According to the DevSecOps paradigm (short for Development, Operations, and Security), developers need to ensure that the software they build is secure from the onset. This involves adhering to a set of guidelines and practices that factor in potential risks and threats during the development process.
Code security doesn’t just end after the code is written. It continues in the form of security testing in a staging environment, and continuous monitoring for vulnerabilities even after the application is deployed.
In this article:
Why is Secure Coding Important?
Security is becoming a basic property of high quality software, just like reliability and performance. Cyber threats are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and the cost of a security breach can be devastating both for organizations developing software and their customers. Secure coding is a proactive measure to prevent these threats and ensure that software is as secure as possible.
An important aspect of secure coding is that it helps protect sensitive customer data, ensuring that the trust between a company and its customers isn’t compromised. In an era where data breaches are becoming more frequent and more costly, secure coding is a first line of defense against data breaches.
Secure coding is also a legal requirement in many cases. With laws and regulations like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), companies are legally obligated to protect customer data. Failure to comply with these regulations can result in hefty fines and legal action. In addition, the recent U.S. Presidential Order 14028, “Improving the Nation’s Cybersecurity”, encourages the adoption of secure coding standards across both public and private sectors.
Code Security Practices
Here are the most common areas covered by code security initiatives.
1. Application Code Security
Application code security focuses on securing the code used in software applications. The aim is to ensure that the application is resistant to attacks, whether they come from outside threats or internal errors.
Application code security involves practices such as code reviews, automated testing, and implementing secure coding principles. It also includes the use of secure coding guidelines, which provide a set of best practices for developers to follow to ensure their code is secure.
The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) maintains a list of the top ten most severe web application vulnerabilities. These include broken access control, malicious code injection, and insecure design, and they are all examples of security issues that can be mitigated with secure coding practices.
2. Infrastructure as Code (IaC) Security
Infrastructure as Code (IaC) security refers to practices used to protect the scripts, templates, and configurations that automate the provisioning and management of IT infrastructure. IaC allows teams to manage their infrastructure using code, which can be versioned, reused, and shared. However, IaC scripts and templates can contain vulnerabilities and misconfigurations that pose security risks, and these can potentially impact entire IT environments.
Securing IaC involves several key practices. Firstly, developers should use version control systems for IaC scripts and templates, ensuring an audit trail and enabling rollback in case of issues. Code reviews are essential to catch potential security flaws. Automated testing should be employed to scan IaC scripts for common misconfigurations and compliance with security policies. Encryption should be used to protect sensitive data within IaC configurations, and access to IaC templates should be tightly controlled using role-based access controls.
To prevent tampering and the introduction of malicious code in IaC templates, it’s crucial to integrate security into the CI/CD pipeline. Automated security scanning tools should be integrated into the pipeline to scan for vulnerabilities and compliance issues before deployment. Monitoring and logging changes to IaC templates in real-time can also help in quickly identifying and responding to unauthorized modifications. Additionally, using signed commits and requiring multi-factor authentication can significantly reduce the risk of tampering.
3. Software Supply Chain Security
Software supply chain security is concerned with securing all the components that make up the software supply chain, including third-party components and open-source software.
Software supply chain attacks are becoming increasingly common, with attackers targeting the weakest links in the chain. Modern software projects rely heavily on open source components, and developers must carefully select their open source dependencies, and regularly scan them for vulnerabilities. Organizations must also carefully vet proprietary third-party components they use in their applications.
Development teams need to implement a comprehensive software supply chain security strategy. This includes conducting regular security audits, using trusted suppliers, and continuously monitoring for any potential threats. Supply chain security also involves securing the development environment itself. This includes securing the tools used in the development process, as well as the systems and networks on which the software is developed and deployed.
6 Types of Code Security Solutions
1. Static Application Security Testing (SAST)
Static Application Security Testing, or SAST, is a type of testing that is performed when the software application isn’t running. It’s a white-box testing technique that requires knowledge of the internal structure of the application.
SAST tools scan the source code, byte code, or binary code for potential security vulnerabilities. They examine the flow of data through the application and identify potential security issues. SAST tools are capable of detecting a wide range of issues, including buffer overflows, SQL injection, cross-site scripting (XSS), and insecure cryptographic storage.
These tools are highly beneficial during the early stages of the development process. They allow developers to identify and rectify vulnerabilities before the code goes into production. However, SAST tools can generate false positives, and require manual review to validate findings.
2. Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST)
Dynamic Application Security Testing, or DAST, is a black-box testing technique that examines the application while it’s running. Unlike SAST, it does not require access to the source code, and can be used to scan applications regardless of the underlying language or framework. DAST aims to find security vulnerabilities that can be exploited during the application’s operation.
DAST tools simulate attacks on the application and observe its responses to identify potential security threats. They look for common vulnerabilities such as cross-site scripting (XSS), SQL injection, and security misconfigurations.
The key advantage of DAST tools is their ability to identify vulnerabilities that are exploitable in a running application. They provide a real-world perspective on application security. However, they can only identify issues that are exposed via HTTP and HTTPS and can’t detect vulnerabilities hidden in the source code.
3. Interactive Application Security Testing (IAST)
Interactive Application Security Testing, or IAST, is a technique that combines aspects of both SAST and DAST. It uses instrumentation to monitor an application during its runtime and identify security vulnerabilities.
IAST tools are designed to be used in the application’s test environment. They monitor the application’s interaction with HTTP requests and responses, databases, and other resources. They can accurately pinpoint the location of a vulnerability in the code and provide detailed information about it.
The main advantage of IAST tools is their ability to provide comprehensive coverage of the application’s security landscape. They offer real-time feedback and help developers identify and fix vulnerabilities quickly. However, they might require more resources than other testing tools and could impact the application’s performance during testing.
4. Software Composition Analysis (SCA)
Software Composition Analysis, or SCA, is a tool that identifies open-source components in your application’s codebase. It helps in managing the security risks associated with using open-source software.
SCA tools scan the application’s codebase and create an inventory of all open-source components, including direct and transitive dependencies. They then cross-reference this inventory with various vulnerability databases to identify any known security vulnerabilities.
A significant advantage of SCA tools is their ability to provide visibility into the open-source components used in applications. They help in maintaining a healthy and secure open-source ecosystem within a codebase.
5. Application Security Testing as a Service (ASTaaS)
Application Security Testing as a Service, or ASTaaS, is a cloud-based service that provides application security testing capabilities. It’s an effective solution for organizations that lack the resources or expertise to conduct in-house application security testing.
ASTaaS providers offer a range of services including SAST, DAST, IAST, and SCA. They use automated tools as well as manual techniques to identify security vulnerabilities in your application. They provide detailed reports highlighting the vulnerabilities and suggesting remediation strategies.
The key advantage of ASTaaS is that it enables organizations to leverage expert security testing services without the need for significant investments in resources and infrastructure. However, it requires sharing sensitive information with a third party, which might raise concerns about data privacy and security.
6. Tes Coverage Analyzers
Test coverage analyzers are tools that measure the degree to which your code is being tested. They provide insights into the parts of your code that have been tested and those that have not. They help ensure that your testing efforts are comprehensive and that no part of your code is overlooked.
These tools work by monitoring your code during test execution and recording which parts of the code are exercised by the test cases. They then generate reports detailing the coverage of your tests.
The main advantage of test-coverage analyzers is that they help improve the quality and security of your code by ensuring thorough testing. However, they can only tell you what part of your code was tested, not how well it was tested. They can’t identify missing test cases or detect poorly designed tests.