Secure software development is about more than just secure code. Here we share a set of good practices that should be implemented during its entire lifecycle. Take a look!
There is no doubt the pandemic has sped up the digital transformation process. As a result, the software development industry has been asked to deliver a lot of value in the shortest time possible. While many businesses have moved to digital, cybersecurity risks have not only increased but have also evolved from the version we used to know. In that context, minimizing vulnerabilities in the code, protecting it from cybercriminals and hackers, and maintaining the user’s privacy have become a top priority when developing software.
Want to know the bad part? While secure software is a critical process that should be addressed from the very beginning, in many cases, it is skipped due to time and resource constraints. In others, there is a false belief that people think hackers will never attack their application. As you may guess, this is not true.
In reality, it is super easy to find many recent examples of how software vulnerabilities have been exploited for further malicious behaviors. Some of the common risks are related to exposing sensitive data or users’ personal information, performing unauthorized activities, stealing money, getting your application or data hijacked until you pay to recover it, and taking down an entire application for a time.
At this point, you might be wondering how to develop secure software under this scenario. Let me tell you that it is quite challenging, and despite not having an exact recipe, there are some practices discussed below that must be included in secure software development.
1. Consider security from the very beginning
Security needs to be hard baked into your culture and code, and there’s no better place to start than in the earliest stages of your project. So before creating a single line of code, begin planning how you will integrate security into every phase of the SDLC (software development life cycle). The price of neglecting security to get to market quickly is too high, so avoid that common pitfall.
2. Protect code integrity
Keep all code in secure repositories allowing only authorized access to prevent tampering. It is recommended to strictly regulate all contact with the code, monitor changes, and closely oversee the code signing process to preserve its integrity.
3. Ensure sensitive information is protected
It will probably sound obvious, but it is worth it to mention that sensitive data should be encrypted both in storage and when transmitted over the internet. The sensitivity of particular pieces of information varies, but there are tried-and-true ways to determine what sensitive data needs to be protected by default. Regarding passwords, they should be stored as a hash by using any of the well-known hashing algorithms.
4. Secure every single component in your application
Be cautious about whom you give what type of access and features to. It is recommended that you provide access that is only required according to the user’s role. If your application involves multiple components, make sure to secure all of them by implementing the authentication and authorization schema that fits your needs best. Carefully consider this upfront during the designing of your software because it becomes time-consuming to implement later.
5. Use code reviews to identify potential security issues
Code reviews can help developers identify security vulnerabilities. Actually, it is essential to review security requirements to ensure that secure coding practices are followed throughout the entire development process. The idea is that for every code change you make, you should go back and check to see if those changes have introduced any new security issues. Doing it timely and in due form allows developers to flag and fix them before they are implemented in production.
6. Use code signing certificate
Sign your software using a Code Signing Certificate from a trusted Certificate Authority. It is an effective mechanism for ensuring your security and privacy on the internet. In addition, by doing this, you will be able to avoid security warning signs for unsigned software, demonstrate the trustworthiness of your software, prove its integrity, and boost your users’ confidence.
7. Take advantage of code analysis tools
Static code analysis tools are an excellent approach to finding security vulnerabilities before the software is deployed. They facilitate the code review process by helping to identify areas of concern such as most of the common issues that lead to software vulnerabilities (e.g., SQL injection, cross-site scripting, sensitive data exposur9+6e, etc.). They can even be integrated into the pipelines so that every time there is a new build, the analysis tools will automatically run these checks and flag any potential issues.
8. Use popular and well-maintained libraries and frameworks
Before extensively using any third-party library or framework in your application, developers should always research those components’ reputation and make sure they are regularly updated. Why? It is easy — they are less likely to have vulnerabilities, you can benefit from early bug detection and fixes, and they can help your application be more secure.
9. Implement secure DevOps practices (DevSecOps)
DevSecOps attempts to strike a balance between agility and safety by embedding security processes and practices into developers’ daily workflow. It proposes a shared ownership model (between developers, testers, operations, and IT security teams) around a common goal of optimized innovation and speed to market without sacrificing security and compliance. As a result, your team can identify security issues at the beginning of development instead of waiting until they impact end users. This set of practices is based on the following fundamentals: collaboration, communication, automation, security of tools and architecture, and testing.
10. Include logging and monitoring
Every application should implement both features. By logging and monitoring things like logins, high volume transactions, failed login attempts, user request frequency, among many others, having an alert threshold defined for any suspicious activity, can help determine whether an attack is taking place.
11. Penetration testing
Penetration testing is a security exercise where cybersecurity experts attempt to find and exploit vulnerabilities in your software. The purpose of this simulated attack is to identify any weak spots in a system’s security which attackers could take advantage of. This way, you can have confidence that any existing vulnerabilities are quickly being addressed and resolved before attackers find them first.
12. Be prepared to mitigate threats and vulnerabilities quickly
Regardless of all the efforts done to avoid them, vulnerabilities and threats are a fact in software development. It is not if they occur, but when, so be ready with strategies, plans, and processes in place to address incidents in real time. Of course, the faster you can identify and respond to vulnerabilities, the better, since you will be shortening the window of opportunity for exploitation.
From the information discussed here, we can easily conclude that secure software development is about more than just secure code. It is a set of practices that should be implemented during the entire software development lifecycle (SDLC).
As cybersecurity risks continue evolving, security best practice approaches aren’t standing still. While the proposed list of practices works as a guide to definitely take into consideration, it becomes critical to look ahead to see what’s coming, keep learning, and identify better ways to secure your software development process.
What is pretty clear is that security deserves a preeminent position in the software engineering process. Organizations failing to do so will find themselves struggling to compete.
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