According to Forbes, for a long time, the focus for most organizations in software development was the speed of delivery, but security is now a key consideration. No doubt, developer practices have a big impact on software security. Today, software security can make or break a company.
Developers today rely on structured approaches to application development. These approaches combine the best development practices to strengthen software security and compliance. This post lays out five practices developers embrace to develop better and safer software.
Shift Left Testing
In this approach, developers integrate software testing measures and security as early as possible within the software development cycle. The approach makes it easy for organizations to release software often by avoiding security issue bottlenecks and common bugs.
It means both operations and development teams share the responsibility of delivering safe, high-quality software. Traditionally, continuous integration places testing as the fourth step in an eight-step cycle. The shift-left testing approach integrates most aspects of software testing into the building and code phases. Thus, the shift-left testing approach literally shifts security and detection of bugs to the left. It integrates the best software testing practices as early as possible in the pipeline.
Why Embrace Left Testing
The shifting of security practices to the left empowers development teams to secure the software they create. Also, the practice promotes greater collaboration between security practitioners and development teams. It lets security teams offer support by providing expertise and tools to promote developer autonomy. At the same time, security teams offer the right level of oversight.
The practice offers clear benefits such as:
- Faster delivery: By integrating testing in every step of the pipeline improves the speed of software delivery.
- Enhances security posture: The practice includes security as a feature from design to deployment and production.
- Decreases cost: Since the practice identifies bugs and vulnerabilities before deployment, it considerably decreases operational costs.
- Promotes business success: Embracing more secure software offers an opportunity to expand business offerings and revenue growth.
- Enhances security integration: The practice eliminates the need for retrofitting security controls after development.
Threat modeling is an important practice of securing software during development. At its core, threat modeling is a process of establishing potential threats, discovering the greatest weaknesses of the software, and preparing for threats that may occur. The practice also recommends prioritizing potential threats to ensure developers can resolve the most pressing security concerns first.
Developers can do threat modeling through threat modeling tools or analyze the source code manually. Most developers employ both options, especially when working on sensitive projects requiring financial accounts and user data. Secure code review provides a great way of establishing vulnerabilities arising from logic bugs within the source code.
Establish Coding Standards
After making security choices, organizations and developers must understand the security issues they inherit and how to address them. Appropriate coding standards that support writing secure code should be put in place, maintained, and shared with the development team. If possible, rely on the built-in security features in the chosen tools and frameworks and ensure they are on by default.
This practice helps developers address known issues systematically instead of handling them individually. In case of multiple options for addressing issues, select one as the standard. Search for classes of security problems that a security feature or framework can mitigate on behalf of developers and invest in re-using such features instead of re-inventing them in-house.
Also, to a great extent, developers should consider loosely coupled components, frameworks, or libraries to make them easy to upgrade or replace if necessary. As well, the standards should be enforceable and realistic. Also, when creating coding standards, developers should also take time to think about validation and testing. Including these considerations helps catch issues earlier in the software development lifecycle when it costs less to find and fix.
Handle Data Safely
“Security 101” considers every input originating from the user as untrustworthy. Often, the origin of data is not clearly defined. It makes it possible for an application to process and consume data whose origin is the internet. Thus, failure to handle the data correctly can cause a flaw in the application to transform the input into executing code or give access to resources.
Hence, developers use input validation as a security measure at the boundary with the internet. The approach is not enough. So, the best approach is for developers to guarantee that each segment of the application stack defends itself against malicious input. If developers have a good threat model in place, it will help establish the threats.
Also, vulnerabilities arise from processing data in an unsafe manner. Steps like enforcing data segregation help hinder data from becoming application logic. These steps include
- Data binding – prevents data from becoming control logic through binding the data to a specific data type.
- Encoding – transforms data to make its interpretation purely match its context.
In most situations, developers use both data binding and encoding practices together. Nevertheless, data validation is a challenge even with these approaches. In some cases, software developers have to block known bad and allow known good as the only validation. It is especially true if no data segregation technique exists for the context using data.
At some point, all applications run into errors. Even though developers can identify errors from typical usage, it is almost impossible to establish how an attacker can interact with the software. To deal with such security issues, developers should ensure that the software can handle and react to unexpected errors gracefully by either presenting an error message or recovering.
Developers handle expected errors through specific error checks or exception handlers. To deal with unexpected errors, developers rely on generic exception handlers or error handlers. For security reasons, developers should ensure user error notifications do not reveal the technical details of the issue. So, different levels of information should be available to users and administrators.
Developers ensure error messages to users are generic and provide attackers with very little information about the problem while directing valid users to take action.