Secure Software Development Best Practices
Secure software risks are everywhere. In an era of cyberattacks, they can affect everyone — including individuals, corporations, and governments. For that reason, ensuring security in software development is essential.
Here we explain what is secure software, how to ensure security in software development, and provide best practices for secure software development.
Read along or jump ahead to the section that interests you the most:
- What Happens Without Secure Software?
- What Are 5 Key Secure Software Risk Factors?
- How Does Cybersecurity Help?
- Why Is a Secure Development Process Difficult?
- 3 Best Practices for a Secure Development Process?
- How Static Code Analysis Can Help Ensure Secure Software
What Happens Without Secure Software?
Cyberattacks make headlines. Duqu and Stuxnet had everyone talking in 2010 and 2011. And, cyberattacks have only gotten worse since then. WannaCry hit important systems in 2017, including Britain’s National Health Service. And, GitHub was hit by a denial of service attack in early 2018.
📕 Related Content: GitLab SAST: Learn how to use GitLab with Klocwork.
Embedded Systems Aren’t Immune to Secure Software Risks
This is a huge problem.
Cyberattacks against embedded systems could lead to wide-scale damage to:
- Critical infrastructure, including power generation, oil, and gas refining.
- Water and waste control systems.
📕 Related White Paper: How to Improve Embedded Systems Security.
The five key secure software development risk factors are:
1. Interdependent systems make software the weakest link.
2. Software size and complexity complicates testing.
3. An outsourced software supply chain increases risk exposure.
4. Sophisticated attacks find more risk.
5. Legacy software is reused.
How Does Cybersecurity Help Ensure Secure Development Process?
More organizations are investing in software security development and cybersecurity technologies, which include SAST tools — like Klocwork. Despite that many advances have been made in cybersecurity coverage, much of the effort has been focused on adding security after the fact and improving threat detection.
Many are now realizing the importance of SAST and enforcing a secure development process.
It’s not enough to apply new security technologies. The software itself needs to close risk gaps. Putting stronger locks on your front door is no use if the windows are left open.
Why Is a Secure Development Process Difficult?
Secure Software Isn’t a Big Enough Priority
Security in software development isn’t a big enough priority for most developers.
There’s an old saying that you need to:
- Get to market fast.
- Include all features planned.
- Maintain a high level of quality.
But, you can only have two out of the three. So, while quality is part of the conversation, security is often left behind.
Features and deadlines drive development checklists. And, secure software usually isn’t a feature or a requirement. So, it’s rarely addressed.
Quality Doesn’t Necessarily Guarantee Security in Software Development
Improving software quality and software integritycan reduce security flaws that result from defects. But, QA usually doesn’t take hacking into consideration.
Too Many Moving Parts in Embedded Development
Embedded systems are big and complex.
There’s new and legacy code — and connectivity components. And, embedded systems run on a variety of operating systems.
Multiple development teams work on software. And, they’re often spread around the world.
Not to mention it’s difficult enough to ensure that the software functions properly. It can be even more difficult to ensure secure software.
Not Enough Training for Security in Software Development
Unfortunately, many people involved in software development don’t know how to recognize security problems. This includes the security implications of certain software requirements — or lack thereof.
And, they don’t know how security impacts the way software is:
- Prepared for distribution and deployment
So, developers may not design secure software. Security requirements may be lacking. And, developers might not understand how a mistake turns into a security vulnerability.
No One Owns Security in Software Development
Most embedded development teams don’t have someone tasked with software security. Instead, they rely on a variety of roles — from product management to development to QA — to make software secure. And, that doesn’t always work.
📕 Related Content: Guide for Software Development and Software Security.
3 Best Practices for a Secure Software Development Process
Cyberattacks happen all the time — and attackers are getting smarter.
But, many teams are overwhelmed when it comes to enforcing a secure development process. It’s a challenge to figure out which threats and vulnerabilities pose the greatest risk. And, most developers don’t know how to protect against and respond to those risks.
If you’re looking to ensure security in software development processes, here are the three best practices for secure software development:
1. Start With Requirements
2. Develop Based on Secure Software Standards
3. Test Early and Often
1. Start With Secure Software Requirements
You can address and eliminate weaknesses in your secure development process.
Start with defining software requirements.
Best practices include:
- Constraints on process behaviors and input handling.
- Resistance to (and tolerance of) intentional failures.
- Secure multicore designs that prevent unexpected interactions between threads and processes.
2. Develop Based on Secure Software Standards
Developing with compliance standards in mind can also improve security. Compliance standards — such as ISO 26262 — require coding standards. And, coding standards give developers a way to identify and avoid risks.
One of the most prominent security initiatives related to software development is the Common Weakness Enumeration database project and the CERT C coding standard. Other coding standards, such as MISRA, can also be used to ensure security.
It’s a best practice to use coding standards to ensure:
- Code is consistent.
- Code written by any developer is readable and easy to understand.
- Code reviews and downstream maintenance are efficient.
Using coding standards helps you prevent, detect, and eliminate security weaknesses.
📕 Related Content: Guide to Secure Coding Practices.
3. Test Early and Test Often
Finding security weaknesses early in development reduces costs and speeds up release cycles.
It’s important to test code as soon as it’s written — and to test any code being reused from a prior project. And, it’s important to test often throughout the development process.
So, it’s a best practice to test code regularly, including with:
Use Static Code Analysis Tools to Help Ensure Secure Software
Static code analysis supports a secure development process because half of all security defects are introduced at the source code level. So, finding and fixing bugs as soon as code is written is critical.
But, many developers lack security training. And, identifying security problems during a code review can be difficult, if not impossible. Security mistakes can be subtle and easy to overlook even for trained developers.
Static code analysis tools can bridge that knowledge gap, and they flag security vulnerabilities and accelerate code reviews.
Using static analysis, developers can identify errors, including:
- Memory leaks
- Access violations
- Arithmetic errors
- Array and string overruns
This maximizes code quality and minimizes the impact of errors on the finished product — and project timeline.
Plus, static code analysis tools — such as Helix QAC for C/C++, and Klocwork C, C++, C#, and Java — can be used to comply with CERT C (or MISRA) coding rules. And, they can identify CWE coding errors faster.
Learn more about applying secure coding standards to better ensure a secure software development process.