May 24, 2024 Knowledge Center

Network security vs. application security: What’s the difference?

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Safeguarding your business from malware infections, data breaches, and other cyberthreats is more important than ever. However, understanding the different aspects of cybersecurity can be challenging, especially when it comes to network security and application security. Let’s break down these two security concepts and see how they differ. 

What is network security?

Network security focuses on securing the perimeter of the business network using tools such as:

  • Gateway antivirus– scans files for malware as they pass through the firewall  
  • Intrusion prevention systems – constantly monitor network activity for suspicious behavior and take action (e.g., blocking traffic) to prevent potential attacks
  • Secure web gateways – block access to malicious websites known to distribute malware or steal data

These tools are strategically deployed at your network’s perimeter, which is typically on firewall appliances for SMBs. This placement allows them to efficiently monitor and filter all incoming and outgoing traffic.

While essential, network security alone isn’t enough. Perimeter security tools can filter mostly known threats, so they might miss entirely new attacks (zero-day threats) or those that are cleverly disguised. These tools also primarily focus on securing the flow of data traveling across the network. They might not necessarily secure the applications that use that data. This is where application security becomes crucial.

What is application security?

Application security focuses on safeguarding individual applications and the interfaces that use (APIs). It employs this multilayered approach:

  1. Identify vulnerabilities – Specialized tools scan application code to pinpoint weaknesses. 
  2. Secure code – Source code analysis and other techniques help fix vulnerabilities before applications go live.
  3. Protect live applicationsWeb application firewalls and cloud access security brokers serve as shields, continuously preventing deployed applications from being exploited by cybercriminals. 

By integrating application security throughout the entire software development life cycle, businesses can ensure their applications are secure from the very beginning.

Network security vs. application security: How are they different?

While both network security and application security aim to protect your organization from cyberthreats, they differ in many ways:

Security responsibility

Network security typically falls under IT and security teams, while developers take the lead on application security during development. Security teams then take over to protect deployed applications.

Location

Network security is traditionally focused on the physical network perimeter. Application security, on the other hand, is concerned with protecting applications wherever they reside, including on premises, in the cloud, or in hybrid environments where applications span both locations. 

Attack surface

Network security serves as a broad shield, safeguarding your entire IT infrastructure. This encompasses everything from devices and systems to data flow and any potential entry points within the network.

In contrast, application security focuses on specific threats to web-facing applications and APIs, identifying weaknesses within the application code itself — the potential chinks in your armor that cybercriminals might try to exploit. This targeted approach allows for more precise and effective protection of individual applications.

Life cycle stages

Network security is primarily relevant to the operational environment, monitoring and protecting against ongoing threats to ensure a secure and stable network environment. 

On the other hand, application security is integrated throughout the software development life cycle, ensuring proactive protection from the design phase to ongoing maintenance.

By understanding the key differences between network and application security, you can effectively allocate resources to address both areas and create a comprehensive cyber defense against today’s ever-evolving threats. Let the IT specialists of SUCCESS Computer Consulting develop, implement, and manage a custom security strategy for your business. Get in touch with us today