The Unintended Security Threat of Citizen Development

The rise of citizen development has revolutionised the way businesses operate, empowering non-technical employees to create and deploy applications without needing a deep understanding of coding. This democratisation of software development has led to increased innovation, faster problem-solving, and enhanced productivity. However, it has also introduced a new set of security challenges. In this blog post, we will explore the unintended security threat of citizen development, highlighting the importance of citizen developer security and offering best practices to mitigate these risks.

Understanding Citizen Development

Citizen development refers to the practice of enabling employees outside the IT department to develop applications using low-code or no-code platforms. These platforms provide user-friendly interfaces, pre-built templates, and drag-and-drop functionality, making it easy for individuals with minimal technical expertise to create functional applications.

Benefits of Citizen Development
  • Increased Innovation: Empowering employees to develop applications fosters creativity and innovation.
  • Cost Savings: Reduces the dependency on IT resources, lowering development costs.
  • Speed: Accelerates the development process, allowing businesses to respond quickly to changing needs.

While the benefits are significant, the unintended security threats posed by citizen development cannot be ignored.

The Unintended Security Threats

1. Lack of Security Expertise

One of the primary concerns with citizen development is that non-technical users often lack the necessary security knowledge. Without a deep understanding of security best practices, these citizen developers may inadvertently create applications with vulnerabilities. This can lead to data breaches, unauthorised access, and other security incidents.

2. Inadequate Access Controls

Citizen developers may not fully understand the importance of implementing strict access controls. They might configure applications with overly permissive access settings, allowing unauthorised users to access sensitive data or critical functionalities. This lack of proper access control can pose significant security risks.

3. Data Leakage

Improper handling of data is another common issue. Citizen developers may inadvertently expose sensitive information by storing it in unsecured locations or failing to implement adequate encryption measures. This can result in data leakage, compromising the confidentiality and integrity of the data.

4. Insufficient Testing

Thorough testing is crucial to identify and mitigate security vulnerabilities. However, citizen developers may not have the expertise or resources to conduct comprehensive security testing. This can leave applications vulnerable to attacks such as SQL injection, cross-site scripting (XSS), and other common exploits.

5. Lack of Governance

Without proper governance and oversight, citizen development can lead to a fragmented and inconsistent approach to security. Organisations may struggle to enforce security policies and standards across all citizen-developed applications, increasing the risk of security breaches.

Best Practices for Citizen Developer Security

To mitigate the security risks associated with citizen development, organisations must implement robust security practices and provide adequate support to citizen developers. Here are some best practices to enhance citizen developer security:

1. Provide Security Training

Invest in security training programs for citizen developers. Educate them on the basics of application security, common vulnerabilities, and best practices for secure coding. By raising awareness and knowledge, you can empower citizen developers to create more secure applications.

2. Implement Access Controls

Ensure that citizen-developed applications have strict access controls in place. Define clear roles and permissions to limit access to sensitive data and functionalities. Regularly review and update access controls to ensure they align with the principle of least privilege.

3. Enforce Data Protection Measures

Establish guidelines for handling sensitive data within citizen-developed applications. Require encryption for data at rest and in transit, and ensure that sensitive information is stored securely. Conduct regular audits to verify compliance with data protection policies.

4. Incorporate Security Testing

Integrate security testing into the citizen development process. Provide citizen developers with tools and resources to conduct basic security assessments. Additionally, consider involving the IT security team to perform thorough testing and identify potential vulnerabilities.

5. Establish Governance Framework

Develop a governance framework to oversee citizen development activities. This framework should include policies, standards, and guidelines for security, as well as procedures for monitoring and auditing citizen-developed applications. Ensure that there is clear accountability for security within the organisation.

6. Use Secure Development Platforms

Choose low-code or no-code platforms that prioritise security. Evaluate the security features and capabilities of these platforms before adoption. Look for platforms that offer built-in security controls, regular updates, and compliance with industry standards.

7. Foster Collaboration Between IT and Citizen Developers

Encourage collaboration between the IT department and citizen developers. Create channels for communication and support, allowing citizen developers to seek guidance on security matters. Involving IT professionals can help identify potential security risks early in the development process.

The Role of IT in Supporting Citizen Developers

IT departments play a crucial role in ensuring the security of citizen-developed applications. Here are some ways IT can support citizen developers:

1. Security Guidelines and Templates

Provide citizen developers with security guidelines and templates that outline best practices for secure development. These resources can serve as a reference to help them implement security measures effectively.

2. Security Tools and Resources

Equip citizen developers with security tools and resources that facilitate secure development. This can include vulnerability scanners, code analysis tools, and secure coding libraries. Make these tools easily accessible and provide training on their usage.

3. Regular Security Reviews

Conduct regular security reviews of citizen-developed applications. This can involve code reviews, penetration testing, and vulnerability assessments. Provide feedback and recommendations to citizen developers to help them address any identified issues.

4. Centralised Monitoring and Logging

Implement centralised monitoring and logging solutions to track activity across citizen-developed applications. This allows IT to detect and respond to security incidents promptly. Ensure that logs are reviewed regularly and that any anomalies are investigated.


Citizen development has the potential to drive innovation and efficiency within organisations. However, it also introduces unique security challenges that must be addressed to ensure the safety and integrity of applications. By prioritising citizen developer security through training, governance, and collaboration, organisations can harness the benefits of citizen development while minimising the associated risks.

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