The common phrase “information is power” has never been more relevant than today. But, as we know, with great power comes great responsibility. Every business out there deals with sensitive data and is tasked with the challenge to protect it.
As an outsourcing partner, we are used to designing bespoke solutions adherent to best cybersecurity standards for our clients and acquired a lot of experience in this field.
In this article, we wanted to share the best practices we discovered to protect your company and data that you can easily incorporate.
On the spot
Cyber security in software development ensures the safety of software applications by implementing measures to safeguard against breaches. Integrating cyber security into the development process involves practices like security assessments, code reviews, and using secure programming languages.
Besides, common security challenges in software development include identifying and mitigating vulnerabilities, dealing with cyber attacks, and protecting sensitive data.
The best cyber security in software development practices are:
⦿ Secure Engineering Standards
⦿ Threat Modeling
⦿ Regular Security Testing
⦿ Secure Authentication and Authorization
⦿ Secure APIs
⦿ Secure Configuration Management
⦿ Code Reviews and Peer Testing
⦿ Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) Security
⦿ Security Awareness Training
⦿ Incident Response Planning
⦿ Regular Updates and Maintenance
Read more about these practices in our article and incorporate them in your software development!
What is the role of cyber security in software development?
Cyber security is the practice of protecting computer systems, networks, and data from unauthorized access, damage, or threats.
In software development, it plays a crucial role in safeguarding software applications against potential security breaches. It involves implementing security controls and measures to mitigate risks and ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data and systems.
What are the common security challenges in software development?
Identifying and mitigating software vulnerabilities
Identifying and mitigating software vulnerabilities is crucial. The most common include insecure authentication mechanisms, poor input validation, and inadequate error handling. Developers can reduce the risk of these vulnerabilities by implementing secure coding practices and conducting regular security audits.
Dealing with cyber attacks and threats
Cyber attacks and threats pose significant challenges to software. Developers should be proactive to detect and respond to these attacks effectively. This involves implementing intrusion detection systems, conducting penetration testing, and staying updated with the latest security threats and attack techniques.
Protecting sensitive data through proper network security
Protecting sensitive data is paramount in software development alike. This can be achieved through adopting proper network security measures, such as implementing firewalls, intrusion prevention systems, and secure communication protocols. Encrypting data in transit and at rest can further enhance the security of the software.
How can software development teams improve application security?
It’s well understood that ensuring cyber security is a critical aspect of protecting digital assets, user data, and maintaining the trust of customers and stakeholders.
Implementing the following best practices throughout the software engineering lifecycle
1. Secure engineering standards
Train developers to write secure code that avoids common vulnerabilities like SQL injection, cross-site scripting (XSS), and insecure authentication.
The first step in this direction is creating a set of guidelines and standards. These should cover various aspects of the secure software development lifecycle like input validation, output encoding, secure authentication mechanisms, data storage, and encryption.
Next, document your practices. Documentation will guide your developers and help define measurable KPIs to ensure compliance. You can create them in any form: cheat sheets, code snippets, or examples.
Finally, make sure your engineering resources also comply with your standards to ensure cyber security in software development.
2. Threat modeling
Threat modeling is a structured process used to identify, assess, and mitigate potential cyber threats and vulnerabilities in software. It involves systematically analyzing the potential attack vectors and risks that could compromise the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data and systems. It's a vital part of cyber security in software development.
The goal of this process is to proactively identify and address security issues during the design and development phases, rather than attempting to fix them after deployment.
Conduct modeling exercises to identify potential security risks early in the project development. As said, analyze potential attack vectors and design appropriate mitigations to address them.
Here are the stages of a threat modeling process:
- Identifying Assets: Determine the valuable assets, data, components, and functionalities within the system that need protection.
- Creating a System Overview: Develop a high-level representation of the system's architecture, including its components, interactions, and data flow.
- Identifying Threats: Identify potential threats and attack vectors that could exploit vulnerabilities in the system. These can range from technical to human-related risks.
- Assessing Vulnerabilities: Analyze the system components and design to identify the vulnerabilities that could be exploited by the identified threats.
- Rating and Prioritizing Threats: Assign a risk rating to each identified peril based on factors like potential impact, likelihood of occurrence, and the value of the asset being targeted. Prioritize the most critical ones for mitigation.
- Defining Countermeasures: Determine and document specific countermeasures or security controls that can mitigate or prevent each identified threat. These could include design changes, code modifications, security configurations, or additional safeguards.
- Iteration and Review: Continuously refine the threat modeling as the system evolves or new threats emerge. Regularly review and update it to ensure relevance and effectiveness.
By regularly conducting threat modeling exercises, you can proactively identify potential security risks at an early stage and design robust mitigations to address them. It's a great way to strengthen your cyber security in software development practices.
3. Regular security testing
To improve your cyber security in software development, perform frequent security testing, including static analysis (SAST) and dynamic analysis (DAST), to identify and fix vulnerabilities before deployment.
Here's a brief explanation of these testing methodologies and their main differences:
SAST is a white-box method that analyzes the source code, bytecode, or binary code of an application without executing it. It examines the app's internal structure, data flows, and control flows to identify potential security vulnerabilities.
DAST is a black-box testing method that simulates real-world attacks by interacting with a running instance of the application. It focuses on identifying vulnerabilities that can be exploited during runtime, such as input validation issues, injection attacks, and authentication bypasses.
An ultimate scenario with maximal efficiency is applying interactive application security testing (IAST) and runtime application self-protection (RASP) for real-time defense.
IAST combines elements of both SAST and DAST. It aims to provide a more accurate and comprehensive assessment of an application's security vulnerabilities by analyzing code in a runtime environment.
For its part, RASP is a technology that embeds cyber security controls directly into the application's runtime environment. Unlike other measures that focus on external protection, RASP operates from within the application itself, actively monitoring and defending against potential threats and attacks in real-time.
Establish a solid process for tracking and addressing vulnerabilities. Create a system for patch management and stay informed about the latest security patches and updates for third-party libraries and components.
4. Secure authentication and authorization
One of the tenets of cyber security in software development is that your inner-company passwords should be as protected as the data of your clients. It's always a good idea to implement strong authorization mechanisms, such as multi-factor authentication, for example, requiring a password and a unique code to log into a company's account.
To make sure you don't foster opportunities for security breaches, follow the principle of least privilege when assigning access rights. Restrict user access permissions to only what they need to perform their job responsibilities.
It's important to regularly review and update access policies to ensure they reflect changes in roles and functions.
One of the main principles of cyber security in software development is encryption. When it comes to data at rest, meaning the one stored or archived, employ encryption ensures to keep it unreadable even if it’s compromised. This is achieved by converting the plaintext data into ciphertext using encryption algorithms. The encrypted data can only be deciphered with the correct encryption key, acting as a digital lock.
Similarly, data in transit, i.e. the one being transmitted over networks or between systems, also needs to be encrypted to prevent eavesdropping or interception. Encryption will make it difficult for attackers to gain access or manipulate the information, ensuring it remains secure while traveling.
To effectively protect sensitive data, implement strong encryption algorithms such as Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), which is widely recognized and recommended for its security. AES uses symmetric encryption, where the same key is used for both ciphering and deciphering. Additionally, ensure keeping up with the latest encryption standards and practices, as stronger algorithms may emerge over time.
Key management is another critical aspect of encryption. It involves securely generating, distributing, and storing encryption keys. Utilize secure practices such as generating random and unique keys, periodically rotating them, and storing them in a secure location separate from the encrypted data.
6. Secure APIs
Secure APIs are another way to provide cyber security in software development. If your software interacts with external systems or provides APIs, you need to secure them against attacks like injection, parameter manipulation, and authentication bypass as well.
To do this, you can follow these key steps:
- Validate and sanitize user inputs and external data. Check for data type, format, and length. Sanitize inputs by removing harmful characters before processing.
- Use prepared statements or parameterized queries in databases to prevent SQL injection. Separate SQL code from data for safer interaction.
- Secure APIs with methods like API keys, OAuth, or JWTs. Authenticate and control access for incoming requests.
- Develop secure error handling and logging to avoid exposing sensitive information. Provide meaningful error messages while maintaining confidentiality.
- Keep software, libraries, and dependencies updated for the latest security patches and fixes.
- Encrypt data transmission using HTTPS and secure protocols to ensure data confidentiality and integrity.
7. Secure configuration management
It's vital to remember about all the elements of your software infrastructures such as configurations for servers, databases, and other components.
Maintaining secure configurations for servers, databases, and other components is crucial for a robust security posture. Here are some key steps to follow:
- Disable unnecessary services: Review the services running on your servers and disable any that are not needed for your specific environment. Each running instance increases your attack surface, so it's essential to minimize them to only those required.
- Apply security patches: Keep your systems up to date with the latest security patches. Regularly check for updates provided by the vendors and promptly apply them to fix any known vulnerabilities.
- Follow hardening guidelines: Implement hardening guidelines specific to your operating system, databases, web servers, or any other components used in your infrastructure. These guidelines provide a set of best practices and configurations that minimize security risks.
- Regular security audits: Perform regular security audits to identify and rectify any deviations from your secure configuration standards. Automated vulnerability scanning tools and manual configuration reviews can help uncover any weaknesses.
- Use secure defaults: Configure your components to follow secure default configurations. Many vendors provide secure presets that are recommended for installation. Review these settings and customize them based on your specific needs.
- Backup and disaster recovery: Implement regular backups and disaster recovery plans to ensure business continuity in case of any security incident or data loss.
By following these steps, you can maintain a secure configuration for your servers, databases, and other components, reducing the risk of a security breach. This improves your company's cyber security in software development.
8. Code reviews and peer testing
Conduct regular code reviews and encourage peer testing, collaborative efforts can help identify and address vulnerabilities early.
Code reviews help ensure the work done is fail-proof and safe by reviewing it with a fresh eye. By regularly conducting them, developers can catch vulnerabilities that might have been overlooked initially.
Peer testing, on the other hand, involves having other developers or team members test the software independently to find any flaws or security loopholes. A stranger’s perspective also significantly adds to the code’s security.
Encouraging a regular collaborative approach to code reviews and peer testing will greatly improve the effectiveness of identifying and addressing security threats. It will allow for catching issues early in the process and minimizing the risk of vulnerabilities slipping into production.
9. Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) security
CI/CD are the practices and processes that aim to improve the efficiency, quality, and speed of software development and deployment.
Continuous Integration (CI): CI involves the frequent integration of code changes from multiple developers into a shared repository. Each time a developer makes a commit, automated build and testing processes are triggered to quickly detect and address any possible integration issues, such as conflicting changes or broken builds. CI ensures that the codebase is always in a stable and functional state, peeding up delivery by saving time for fixing errors.
Continuous Deployment (CD) / Continuous Delivery: CD is the practice of automatically deploying code changes to production or staging environments after passing through the CI process. Continuous Delivery refers to automatically preparing code changes for deployment, ensuring they are in a deployable state at any time. Continuous Deployment, on the other hand, goes a step further by fully automating the deployment process, and pushing code changes to production as soon as they pass all tests and checks.
To implement CI/CD, development teams typically use various tools and technologies, such as version control systems (e.g., Git), automated build and testing tools (e.g., Jenkins, Travis CI, CircleCI), containerization platforms (e.g., Docker), and deployment orchestration tools (e.g., Kubernetes). These tools work together to automate the entire software development lifecycle, from code changes to deployment.
10. Security awareness training
Security awareness training helps create a more security-conscious and proactive development team, ultimately leading to the creation of more secure and resilient software applications. It is an essential component of an overall cybersecurity strategy for any organization engaged in software development.
The primary goal of this training is to equip employees with the skills and knowledge necessary to identify, address, and prevent security vulnerabilities and threats throughout the software development lifecycle.
There is no cyber security in software development without proper training and education. Educate developers and other team members about security best practices, emerging threats, and the importance of maintaining a security-first mindset. You can start by sharing this article with them!
11. Incident Response planning
Incident Response planning refers to the systematic and pre-defined approach that an organization follows to effectively detect, respond to, mitigate, and recover from cybersecurity incidents, data breaches, and other unexpected events that could compromise the security and integrity of its systems, data, and operations.
It involves several key components:
- Preparation: This phase involves establishing an incident response team, defining roles and responsibilities, and creating a detailed incident response plan. The plan outlines the steps to be taken during different types of incidents, specifies communication protocols, and identifies the necessary tools and resources.
- Detection and Analysis: Organizations implement monitoring and detection mechanisms to identify the signs of potential incidents. When one is detected, it is analyzed to understand its nature, scope, and potential impact.
- Containment: Once the incident is confirmed, the primary focus is on containing the damage and preventing it from spreading further. This might involve isolating affected systems, disabling compromised accounts, or taking other measures to limit the incident's impact.
- Eradication: In this phase, the root cause of what’s happened is identified and eliminated. Vulnerabilities that were exploited are patched, compromised systems are cleaned, and corrective actions are taken to prevent similar incidents in the future.
- Recovery: The goal of the recovery phase is to revive normal business operations as quickly as possible. This may involve restoring data from backups, reconfiguring systems, and ensuring that they are secure before being brought back online.
- Lessons Learned: After the incident is resolved, a thorough post-incident analysis is conducted to understand what happened, why it happened, and how it can be prevented in the future. This analysis helps improve response procedures and enhance overall cybersecurity measures.
- Communication: Clear and timely communication is crucial throughout the incident response process. Internal teams, external stakeholders, customers, and possibly regulatory authorities need to be informed appropriately and kept up-to-date on the situation.
- Documentation: Detailed documentation of the incident, response actions taken, and lessons learned are hugely important for future reference, compliance, and continuous improvement of incident response plans.
Develop a robust response plan to address security breaches effectively.
Remember that these plans should be tailored to the specific needs and risks of each organization. Besides, regular updates and adjustments should be made to address emerging threats and changes in the organization's infrastructure and environment.
12. Regular updates and maintenance
Speaking of updating and maintenance, keep up to date with the latest cybersecurity news, trends, and emerging threats. This knowledge empowers you to proactively address potential vulnerabilities in your software and adjust security measures accordingly.
By following these rules, you can minimize the risk of security breaches and ensure the continued integrity and protection of your software.
What are the best cyber security practices for outsourcing software development?
When outsourcing software development, it is crucial to ensure cyber security. This can be achieved by selecting a reliable outsourcing partner with a strong focus on this.
Reliable outsourcing partners understand the value of security and its impact on their reputation, so they’ll happily share all the information and certifications showcasing their security expertise.
Here are some ways we at SENLA ensure security when working with our Clients:
- Define clear security requirements: Clearly outline the security requirements and expectations for the custom software development project. This includes data protection, access controls, encryption, and any other specific security measures that are necessary for the project.
- Conduct a risk assessment: Assess the potential risks and vulnerabilities associated with the project. Identify and prioritize the potential threats and determine which security measures are needed to mitigate those risks.
- Establish a secure communication channel: Set up a secure communication channel between your organization and the outsourcing partner. This can include using encrypted messaging apps, VPNs, or secure file-sharing platforms to protect sensitive information exchanged during the development.
- Implement secure development practices: Ensure that your partner follows secure coding practices, such as adhering to secure coding standards and conducting regular code reviews to identify and address vulnerabilities.
- Regularly monitor and test security: Continuously monitor and test the security of the software throughout the development. This can involve conducting regular security assessments, penetration testing, and vulnerability scanning to identify and address any potential security weaknesses.
- Secure hosting and infrastructure: If the outsourced software will be hosted on a server or cloud infrastructure, ensure that the hosting provider has robust security measures in place. This includes measures like firewall configuration, intrusion detection systems, and regular security updates.
- Secure data handling and storage: Define how sensitive data will be handled and stored throughout the process. Implement measures such as data encryption, regular data backups, and access controls to protect sensitive information from unauthorized access or data breaches.
- Contractual agreements: Include specific security clauses in the contract with the partner. This can include confidentiality agreements, data protection clauses, and requirements for the partner to comply with specific security standards or certifications.
- Continual communication and collaboration: Maintain open lines of communication with the outsourcing partner. This includes discussing security concerns, addressing any security-related issues promptly, and actively collaborating on security-related decisions and measures.
By following these steps, you will ensure the cyber security of custom software development and minimize the risk of data breaches or other security incidents.