applications quickly. Pay particular attention to mobile applications that are being created by citizen developers. My recent response to the Quora question, “What are the security issues for mobile applications?” outlined practical recommendations you can follow to enhance your company’s mobile security protection.

Learn More

To effectively leverage machine learning to position your developers for successful and secure futures, consult our YouTube video titled, “Transform Your Application Security Testing and Empower Risk Management.”

Neil Jones

Market Segment Manager for Application Security

Neil currently serves as IBM's worldwide Market Segment Manager for Application Security. He possesses more than 15 years of experience in the IT security space, and has worked in a variety of different roles in the field, including product marketing, sales and even product pricing. He's been a designated Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) since 2008. In his spare time, he's an avid hiker, traveler, reggaeton music fan and social media aficionado.