The majority of vulnerabilities originate in the source code of an application or program. Malicious users can easily exploit flaws or errors in a program’s code to take control of the program and use it for their own personal gain.
Fortunately, the majority of common software security flaws can be avoided by adhering to well-established secure coding standards such as OWASP and SEI Cert. Several of the most critical components of secure coding are as follows:
- Exploits for security vulnerabilities demonstrate just how vulnerable software code can truly be. The software code that makes your application work is at its heart. If your code contains security flaws, your entire application may be vulnerable to cyberattacks.
- A quick scan of recent technology headlines demonstrates how frequently security flaws in software are exploited by unauthorized users.
- Apple and Google, two large technology companies, both disclosed vulnerabilities in their respective operating systems. Even Red Hat, an IBM subsidiary that provides open-source software, disclosed an exploitable vulnerability in its Linux Enterprise version.
- Preventing cybersecurity incidents, which can result in the leakage of sensitive data and other personal information, begins with the source code itself. We’ll discuss what secure coding is, why it’s important, and the best secure coding practices in this article.
What Is the Importance of Secure Coding?
Coding, or computer programming, is the process of creating executable programs in a computer-interpretable language. When a software developer writes this source code, they must consider a number of factors, including the following:
Security and safety in the code
By adhering to certain best practices and guidelines referred to as secure coding standards, developers and programmers can make it easier to weed out common vulnerabilities in their software.
Adopting secure coding practices is critical because it eliminates commonly exploited software vulnerabilities and protects against cyberattacks. Additionally, optimizing for security from the start helps minimize long-term costs associated with the leakage of sensitive user information as a result of an exploit.
Despite the critical nature of secure coding, software vulnerabilities are widespread. According to a search of the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) vulnerability list, there were 40,569 application vulnerabilities discovered in the last three years.
We’ve compiled a list of some of the best secure coding practices below in an effort to reduce software vulnerability and make computer programs more secure for everyone!
How Do You Securely Code?
There is a wealth of information available on secure coding best practices. The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP), for example, has developed a set of guidelines to assist developers in mitigating common software security vulnerabilities. Similarly, the SEI CERT secure coding standards define ten secure coding best practices that programmers can incorporate to ensure application security is maximized.
- Validation of data entry
- This covers a wide range of data source and input validation issues. The majority of security threats originate from external data inputs, such as cross-site scripting, buffer overflows, and injection attacks. As a result, it is critical to establish security policies that govern which sources are to be trusted and how untrusted data will be verified.
- Authentication and management of passwords
- Restricting program access to authorized users is an effective method of preventing cyber-attacks and data breaches. Several authentication and password management best practices include the following:
- Using a trusted system to hash passwords
- Enforcing minimum requirements for password length and complexity
- Authentication credentials are stored on a trusted server.
- Utilization of two-factor authentication
- Control of access
- Access control and authentication work in tandem to ensure that a malicious user cannot easily gain access to a targeted system. As a general rule, it is preferable to use a default-deny approach, which means that users who are unable to demonstrate authorization should be denied access. For web applications with lengthy log-in periods, the code should require periodic re-authorization to ensure continued access.
- Maintain simplicity
- While this may seem counterintuitive, maintaining simple and clean code is an excellent way to ensure its security. This is because complex designs make it more likely for vulnerabilities to be introduced into the code. When writing software, developers should avoid superfluous complexities and include only what is absolutely necessary.
- Cryptographic techniques
- The secure coding standards mentioned previously emphasize the critical nature of implementing effective cryptographic processes to safeguard application user secrets. To ensure that random values generated as part of the cryptographic process are unguessable, they should be generated using an approved random number generator.
- Handling and logging of errors
- Even the best-written code is prone to errors. What matters is that when an error occurs, it is quickly identified and corrected to limit its impact. Accurate error identification is contingent upon effective logging of all code events. Developers can access these logs to troubleshoot any resulting errors. However, exercise caution when including sensitive information in error messages or logs!
- Data security
- The majority of cyber attacks are conducted with the intent of gaining access to sensitive data. As a result, it’s unsurprising that data protection is a critical component of secure coding requirements. Several useful pointers for effectively protecting data include the following:
- Adherence to the principle of least privilege, i.e. code elements should execute with the fewest possible privileges required to perform the task
- Delete temporary or cached copies of sensitive data stored on the server on a regular basis
- On the client side, avoid storing passwords and connection strings in clear text or in any other non-encrypted format.
- Modeling of threats
- Protecting yourself against threats you are unaware of is difficult, if not impossible. This highlights the critical nature of threat modeling. It entails identifying potential threats and then developing countermeasures to eliminate or mitigate them. Regular threat modeling exercises should be conducted to ensure that no new risks are missed
Beyond the realm of coding
By following the guidelines above, you should be able to eliminate the majority of vulnerabilities that originate in the code itself. Nevertheless, ensuring the security of your code is an ongoing process that requires constant vigilance. Additional areas that must be considered as part of a holistic approach to secure code development include the following:
A “least privilege” system: Restricting access to any code to only those with a need-to-know basis helps prevent injection attacks. This is especially challenging when working with outsourced developers or development firms.
Continue layering defensive strategies as the code is promoted to production. Assemble secure runtime environments that are as robust as your code.
Maintain a high standard of quality assurance by utilizing various assurance programs such as code reviews and PEN testing.
Recognize how the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) can be applied to secure coding. Utilizing an SDLC approach will assist you in ensuring that security is applied throughout the development lifecycle.