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What Steps Should You Follow to Develop Secure Software

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Software developers often make the mistake of ignoring security issues in the early stages of development and focus more on coding the main features. Most wait till the latter phases before thinking about how to make their software secure – which is a big mistake.

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Unfortunately more often than not if you ignore the aspect of security until later on, security vulnerabilities will quickly pile up. More importantly once you do get round to dealing with them it will be far more difficult to track down and eliminate each and every one.

Rather than creating more work for yourself later on and potentially overlooking some security vulnerabilities, your best option is to pay attention to security right from the get go. In other words it is something that you should consider at each and every step of the software development cycle.

Security Requirements

The first step to making sure that your software is secure is to analyze the actual security requirements for the project – both technical and regulatory. This should be done in the planning phase, so that you know exactly what needs to be done right from the start.

First up you need to compile a list of possible threats, and the actions that need to be taken to mitigate them. Think of possible scenarios or misuse cases, and the best way to handle them.

Aside from that, you need to conduct a risk assessment to measure potential security risks and outline requirements in order to address them. It is best to get a security specialist to compile a risk profile for your software.

Secure Design

After you’ve hammered down the security requirements, you’ll want to incorporate them in your design document. On top of that your design must follow six main principles:

  • Least Privilege which means that people only have the bare-minimum access they need to do their job.
  • Separation Privilege that requires specific actions to only be allowed for a limited number of people who have higher privileges.
  • Complete Mediation so that every access to any resource is validated and checked for authorization.
  • Defense in Depth is a concept of creating layers of authorization verification to avoid the threat of a single point of security failure.
  • Failing Securely is a failsafe that specifies if the software stops operations it must fall into a secure state so that it isn’t vulnerable.
  • User-Friendly insofar as the security features should be obtrusive and make access more difficult or hinder the user experience.

Each of these principles is key and plays an important role in making sure the software you eventually develop is fully secure.

Secure Development

During the development phase, the main goal of your software development company should be to follow basic secure coding practices such as input validation, output encoding, password management, access control, error handling and logging, system configuration, database security, and so on.

Although these practices may be basic, it is important not to overlook them and leave hidden dangers in your code. Many of the common high-risk vulnerabilities can be plugged as long as you follow basic secure coding practices. 

It should also be noted that while these practices can reduce the risk of software vulnerabilities, you should not make the mistake of relying on them alone. That is why after you’ve written the code (or a part of it), you should put it through a code review stage.

The code review will let you identify any bugs and errors early on so that they can be fixed prior to testing. There are several ways to carry out code reviews, but what’s most important is that you’re thorough.

Testing

In the testing stage you should focus on finding potential security issues that you’re unaware of or that may be overlooked. That can be accomplished in several ways, such as:

  • Dynamic scanning tools that are automated and can simulate hacker attacks to expose vulnerabilities, or configuration errors that affect security.
  • Penetration testing run by external security professionals who will simulate possible attacks.
  • Fuzz testing that uses randomly generated inputs to check if the software can handle them and improve its protection against various attacks that use malformed input.

Sometimes developers skip or rush through the testing stage, which is definitely a big mistake. If your testing is haphazard and isn’t thorough enough, your software could have serious security issues when it goes live.

Keep in mind that you should follow up and continue to test the security of your software, even after you’ve fixed the issues that were found the first time round. The testing phase should only stop when no new issues are found.

Release and Maintenance

Even after the software has been released and gone live, there are security issues that you need to take care of. Some of the best practices that you should stick to post-production are:

  • Carry out a final security review to check for any vulnerabilities or issues that may have been missed.
  • Create an incidence response plan that outlines what should be done if and when there is a security breach or a new threat is identified.
  • Conduct ongoing security checks to identify any new vulnerabilities and correct them in advance.

To put it simply, all these steps will help ensure that your software is secure when it goes live – and continues to be secure in the future. On top of that it also creates a plan so that your team knows exactly what to do if there is a security breach.

Conclusion

Make no mistake, although it may appear that there are a lot of steps that need to be taken to develop secure software – it is well worth it. The fact of the matter is that by focusing on security from the planning phase and integrating it into your development workflow, you’ll save time and money in the long run.

After all, the extra work and cost of implementing it step-by-step are nothing compared to the cost of having to track down security vulnerabilities later on, or when a data breach occurs.