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What does it take to develop cyber-secure software?

Developing secure software takes an approach that encompasses all phases of development.

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Image: Unsplash

Cybersecurity is more important now than ever before, especially in an age where IoT will be the next step of our evolution as a society. If you want to avoid complications in the longer run, you need to prioritize security, whether you are a small company or a fortune 500 giant.

As most of the cybersecurity risks originate from applications that are not made securely, the foundation of cybersecurity is developing secure applications. Developing secure applications calls for making security a part of all the phases of the development lifecycle. The art of integrating security into all parts of development is called Secure Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC).

Here’s how SDLC works across the phases of software development to produce an end product that is cyber secure.

Planning 

In this stage, the concept of the application is built, and the viability is evaluated quantitatively and qualitatively. A project plan is built at this stage, project requirements are finalized, and human resources are allocated. 

The SDLC requirements for this stage are: 

  • Defining the compliance and security objectives for the project and developing a detailed plan for all the SDLC activities to happen in the development process. The goal here is to address security issues as early in the development process as possible. 
  • A list of the technical and regulatory security requirements should be made as a reference document to rectify non-compliance later in development. 
  • Basic security training is also provided to the team at this stage. 

This stage will act as a basis for all security activities of the project in the longer run. 

Design 

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Image: StackSocial

In this stage, the product is designed in a way that meets the requirements. The application structure is modeled at this stage, and all the third-party components are chosen which will be used in the project. The product of this stage is a design document that acts as the source of guidance for all the subsequent steps.

The SDLC practices that need to be a part of this phase include: 

  • Threat modeling is done to identify all the possible attack scenarios, and relevant countermeasures are added to the design of the application to avoid the attack. Modeling is a great way to uncover possible threats earlier in the development process and helps save costs. It also acts as the basis of incident response plans in the future. 
  • The design document is validated according to the security requirements. This helps identify features that might be vulnerable before they are implemented in the app. 
  • Third-party components are also inspected at this level, and any vulnerability in them is also rectified. This is important because a vulnerable third-party component can render the whole application vulnerable. 

The goal of this step and all these measures is to resolve any vulnerabilities that might otherwise make their way into the final product.

Implementation

This is the actual development stage. This is where the code is written, the app is debugged, and stable builds of the application are made for testing.

The following SDLC practices are advised for this stage: 

  • Secure coding practices are made a part of the process. Programmers are provided with checklists and guides that remind them of common mistakes and suggest ways to avoid them. This eliminates the chances of trivial vulnerabilities making their way into the end product. 
  • The tool is reviewed using Static application scanning tools. These let the programmers find potential vulnerabilities in the code without having to run it. It is recommended that this is done on a daily basis to avoid any issue from making into the final application builds.
  • Manual code review is also advised to double-check the working of automated code review tools. 

Following these practices makes sure no security imperfection makes its way into the end product. 

Testing and Debugging

ui regression testing

Once the coding phase is complete, `. The goal of this step is to find out and fix the errors in the code. Both automatic and manual tests are done in this phase. 

The following SDLC practices are advised for this stage: 

  • Dynamic application scanner tools (DAST) are used to expose vulnerabilities in the code while it is running. These simulate hacker attacks in real-time. This phase is vulnerable to false positives, and they can be fixed using Interactive Application Security Testing Tools. 
  • Fuzzing is done by feeding randomly generated inputs to the application and seeing how well it holds up to them. 
  • Penetration testing is also an important step where the security of the app is tried to be penetrated via brute-forcing and other popular attack methods to uncover any vulnerabilities. 

This, combined with the previous stages, makes sure that there is no security threat in the application. 

Release and Maintenance 

This is when the application goes live and starts being used by a number of users in a lot of different environments. New versions are released with time, and users choose to upgrade or stay on older versions. 

The SDLC recommendations for this stage are: 

  • Monitoring should cover the entire system, not just the application, because attackers often try to compromise the security of the entire environment. 
  • A clearly defined incident response plan is made to cope with any situation that might arise. 
  • Security checks should be performed regularly as new vulnerabilities appear with time and need to be addressed to keep the application secure. 

End of life

This is the time when the application is no longer supported by the developer. If it contains sensitive information of users, the app can be subject to End of Life regulations. 

The following SDLC measures for this stage include data retention as per local laws and company policy or data disposal as per the user agreement. 

Conclusion 

Developing secure software takes an approach that encompasses all phases of development. It starts with planning, is made better in design, and then is implemented to make sure that the app is developed in a secure way.

There are also requirements for keeping up security work in the deployment stage and even after the end of life of the project. This is necessary because cybercrime is real. Just last year, we lost 4.2 billion dollars to it.

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Chris has been blogging since the early days of the internet. He primarily focuses on topics related to tech, business, marketing, and pretty much anything else that revolves around tech. When he's not writing, you can find him noodling around on a guitar or cooking up a mean storm for friends and family.

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