The Metaverse: Why AppSec matters in this new frontier

By Emmanuel Benzaquen
Cybersecurity has a new domain to protect: the metaverse. Ever since Facebook as Meta, it is being posited as the next generation of the internet, web 3.0

As exciting as the metaverse is, there are also daunting fears about its security. Most security solutions and tools today were not built for decentralised applications. Conventional solutions like endpoint security, MFA, or network firewalls won’t be enough to safeguard this space from malicious activities. Such platforms need security embedded into their core application layer.

To understand the critical need for application security (AppSec) in the metaverse, we must first understand the distinct features of this next-gen virtual technology. Organisations and  executives thinking of expanding to the metaverse should take a step back and ask, “How much do we actually know about this how this new world will work?”

Understanding the true essence of the metaverse

In essence, the metaverse is an integrated network of 3D virtual worlds built on a platform of virtual reality (VR) and interactive media. Such projects are meant to create virtual spaces, where users can interact as they would in the real world. Whether it’s communicating with each other, purchasing products, attending social events like concerts, buying assets, creating and selling art, or just making friends. Think about virtual reality, but on a much larger scale.

Currently, there are only about 50,000 active users in the metaverse space, a number that is projected to reach a million in less than 10 years. In fact, when popular artist Travis Scott hosted a virtual concert in Fortnite last year, 45.8 million people attended.  This is just one example of how many people are genuinely becoming intrigued by this concept. However, more users also mean more security concerns in the space. When entering a virtual world, users not only share their identity data but also critical network information, such as their IP addresses. Furthermore, when such platforms drive monetary transactions, users have to share their financial data.

Metaverse platforms aim to drive seamless and immersive transaction experiences. So, conventional payment methods involving centralised institutions (such as banks) are not relevant in such platforms. Can you imagine having to take off your VR headset and get your smartphone out to verify a transaction, every time you buy something in the metaverse? This is anything but a seamless and immersive experience. That’s why most of these virtual platforms enable financial transactions through cryptocurrencies or other decentralised assets.

This is of concern because such transactions require users to share their private wallet details. Moreover, there’s often no feature to determine or authenticate the true identity of the receiver of the funds. So, it’s evident that financial data plays an integral role in this space and should be a subject of especially careful consideration during development.

But the big question is, who or what tools can safeguard this data?

The critical cybersecurity challenges of the metaverse

It’s important to understand that the metaverse is a decentralised space. There are no standard practices, monitoring bodies, regulations, or security policies to govern metaverse development projects. Ensuring the privacy and security of the user's data falls solely on the owner and developers of the platform.

It also means that project managers or CEOs are often not liable to disclose information about the development team. Who is coding the virtual worlds? Who is managing the security aspects? And who is ensuring compliance? These questions are often left unanswered in this space.

This question of anonymous developers leads to another critical issue: who is developing the open source code and the APIs that so many organizations will use as they develop new applications and new spaces in the metaverse? In order to meet deadlines, many organizations use code from remote contracts whose identities can’t always be fully validated.  Threat actors are already lurking in open source repositories, pretending to be trusted developers and “borrowing” five-star ratings to make their open source code look trustworthy.

Another critical concern is that of endpoint security. Typically, the virtual worlds of the metaverse are accessed through a VR headset, but conventional endpoint security solutions don’t extend to such hardware. By simply compromising the headset endpoint, threat actors can easily take over a user’s identity in the space.

Moreover, most transactions in this space happen through NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens), which are incredibly susceptible to phishing attacks. Threat actors can compromise NFT accounts and gain access to the user's personal and financial data. With so many conventional security challenges, these interactive virtual worlds are a breeding ground for sophisticated cyber attacks. In fact, metaverse companies reported a 60% increase in cyber attacks and an 85% increase in online fraud last year.

Finding an effective solution through AppSec

In order to make these next-gen virtual worlds a secure and safe space for users, developers and project leaders must emphasise security at the core application level. Organisations venturing into this space should focus on developing their metaverse platform as a secure application, rather than trying to integrate security measures after development.

This is where AppSec comes in. Executives and project leaders must incorporate solutions that can find, fix, and prevent security vulnerabilities in the source code – and even solutions that can verify the trustworthiness of contributors to coding projects. AppSec solutions can incorporate effective security policies throughout the development life cycle so that any potential vulnerabilities are identified and remedied during the production phase.

Automated AppSec solutions can scan codes in real-time as developers are writing them, and remediate potential software vulnerabilities during development. So, metaverse platforms come out of the production phase with built-in security measures that reduce the risks of conventional threats such as data exfiltration and identity theft.

It will be years until the metaverse is perfected but in the meantime, project leaders and executives must not forget their security responsibilities. A secure platform builds more credibility in the industry and extends the user base. That’s why application security must be at the heart of every metaverse project going forward.

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