Because of the increasing number of cyberattacks, security has become an integral element of SDLC (Software Development Lifecycle). Secure software development is a requirement to protect software from cybercriminals and hackers, minimize any vulnerabilities, and maintain users’ privacy.
In this post, we'll provide a checklist of the top secure development practices. The leading concepts are that the best developer security practices make security everybody’s responsibility and provide a software development environment that’s secure from the application’s inception to release.
What is Secure Software Development Lifecycle (SSDLC)?
SSDLC (Secure Software Development Lifecycle) is a multi-step, systematic process that integrates security into every step of software development, from planning to deployment and beyond. Securing your software development lifecycle allows developers to gather security requirements along with functional requirements.
The SSDLC encourages developers to perform risk analysis during the design phase, and carry out security testing alongside the development process. It helps organizations ensure and maintain the integrity, confidentiality, availability, and overall quality of the application.
The main idea of secure software development is to prioritize security as an integral part of development. It’s baked into the planning phase as well as software code, but it becomes part of the project long before a single code snippet is written.
Here’s how a SSDLC can benefit your organization:
- Detects security flaws early so they can be eliminated timely (shift-left). The sooner and quicker you discover and address security vulnerabilities in your development process, the safer your finer product will be.
- It can reduce working hours, spent on development, which can reduce the cost.
- Eliminates design blunders even before they can be embodied in code.
- Encourages stakeholders to invest more by helping them understand the importance of secure methodologies.
Why Do Developers Skip Security Steps?
Although secure software development is critical, there are various reasons why software developers skip it. We’ve compiled a list of the most common ones down below.
Lack of Resources and Time
When developers need to meet tight deadlines, they can skip important security steps. According to recent statistics, 67% of developers don’t address vulnerabilities in their code, and tight deadlines are one of the main reasons why they do that.
If a business leader understands the importance of secure software development and is willing to invest in different security tools, they’ll also need to realize that it’ll take extra resources and time.
For example, if they have only one developer to write code for a simple form, it’ll take a couple of minutes. However, the same form will take more time and might also need an extra developer if the leader wants to ensure cross-site scripting protection.
It won’t be possible for a single developer to write that form with protection routines within a couple of minutes. They’ll skip the step to ensure protection if they have a tight deadline to deliver the form.
Lack of Education
Not all developers have the same qualification, and the way they write code also differs. So, there’s always a possibility that your team of developers has individuals who don’t see security as a top priority of the development process.
Security and Development Silos
Many business leaders believe that security in software development is something that must be handled by a specialized team. It can be true in some cases, but generally, it’s not the best choice when it comes to secure development.
Due to this misconception, many organizations end up creating a dedicated cybersecurity team that works separately and doesn't have proper communication with developers.
As a result, security vulnerabilities get embodied in code and they’re discovered weeks (or even months) later. Not only does it make the system weak, in terms of security, but it also slows down the development process.
Important Note: You can have separate security and development teams if you want, but you’ll need to make sure that they don’t work separately. Please encourage them to work collaboratively and communicate with each other freely whenever needed.
Not Seeing Security as a Top Priority
According to a recent survey, 86% of developers don’t see security as a top priority, when it comes to software development. It’s an alarming number that only suggests that most organizations don’t prioritize secure development practices.
Top Developer Security Practices
Now that you understand the importance of secure software development, and why developers skip it, it’s time to discuss the top developer security practices to follow.
1. Consider Software Security as a Priority Right From The Start
As discussed, already, you’ll need to prioritize security and integrate it into your software development lifecycle from start to end.
You’ll need to make sure that you follow secure software development lifecycle techniques. It means that you must evaluate security during planning, designing, development, bug fixing, maintenance, and end-of-project stages.
Minimal actions can go a long way in making the SDLC safer: consider, for example, encouraging developers to use pre-commit hooks as security seatbelts to prevent secrets from being committed to source code repositories.
You’ll also need to promote team happiness, improve organizational culture, and ensure cross-team collaboration. Keep in mind that happy and satisfied developers are more likely to prioritize security while writing code.
2. Defining Project’s Security Requirements
All potential security gaps and weaknesses must be identified to define your project’s security requirements before the development starts. You can use the following tips for this purpose.
- Employ multi-core secure software design to account for unknown and unforeseen interactions between processes and threads.
- Improve the ability of your system to resist intentional and/or unintentional failures. For instance, cybercriminals often create attacks based on overloading and flooding a system using fake queries to make it lose manageability.
- Plan out a hierarchy of user rights (project roles) so that each individual can have limited access depending on their responsibilities.
- Set constraints on how different processes operate and behave. It’ll help you ensure that the hackers don’t interfere with the entire system and cause serious damage, even if they try to take control.
3. Identify Potential Security Threats
Work with your development team to identify potential security threats associated with the tools you’re using. This step should take place before your team starts the development process.
Adopt a defensive mindset while writing code and perform unit testing for each and every area of concern. In addition, make sure that your developers go back and review the code whenever they make changes to determine if it has introduced any new security vulnerabilities.
4. Have Secure Coding Guidelines and Standards
For a secure software development environment, every organization should have its own set of secure coding guidelines. Your secure coding guidelines will vary depending on your project’s requirements. However, the main purpose of these guidelines will remain the same, which is to protect all types of data.
All data, whether it is in transit or at rest, must be protected. It includes cookies, sessions, file storage, and database storage. You can use encryption services to encrypt data to ensure its protection. Don’t forget that your teams' communication channels are also an attractive target for malicious actors, and should be secured as well to mitigate the risk of data breaches.
The best way to create secure coding guidelines is to follow the tech industry’s security standards.
These standards are designed to help organizations promote better design principles. The following are some of the best-known security standards that you can use.
OWASP and OWASP SAMM
OWASP stands for open web application security project, and it’s a standard that provides developers with a list of secure development requirements, along with a solid ground for testing web application security.
The OWASP SAMM (Software Assurance Maturity Model) is a tool that helps organizations adapt security operations to their risk profile.
NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) SSDF
NIST SSDF (Secure Software Development Framework) is a defined set of secure development rules based on tried-and-true practices outlined by security-oriented organizations, such as OWASP.
NIST secure software development framework breaks down the software development lifecycle into four different categories listed below.
- Preparing the Organization: Making sure that all the technologies, processes, and people in the organization are well-prepared for secure development, within development teams as well as at the organizational level.
- Protecting Software: Ensuring the protection of all software components from unauthorized access and tampering.
- Developing Fully Secured Solutions: Developing and releasing solutions with minimal security vulnerabilities.
- Responding to Vulnerabilities: Identifying and addressing security vulnerabilities in software and making sure that they don’t occur in future releases.
5. Use Up-To-Date Frameworks and Libraries
Organizations need to use different types of frameworks and libraries to develop software solutions. Make sure that you select well-established, well-maintained, and trusted frameworks and libraries because they are likely to have fewer security vulnerabilities as compared to new entrants.
Since you can benefit from early bug detection when using open-source software components, you can better control your software security. Furthermore, employing secure libraries can assist in limiting the attack surface of your system as well.
Developers should carefully investigate the reputation of a framework or library, before incorporating it into the system. Better is to submit every new library addition for human approval. Having a well-maintained and enforced software component registry lets you control all the third-party tools you’re using.
6. Conduct Security Awareness Training
Your software development team must understand all the security challenges they can possibly face during the development process. It would help if you educated them about the common security attacks related to software development, especially the ones that are associated with your organization’s domain.
When developers know how cybercriminals and hackers work, they’ll be able to avoid the coding practices that can be exploited.
It's a good idea to organize frequent meetings where all your teams can communicate with each other to discuss secure development techniques. These meetings will help them understand how to write code that can resist cyberattacks.
7. Securing Access to Databases
Database(s) is one of the most valuable and critical parts of any software system, and it must be configured and protected properly. You’ll need to ensure that no data leak or unauthorized access is possible through overlooked loopholes and cracks located in the system.
8. Implement Digital User Identity
Implementing digital user identity will allow you to restrict access to different users/developers so they can only access what they need to perform their jobs.
For example, if you work on GitHub and have unsecured or unrestricted access for users to your repository (and mistakes are more common than you think!), it’ll work as an open invitation for security breaches. So, make sure you implement a digital user identity mechanism to ensure secure access and regularly review it.
9. Handle Errors and Exceptions in All Areas
Exception and error handling is critical to ensure system sustainability. It’ll allow you to determine how your software will react to unpredictable states and create processes that will prevent the system from crashing.
10. Monitor Security Information
Logging security information is essential to keep track of your solution’s unusual behaviors. Not only will it help you catch security incidents, but it’ll also provide you with insightful data regarding suspicious behaviors of the system. As a result, you’ll be able to address the issue before it turns into an actual data breach.
Secure software development goes beyond writing secure code. It covers everything from the inception of software to its delivery. You need to follow a holistic approach to follow secure development practices in your organization’s everyday workflow.
It’ll help you make security everybody’s responsibility so that it works as an integral part of every individual’s job, linked to the software development process.