Improving software security: Top 9 Best Practices
As companies rely on software to power their operations and deliver advanced services to customers, the vulnerabilities within these applications pose lots of cyber threats. According to IBM, in 2023, the global average cost of a data breach was $4.45 million, which is 15% higher than it was three years ago.
To mitigate these risks, embracing top-tier best practices for software development security is essential. In this article, we'll explore the key strategies and practices that can help protect your software against ever-changing cyber threats. From secure coding guidelines to regular penetration testing, we'll delve into the core principles of the software security approach.
What Are the Most Common Security Risks?
Before we dive into the best practices, let's look at the common security problems that developers often encounter. These are the issues they have to deal with:
Lack of Maintenance
When startup or enterprise software applications are not actively maintained or supported, they become open to security risks. This is because security vulnerabilities may go unpatched, exposing the system to potential exploits. Hackers can use them to gain unauthorized access and compromise sensitive data.
When software developers do not adhere to secure coding practices, protecting the application from various threats becomes difficult. Insecure code may lack proper input validation, output encoding, error handling, and secure storage of sensitive data, leaving openings for attackers to exploit.
Vulnerable Web Services
Web services often handle sensitive user information. If they have vulnerabilities, malicious actors can use them to gain unauthorized access, steal data, or perform other illegitimate actions on the website. As a result, you get data breaches and privacy violations.
Unsafe Password Storage
Insecure password storage is a typical security risk. When passwords are not hashed and salted properly or are stored in a manner that can be easily decrypted, hackers may use dictionary or brute force attacks to reveal user passwords. It is crucial to use strong encryption and secure password storage practices to protect user credentials.
Legacy software refers to older applications that may not have been built with modern security practices in mind. These systems are often not updated regularly, and their codebase might lack important security measures. This makes them attractive targets for cyberattacks and data breaches, as hackers may exploit known (and not fixed) vulnerabilities.
Why Secure Software Development Matters
There has never been a more critical time to adopt a security-first approach in software and web development. As cyber breaches become increasingly common and hackers grow more sophisticated, companies are falling victim to these attacks.
Prioritizing security within the development process can help prevent such targeted attacks. An approach known as a Secure Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) is vital for safeguarding your applications and business, allowing you to:
Protect your brand and reputation. A successful cyber attack can tarnish your company's reputation. SSDLC allows you to control the narrative and avoid negative publicity associated with cyberattacks or data breaches.
Protect from financial risk. Breaches can lead to lawsuits, loss of customers, and revenue declines. Developing secure applications from the start helps avoid these financial repercussions.
Protect from regulatory fines. Prioritizing cybersecurity ensures compliance with regulations, reducing the risk of fines and fees.
Avoid customer dissatisfaction and abandonment. Leaked customer data due to insecure applications can lead to customer dissatisfaction and brand damage.
Save time and money. SSDLC identifies and fixes vulnerabilities before production, simplifying the development process and reducing security costs.
Automate security practices. Automation streamlines security in the development process without draining resources.
Avoid business disruptions. Security measures prevent disruptions caused by breaches, allowing development teams to stay focused on creating high-quality applications.
Improve collaboration. Integrating security into DevOps fosters better team communication and collaboration, leading to a DevSecOps approach. This approach saves time, money, and resources when implemented effectively.
By emphasizing SSDLC, you can accelerate the release of secure software and foster a culture where security takes a central role.
Let's explore key terms and their significance:
Application security. Application security involves identifying, testing, and rectifying security vulnerabilities in your software solutions.
Cybercrime. Cybercrime is any unlawful activity or malicious action using computers or computer networks. It includes hacking, data theft, and cyberattacks.
Cybersecurity. Cybersecurity is the practice of safeguarding computer systems and networks from unauthorized access, data breaches, and damage caused by hackers.
Security-minded culture. A security-minded company culture emphasizes the importance of security throughout the development process, fostering a proactive approach to addressing such concerns.
Security champion. A security champion is a custom software development team member who plays a crucial role in identifying and addressing security issues early in the SDLC.
Risk analysis. This process assesses potential security risks and helps devise strategies to mitigate them.
Gap analysis. It highlights discrepancies between existing security practices and the desired standards. Also, it identifies the steps needed to bridge that gap.
Third-party software. Third-party software is not developed in-house but is created by external companies or vendors.
Access management. Access management involves monitoring and controlling permissions for those connected to various components of your software supply chain.
Best Security Software Practices
Let's explore a set of best security practices that should be integrated into the process of app development:
Adopt a proactive approach to security. Instead of addressing security as an afterthought or only when issues afrise, consider it as a primary concern right from the project's planning and inception stages. Incorporate security into the project's requirements, design, and architecture.
Ensure appropriate security controls are implemented at every step of SDLC. As a result, developers will identify and assess potential vulnerabilities and quickly solve them with the least losses and delays. Also, it's important to continuously evaluate and reevaluate security measures as the project progresses.
The Secure Software Development Lifecycle is a methodology that ensures that security is not an isolated task but an integral part of the entire software development process.
Awareness Team Training
Software developers should have a good understanding of common threats and vulnerabilities. This covers SQL injection, cross-site scripting, and insecure authentication. Experts should learn how these weaknesses can be exploited and how to prevent them during coding.
Also, it's important to know how hackers and cybercriminals operate. This includes understanding their tactics, techniques, and motives.
To keep developers updated on the latest security trends and emerging threats, you should pay attention to the security awareness training. Hold regular meetings or workshops to share experiences, address security challenges, and brainstorm solutions to detect and mitigate vulnerabilities.
Code reviews are an effective way to bolster the security of software applications. That means examinations of the source code to identify issues, including security vulnerabilities.
Alongside code writing, developers are encouraged to test it thoroughly. This includes writing unit tests for critical components and areas of concern. Such tests help ensure that code functions as expected and that vulnerabilities are less likely to emerge.
Remember that every code change introduces the potential for new weaknesses. That's why it's crucial to revisit and reevaluate the code after each change to detect and rectify any new security issues.
It's crucial to establish and consistently follow security requirements throughout the development process. Reviews should assess whether secure coding practices are adhered to and whether the code meets these standards.
Static Code Analysis Tools
Security mistakes in code are sometimes challenging to detect, even for experienced developers. Use static code analysis tools to identify these issues that may escape manual review. They complement traditional code review processes by automatically flagging potential security vulnerabilities and areas of concern.
For example, such tools are effective at catching SQL injection, Cross-Site Scripting (XSS), and exposure of sensitive data.
Integrate static code analysis tools into the software development pipeline. Every time there's a new build or code change, the tools automatically perform checks to identify potential security problems. This allows for prompt remediation of vulnerabilities before they make their way into production.
In large organizations with numerous developers, static code analysis tools are crucial. They help maintain a consistent security standard by identifying issues regardless of the developer's individual knowledge.
However, static code analysis tools are not perfect. They may produce false positives or false negatives, and their effectiveness depends on how well they are configured and the rules they are set to follow. Therefore, they are most effective when used in conjunction with other security practices, such as manual code reviews and dynamic testing.
Popular Libraries and Frameworks
Popular and well-maintained libraries and frameworks are less likely to contain security vulnerabilities than newly created or obscure code bases. They have been employed by a broader user base and are often more actively maintained and patched to address weaknesses as they are discovered.
Many popular libraries and frameworks are open-source. This openness can facilitate early detection of bugs and vulnerabilities, as the community can contribute to improving the code's security.
Secure development libraries and frameworks often come with built-in security features that can reduce the application's attack surface. This makes it harder for attackers to exploit vulnerabilities and compromise the software.
Developers should conduct research and assess the reputation of a library or framework before integrating it extensively into their applications. Online tools and resources provide insights into the community's activity, release frequency, and other metrics, enabling coders to make informed decisions.
OWASP's Top Ten Software Vulnerabilities
The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) is a well-respected organization that provides resources and guidance for web application security.
Their Top Ten Software Vulnerabilities list highlights the most prevalent security gaps that can be exploited by attackers. They are common mistakes or issues that developers often encounter in the software development process.
By knowing the weaknesses, developers can quickly identify potential areas of concern and take measures to mitigate these risks in their software projects.
OWASP's list can also serve as a valuable educational resource for teams looking to enhance their knowledge of web application security. Developers can delve deeper into each vulnerability to understand the associated risks and how to prevent them.
Secure coding guidelines and standards are rules and principles that dictate how software should be developed, with a strong focus on security. This ensures that all code aligns with secure coding practices and reduces the likelihood of introducing new vulnerabilities.
Implementing such standards encourages reliable testing methods throughout the software development lifecycle. This includes techniques like static analysis, dynamic testing, and security scanning.
Threat modeling is another key technique for securing software. It involves identifying potential dangers by examining data flows within the application and analyzing what could go wrong at each step. This helps developers understand and prioritize security concerns.
To create secure coding guidelines, developers should be familiar with several essential concepts:
Encryption. Consider encrypting database storage, file storage, sessions, cookies, and more.
Password hashing. Never store passwords in plain text. Instead, use a password hashing algorithm to store a hashed version of the user's password.
SQL Injection. Hackers insert a malicious SQL query through an application interface to manipulate or extract data from the database. To prevent it, employ parameterized queries instead of dynamic SQL statements.
Cross-site scripting (XSS). XSS attacks involve injecting malicious scripts into applications to trick users into taking malicious actions. Proper input validation and output encoding minimize such risks.
Sensitive data exposure. Sensitive data like passwords, credit card information, and personally identifiable information must be properly protected in storage and during transmission.
Input validation attacks. These occur when attackers manipulate the system to accept data it shouldn't.
Buffer overflow attack. Hackers use memory allocation issues to gain control over the application.
Unvalidated forwards. Attackers can redirect users to malicious sites or pages using unauthenticated parameters within requests.
Improper error handling. Poor error handling allows hackers to exploit unhandled error messages and gain unauthorized access.
Application whitelisting. This concept restricts applications to access only the resources they need to operate securely.
Insufficient logging & monitoring. Proper logging, monitoring, and auditing practices are necessary for identifying and responding to security threats.
ISO 27001 Certification
Do you think about getting your company ISO 27001 certified? ISO 27001 is an international standard for information security management systems (ISMS).
The primary objectives of ISO 27001 are to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of critical business information. This means protecting sensitive data from unauthorized access or disclosure, ensuring it remains accurate and reliable, and guaranteeing it is accessible when needed.
Achieving ISO 27001 certification means a company has met specific criteria and is committed to maintaining robust information security practices. It helps organizations establish a structured, risk-aware approach to information security, enhancing their ability to protect sensitive data and maintain the integrity of their software applications.
At the same time, ISO 27001 certification can be a competitive differentiator. Many partners view it as a sign of trustworthiness and commitment to information security. Customers also feel more confident in organizations that are ISO 27001 certified, as it signifies a dedication to protecting their data.
Penetration Testing is a security practice that involves systematically evaluating the security of a software system by simulating attacks on it. Proper penetration testing often requires the expertise of specialized teams or professionals who focus on software security. These experts are trained to use tools and techniques similar to those employed by hackers.
To maintain a strong security posture, organizations should conduct regular penetration testing. This practice involves examining a subset of their systems or products, often on a monthly basis. Regular testing helps ensure that any existing vulnerabilities are quickly discovered, addressed, and resolved before malicious attackers can exploit them.
In addition to software code, penetration testing encompasses the security of vendors' and partners'products. This approach allows companies to ensure that their software and its surrounding components are adequately protected.
Strengthen Your Software Security with Integrio
With the increasing complexity of cyber threats, businesses need to prioritize and implement robust security techniques to safeguard their digital assets and sensitive information. In this article, we've discussed best practices that can significantly reduce the risk of security breaches. They include staff awareness training, code reviews, using popular libraries and frameworks, static code analysis tools, ISO 27001 certification, etc.
Do you want to create a secure solution or modernize an existing one? Contact our team to discuss your business goals.