Black Hat

SOOS @ Black Hat USA 2022
August 9-11 | Booth #IC58

A Simple Guide to Secure Coding Principles

Digital security professionals recommend implementing a series of secure coding principles to reduce opportunities for cyber theft, breaches, and attacks. Though specifics may vary, applying these expert-developed guidelines can drastically improve your company’s security and minimize the damage of breakthrough attacks.

Access Control 

If you’re trying to optimize security, safelisting is the ideal approach to granting system access to outside parties. Unlike blocklisting, which permits all users except those specified, safelisting limits access to only those with explicit approval. A user without authorization can neither get into the system nor view sensitive data. 

Limiting access reduces the chances that a user will compromise security — whether by choice or accident — or that a hacker will be able to guess or steal a sensitive login key. Also, having fewer hands and eyes on critical code decreases the frequency of vulnerable coding errors or bugs. 

Authentication and Password Management

Allowing each user to access a system via individual credentials is common, but it dramatically increases opportunities for vulnerable data to be stolen. This conundrum has left developers to seek out the best ways to individualize login data without reducing security. 

One popular solution is two-factor authentication, which asks that each user provide two different forms of identification, usually a password and a one-time code. Multi-factor authentication apps simplify and secure the process of implementing 2FA. 

Communication Security

Before providing information to an outside party, software professionals must ensure that all lines of communication are confidential. Written communication pathways, such as direct messaging and email, are easy to intercept if not protected. Similarly, Voice over Internet Protocol eavesdroppers can steal critical data with ease. 

Encrypt data and verify its digital and physical security before sending it to make communication security a built-in part of your security plan. Transport Layer Security provides a safe environment for sharing sensitive and encrypted data. 

Cryptographic Practices 

Cryptographic practices usually boil down to three primary concerns: user authentication, identity verification, and data integrity. In addition to preventing cyberattacks, these cryptographic practices reduce the scope and severity of impact should a breach ever occur.

Establish company-wide policies concerning cryptographic practices, as uniformity contributes to a more stable environment. For example, use cryptographic modules to create unique passwords and keys for all users. Confirm that the codes, which are generated by an algorithm, contain a combination of random characters before using them.

Data Protection 

Data protection, or information privacy, encompasses several different forms of security, such as access control and cryptographic practices. In addition to ensuring a safe environment for developers, data protection assures public users and customers that the information they provide stays out of sight of prying eyes. 

For optimal data protection, never store passwords or sensitive keys, and remove out-of-date or unnecessary information from all systems. Providing business continuity/disaster recovery, or BCDR, assures clients that sensitive data remains in a protected location even when a system goes down. BCDR also guarantees exceptional customer service in the face of any unavoidable breaches.

Database Security 

Since its primary goal is to store confidential user, client, or customer information, every database should be configured with security in mind. The tricky part is developing policies that grant users unrestricted access to the database without introducing copious user-based vulnerabilities. 

To enhance database security, make sure users replace default login credentials as quickly as possible. Periodically remove obsolete user accounts to purge your system of unnecessary information and permissions; excessive access invites more room for digital attacks. Limit access as much as possible without restricting vital database functionality. 

Error Handling and Logging 

Writing consistently good code is one of the best ways to prevent vulnerabilities due to bugs and errors. However, since no code is perfect, error handling aims to identify and correct mistakes before they grow into substantial security threats. 

Developers rely on error handling and logging to fix bugs, explain what caused them, and suggest ways to avoid them in the future. The result is a more robust system for reducing and eliminating both current and future vulnerabilities.

File Management 

Organized and intentional file management reduces opportunities for vulnerabilities by restricting access to documentation containing sensitive data. As with system access, file management is most effective when developers limit access to files, share files in a protected environment, and delete files that are no longer needed. 

Additionally, users do not need the ability to make changes to shared files. Mark files as “read-only” so users cannot edit existing documents. This mode prevents non-developers from making changes, whether unintentionally or maliciously, that introduce vulnerabilities. 

Input Validation 

Since errors often lead to vulnerabilities, developers must check the validity and usefulness of all data entered into the system. This validation check is essential when working with a large team of users, as more people equates to more opportunities for errors. 

Input validation also helps developers stop cyber attackers in their tracks. Hackers are most successful when developers fail to monitor input data. Cybercriminals can also work their own strings into the system as legitimate data since the system itself cannot identify malicious code. 

Memory Management

Memory, like files and data, must be carefully managed to ensure optimal security. Data buffers act as a short-term storage solution since they house memory until developers identify a safe, available location to store it. As a result, setting buffer boundaries is especially important to successful memory management, as they allow for quick but careful memory allocation. 

As with other critical data, purging your system of outdated files and information frees up much-needed memory storage space. This practice serves the vital secondary purpose of reducing memory-based security risks.

Output Encoding 

Encoding is a standard security principle that involves converting HTML characters into a more secure format. The practice is similar to input validation because it encourages developers to identify coding errors before locking them into the system. 

Output encoding specifically protects against cross-site scripting, or XSS, attacks. When hackers spot XSS vulnerabilities, they can inject their data into the system and alter what users see when visiting a website. Output encoding makes this process more difficult for cyber attackers. 

System Configuration 

It’s a common saying that the best defense is a strong offense, and the same holds true for the realm of software security. Configuring a functional and secure system minimizes security risks and makes it faster and easier to search for new vulnerabilities. 

Regular system updates keep your initial system configuration running smoothly, as newer software versions and patches ensure the timely repair of vulnerability-causing bugs. This configuration is beneficial for developers who work across multiple environments. 

Session Management 

A session, or interaction between a user and a web-based application, requires careful monitoring to avoid security threats. Session management minimizes this threat by securing the request-and-response style of interactions between users and applications. 

For example, most applications ask users to provide private login credentials to gain access to their system. While this helps ward off cyber threats, it also presents an opportunity for hackers to intercept sensitive data. Session management aims to secure this exchange by logging out idle users or pressing them to update their credentials. The names and implementations of secure coding principles may vary, but these core practices maintain top-notch security for developers and users alike. Incorporate these principles into your team’s holistic security plan to avoid becoming the next victim of a catastrophic cyberattack.

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