Introduction: What is Secure Software Development?

Modern software development is faster, and products are sometimes deployed in weeks. Unfortunately, threat actors exploit this quick application production to find vulnerabilities in code. Secure software development (focus keyphrase) is a methodology that integrates security into every stage of your software development life cycle (SDLC).

Often associated with DevSecOps, secure software development bakes security into the code from the beginning rather than after testing reveals software flaws. This means security is incorporated into the software even before the first line of code.

The Benefits of a Secure Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC)

Due to the growing frequency and sophistication of cyber-attacks, many organizations have shifted their perspective to secure SDLC.

This can be as simple as protecting the database from malicious actors or as complex as applying fraud detection techniques to a qualified lead before transferring them into the organization’s platform.

Developers must prioritize security as they implement the requirements of your software. Here are some benefits a secure software development lifecycle brings:

Decreases Risks and Costs

Organizations that do not use secure SDLC will face many security issues during the software deployment phase.

This can put them under undue pressure to meet product release deadlines. So, the organization has two options: miss the deadline or release insecure software, neither of which is beneficial to business growth.

Besides, the cost of resolving errors at an early stage of development is low compared to later stages.

For example, it’s 6x and 15x more expensive to fix a bug during implementation and testing, respectively, than fixing it during design!

Prioritizing security during software development ensures that the final product is secure and protected for the end users. This will ultimately reduce other business risks, such as data breaches, financial loss, and legal and regulatory fees.

Faster and Efficient Software Development Lifecycle

With the upsurge of cyberattacks, businesses are shifting their attention to Secure SDLC. Most developers believe implementing security at every phase will slow down processes, but SSDLC does the opposite.

It provides an efficient way to integrate security into software development processes seamlessly.

Identifies and Addresses Security Issues Early

Software issues are easier to fix when detected early. This is because an undetected problem may require a total change of the software’s architecture.

No one wants that.

This is another area secure SDLC is beneficial. Applying security testing protocols in early development stages helps you detect vulnerabilities or code errors before they become complex issues.

Not only does this reduce the costs of security fixes, but it'll also save developers a lot of time and energy they would have put into addressing the problem.

Increases Security Awareness Among Stakeholders

Building software in today's competitive market is already challenging – talk less of the security aspect. Secure SDLC is beneficial because it makes stakeholders more security conscious as they work collaboratively to ensure the production of a safe application.

Establishes More Rigorous Testing

Implementing a secure SDLC allows your development team to focus on creating the best products for customers. Since software testing is performed at each stage, any bugs or issues can be effectively addressed.

When security testing is postponed, there will not be enough time to address any issues properly, which can impact software quality and, as a result, your business operations, finances, and reputation.

The NIST Secure Software Development Framework

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) developed the Secure Software Development Framework (SSDF) to guide organizations on secure coding practices that reduce security flaws.

This Framework defines fundamental secure software development strategies based on established standards from organizations like OWASP, BSA, and SAFECode.

The NIST SSDF is divided into four groups:

1. Prepare the Organization

For secure software development, people, processes, and technologies in the organization must be adequately prepared to perform secure software development.

The first objective during preparation is to ensure that everyone involved in the SDLC is aware of the security requirements for software development so that they can be taken into account as the software is developed.

Organizations must assign roles and responsibilities to the various people involved in the SDLC. This ensures that everyone involved in the SDLC, both inside and outside the organization, understands exactly what is expected of them.

Preparation also involves setting up tools for secure development, especially automation. This reduces human effort and errors. Setting key performance indicators (KPIs) is another essential aspect of preparation.

2. Protect the Software

Organizations protect all software components from unauthorized access and tampering, whether internal or external. Insecure coding practices in the source code are the most common source of security breaches.

As such, organizations must track and document all code revisions to protect the codebase. Cybersecurity professionals in secure software development must also apply secure coding practices like monitoring for leaked secrets and repos, verifying software integrity, and archiving each software release.

3. Produce Well-Secured Software

This section focuses on what must be done during the SDLC's design and development phases to build secure software. Below are some recommended practices:

  • Design the application to meet security requirements and mitigate risks. This helps to address security issues from the design phase.
  • Use the in-house cybersecurity team to review the software design and ensure it meets security requirements and standards.
  • Rather than write code from scratch, plan to reuse working and secure code.
  • Configure compilation and interpreter to build processes that guarantee executable security.
  • Manually review human-readable code to find flaws.
  • Use software tools like static application and dynamic application testing tools to find vulnerabilities without human input.
  • Configure software to have default security settings.

4. Respond to Vulnerabilities

The NIST SSDF recommends that you continuously identify vulnerabilities in your application. When more users begin to use your application after its release, you will notice many errors and bugs that were not discovered during testing. You must constantly be on the lookout for security flaws.

You must also have an approach for assessing, prioritizing, and fixing software vulnerabilities. This helps to prioritize the most serious vulnerabilities so they can be addressed first.

A combination of an incident response plan and vulnerability scanning tools can help prioritize and respond to security flaws.

After fixing a security vulnerability, it's vital to look for its root cause. That a weakness has been remediated doesn't mean similar issues won't crop up again, especially if you don't identify the root cause.

Elements of the NIST SSDF

Each of the above is defined with the following elements:

  • Practice: A brief description of the practice, as well as an identifier and a clarification of what the practice is and why it is important.
  • Task: An action or actions that may be needed to perform a practice.
  • Notional Implementation Example: A hypothetical example of the types of tools, processes, or other methods that could be used to help in task implementation.
  • Reference: A documented secure development practice and its mappings to a specific task.

Key Roles in Secure Software Development Teams

Does specializing in secure software development sound interesting? Then becoming a security software engineer or developer is an excellent career path.

Here is an overview of each role in secure SDLC to see which one might interest you:

Security Software Engineer

A security software engineer is in charge of testing and implementing security-related tools and applications and taking the lead in software design.

They use software security systems such as intrusion detection systems and firewalls to prevent leaks, taps, breaches, and other types of cyberattacks.

Here are some responsibilities of a security software engineer:

  • Tests software to find security vulnerabilities at all SDLC stages.
  • Ensures the development of reliable and secure software using security analysis, countermeasures, and defenses.
  • Prepares an application’s risk profile
  • Configures, implements, and manages networking diagnostic and threat monitoring tools, including log analytics tools.
  • Performing security duties in a DevSecOps environment.
  • Maintaining continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD) of security applications.
  • Explaining software security configurations to stakeholders and management.
  • Other key roles in secure software development specialization include System Architect, Software Engineer, Penetration Tester, Compliance Expert, Cloud Engineer, and Quality Assurance (QA) Tester.

System Architect

The system architect designs the software architecture based on security requirements.

Software Engineer

This professional develops the application’s frontend and backend using secure coding practices.

Penetration Tester

PenTesters or Ethical Hackers simulate cyber-attacks to expose and report vulnerabilities in security. They find the weaknesses that a potential cybercriminal or malware might exploit. Does this sound interesting? Here's a free Penetration Testing and Ethical Hacking course to start or advance your Pentesting career.

Compliance Expert

The Compliance Expert helps the organization meet regulatory requirements regarding software security.

Cloud Engineer

A Cloud Engineer identifies and integrates cloud computing solutions that help an organization operate efficiently and securely. This professional will also troubleshoot cloud applications whenever there are security or performance issues.

Secure software development practices help you weave security into all stages of the software development lifecycle. This reduces the chances of errors after product release and the financial implications of fixing them.
Does security in software development sound interesting to you? Then you can specialize in this cybersecurity niche through online courses and practical training.

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