Cybercrime is an age-old threat in cyberspace. The bad news is that this crisis is only getting worse. As the world gravitates closer to a fully digitized era, developers have a crucial responsibility of ensuring adequate security throughout the software development life cycle (SDLC).
It’s clear that hackers and malicious actors have gotten smarter at their job- but so have cybersecurity experts.
Here are practical steps that IT teams are using to stay ahead of attackers and thrive amidst the ever-growing software security demands.
Security in software development can take a manual or automated approach, and each of these has its place in the continuous development periphery. But as more organizations transition into the DevSecOps mentality, it’s evident that automated security testing has taken center stage in the SDLC.
The DevSecOps philosophy has it in mind that software security is not a one-off thing. Instead of treating it as an afterthought, DevSecOps merges security into every stage of the software development pattern, thus minimizing most of the known vulnerabilities in code.
Although DevSecOps leans more towards secure software, effectiveness still tops its list of priorities. This is where the choice between manual and security automation comes in.
Manual software security testing is where human beings themselves execute test cases to detect bugs in the software application. There’s no relying on specialized automated tools.
One advantage of manual security testing in SDLC is the low cost compared to automation. Also, because humans make software apps for humans, manual testing offers a better look at the app from an end-user experience. But as with anything else done manually, this method is exhaustive and time-consuming, and the results vary greatly between experts. Speaking of which, manual software security testing requires expert engineers.
On the other hand, just as it sounds like, software security automation involves using advanced tools to find common vulnerabilities. Of course, QA engineers are still a part of the process. But they are mainly involved in two scenarios: setting up the pre-scripted test cases and analyzing and verifying the test outcomes.
Although security automation comes at a cost, it’s a reliable way of detecting common vulnerabilities fast.
In 2005, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) developed the ISO 27001.
This is an international standard that aims at helping software developers develop and continually improve the integrity of their information security management systems (ISMS). The ISO 27001 is globally recognized as proof that a software development company adheres to information security best practices.
A crucial requirement when implementing the ISO 27001 is writing a secure development policy. Essentially, this document stipulates the basic rules and guidelines on how to implement security into the entire software development process.
A secure development policy defines how the three pillars of software development (people, processes and technology) collaborate to ensure secure products. Used effectively, this toolkit prevents, detects and catches vulnerabilities early enough to minimize the risk of attacks.
A secure development policy maybe something along these lines:
- All players must be assigned roles they are competent in.
- Software should be resilient from the get-go.
- The software development process must include security in every phase.
- Every aspect of the software must ensure data safety.
- Only approved languages and libraries may be used in the process.
- Third-party libraries, algorithms, and libraries must be reviewed internally and have proper licensing before being integrated into the environment.
- Vulnerabilities must be addressed promptly and in line with the laid down standards.
- Software must be scrutinized for exploitable flaws and vulnerabilities before release.
A nicely detailed security development policy alone won’t work unless everyone involved in the software development process has a security mindset. One of the reasons cybercrime continues to ravage the software industry is the large number of software development stakeholders with little to no knowledge of security.
The DevSecOps mantra is to make security everyone’s responsibility- not a role for the security team alone. This calls for organization-wide training on secure software development, particularly for the developers.
Such training starts with a general understanding of how software development and security are intertwined. The next step may involve identifying all the areas across the software development life cycle where flaws may arise and what can be done to avoid such errors. Importantly, everybody should stick to security standards because it takes attackers a single design flaw to infiltrate and devastate a would-be great product.
Integrating security into each step of the SDLC may also help resolve the strained relationship between developers and the security department.
The increasing pressure to shift security left makes this appear like one of the hardest tasks in the SDLC. Admittedly, security is not a walk in the park, but it’s not as daunting or mysterious as it’s often thought to be.
The key to achieving clean codes is to understand and follow key secure software principles that competent developers live by. Here’s an overview of some of these laws:
1. Principle of Least Privilege (PoLP)- this principle is known as the Principle of Least Authority (PoLA) or Principle of Minimal Privilege (PoMP). It suggests that every user, program or process should be allowed only the necessary access to perform an action.
2. Principle of Segregation of Duties- also known as Separation of Duties, this concept requires controlling the level of authority that a particular individual or team has in software design, development and delivery. The aim is to increase internal control and minimize the risk of errors, poor decisions and fraud.
3. Principle of Defense in Depth (DiD)- this strategy is also known as Security in Depth. It challenges developers to develop a holistic software security approach by using multiple defense layers at every stage of the cycle. The primary assumption is that the attackers may be able to penetrate some layers of security control.