One of the biggest mistakes vendors, IT departments, and organizations make when deciding to build Secure Software is not spending effort and time to fully understand and incorporate security needs into the development process. They usually make the mistake of treating software security as an afterthought, leaving it until nearly the end of development, most often during the testing phase.
Security should be given high priority from the first stages and continuing throughout the software development process. That’s exactly what secure software development entails — keeping security in mind every step of the way, including it in all processes and phases of the development lifecycle.
With the number of cyber-security breaches skyrocketing each year, the need for secure software development becomes ever more critical. In this article, we’ll share with you some of the key lessons and tips to help you plan, design, develop, and deploy robust software that not only generates traction but is also highly secure and compliant with regulatory standards.
First Things First – Why Is Secure Software Development Important?
As stated above, security was previously seen as either a hurdle or a sideline issue, often left on the back burner until the software product was on the verge of going to the market. This usually made it difficult for quality assurance departments and developers to spot code defects and security vulnerabilities until much later in the development process.
This new approach brings security to the forefront, which means ongoing testing is built into each phase of the software development lifecycle. By so doing, companies can build extremely secure software products that deter cyber-security threats and protect users’ data and privacy.
Software is often the key target for malicious cyber-activity. Cybercriminals and hackers are constantly looking for creative ways to take advantage of hackable bugs and other security vulnerabilities found in the software.
By prioritizing security throughout the software development process, developers, organizations, and other stakeholders have multiple opportunities to troubleshoot potential security weak points and fix them on an ongoing basis.
Secure software development can be beneficial in myriad ways:
- Minimizes business risks and exposure
- Protects the organization’s reputation and credibility
- Helps meet compliance requirements and avoid regulatory penalties
- Provides a much-needed competitive advantage in an increasingly saturated software ecosystem
- May improve software performance by reducing downtime
- Reduces costs for software vulnerability detection and remediation. Secure software is less susceptible to denial of service threats, ransomware hacks, and other forms of cyberattacks that can cost victims millions of dollars.
Ultimately, building secure software is the right thing to do. This is all the more true now that users care about their shared data and privacy more than ever before. With each data breach costing a whopping $3.86 million, on average, software security has become too important to ignore.
Crucial Tips for Secure Software Development
– Continually Train and Retrain Your Team
Today, developers experience great pressure to build highly profitable, high-performance software applications and systems in an increasingly shorter time and with smaller budgets. When being asked to do more with less, developers may not find (or take) the time to learn new tricks and stay on top of the latest security techniques.
Hackers and other cybercriminals, however, are always looking for new and more innovative ways to exploit security vulnerabilities in software. It’s therefore important for software vendors and developers to stay ahead of them in every way possible.
One of the best ways to give your team the right tools and know-how to build secure software is to always train and retrain them. Let your developers attend seminars, trade expos, night school classes, or enroll them in an online course. Empower your team to build secure software with hands-on training.
It always pays to remember that hackers are evolving, and so should your developers, testers, and other members of your software development team. Make a habit of retraining your team every 3-6 months, so they can keep up with changes in software security regulations and best practices.
– Use Authentication Throughout
One of the most crucial concepts to grasp with software security is that mitigating cyber-security threats is a constant, ongoing job. New threats develop every month, if not weekly or even daily, and your security strategy for guarding against these attacks can’t be restricted to a ‘test & fix” approach.
You must have a clear-cut authentication plan in place; software security begins and ends with authentication. Leave no weakness open to possible exploitation.
- Encrypt software source code: This is typically the primary target for mobile malware programs. Cybercriminals usually track vulnerabilities and hackable bugs within the design and source code. This makes it possible for them to repack, redesign, or compromise your software product.
- Encrypt transmitted data: Whether it’s a native web-based app, mobile application, or desktop client, data in transit must be encrypted to prevent eavesdropping and protect against data leaks and privacy infringement. VPN tunnels and SSL encryption technologies can come in handy here.
- Database and file-level encryption: Whether structured or unstructured, data must be encrypted in the sandbox, database, and at the file level. This will help close all potential loopholes that the hackers might exploit.
- Use the most advanced cryptography and encryption techniques: Sometimes, traditional cryptography algorithms (such as SHA1 and MD5) may not cut it and can be exploited. Thus, it’s important to stay on top of the latest security, encryption, and cryptography techniques like SHA-256, 256-bit encryption, and AES with 512-bit encryption.
– Never Stop Testing
Security testing has a direct correlation to software integrity, performance, and overall quality. As a general rule of thumb, you must start testing from concept all the way up to launch and long after that.
Many organizations often kick off with the Riskiest Assumption Test to check the quality and validate their software ideas from a security standpoint. Unit and system testing often follow. This should be conducted for weeks if not months before the first line of code is written.
Of course, it’s important to draft a workable security testing plan during the strategy phase. Security analysis should be performed with the very first outlines of software design so that your team can document all the necessary security requirements, preferably alongside functionality requirements.
Other security tests to perform include:
- Vulnerability scanning
- Security white-box testing
- Penetration testing
- Risk assessment testing
- Ethical hacking
- Security audit of the OS and applications
- That’s just the beginning. This secure software development guide has some additional resources on ways you can test your code.
– Have a Security Patching Plan in Place
All of the security tests mentioned above are carried out with one goal in mind: to identify potential vulnerabilities in software. So, what happens when you find code defects, hackable bugs, and other exploitable vulnerabilities? You must fix them!
This is where your security patching plan comes into play. It’s a patch management plan which dictates how you will distribute and apply fixes/updates to your software.
Having a patch remediation strategy in place is important not only for security purposes; it’s also crucial for supporting software uptime, meeting compliance requirements, and adding new features. You must work collaboratively with the security team, external consultants, regulators, and relevant departments to ensure that the development process is transparent and clearly understood by everyone involved.