Black Hat

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

What Is Secure Programming? Learn the Basics

Deadlines are the dedicated programmer’s enemy, but they are a reality of the web development craft. In pursuing timely project turnovers, programmers must use open-source software to maintain efficiency and meet corporate projections. While OSS is a valuable tool in application building, the integration of open-source code presents security risks or vulnerabilities.  

Even without the implementation of OSS, programmers are people and people are imperfect, meaning code is often flawed, allowing for potential exploits of the application or platform. Despite the expectation of vulnerabilities in rough code, programmers must take precautions to ensure the security of an application before it goes live, which is where secure coding comes into play. What is secure programming? It is the difference between vulnerable and sophisticated applications. 

What Is Secure Programming? Definition

Secure programming, at its foundation, is the practice of creating applications or software protected against vulnerabilities. It is more complicated than it may sound, requiring the forethought of common errors that lead to exploits and uncovering the best defense methods through a comprehensive understanding of encryption and analytics.  

Through the years, security professionals discovered that only a small number of programming errors account for most vulnerabilities. Knowing these programming errors meant professionals could create secure coding standards, eliminating the risk of potential exploits with the integration of safeguards. 

Secure programming is an essential aspect of primary web design, and it is necessary to implement in early design phases. By defining project objectives and requirements, such as systems and user interfaces, programmers can make appropriate considerations for secure coding and best practices — for example, introducing security measures like static application security testing. Early implementation of SAST and other tools helps ensure security penetration across all project layers. 

Why Is Secure Programming Important?

The centerpiece of any application or software is the code or programming language used to permit functionality. Without accurate and readable code, a system will cease to operate. The problem with programming is that it is vulnerable to error, resulting in potential exploits prone to malware and malicious, unauthorized users. Secure programming, then, is the process of seeking and identifying vulnerabilities in a program’s code, thereby allowing programmers to fix and mitigate any future problems.  

Secure coding is best defined as implementing best practices — checks and balances, in this case — to strengthen the software. By scouring the code and intercepting potential errors or vulnerabilities, programmers can repair any weaknesses in the design before an application is live and cybercriminals attempt an attack. In a way, secure programming is about foresight, shoring up application defenses before opening the digital borders to external risks and threats. 

The Benefits of Having Secure Programming

As one of the most crucial components of the software development lifecycle, secure programming must transform and connect with organizational policies and procedures; it must become integral to operations and standard practices to ensure maximum benefits. By introducing and committing to secure coding best practices, an organization experiences many advantages, including: 

  • Optimized development time: Unmitigated vulnerabilities ultimately result in more time spent in development. With the adoption of security best practices, secure coding becomes integral to early development phases, allowing for faster production.  
  • Reduced failure rates: Vulnerabilities lead to failures. Identifying vulnerabilities early in the design process allows for timely repair and more confidence moving forward. 
  • Developed secure coding culture: An understanding of the importance of secure programming allows for more realistic deadlines and expectations. A development team is only as capable as management allows.  
  • Full security penetration: Secure programming installs security measures at every phase of development, even inception. Full security integration includes and results in a robust framework, access control, and education of best practices. 

Risks of Having Insecure Software

Insecure programming occurs when coding mistakes lead to risky vulnerabilities, opening the software or business to malicious attacks. Most companies experience cybersecurity attacks yearly, and many of those companies will deal with a data breach. In most cases, these organizations have insecure practices, resulting in exploitable code and vulnerable entry points into the system.  

Insecure software opens businesses up to malware and cybercriminals. Several consequences can result from poor coding or programming practices:

  • Buffer overflows
  • Code injection flaws
  • Denial of service
  • Loss of service
  • Compromised secrets
  • Damage to user systems
  • Loss of life

The DevOps environment is demanding, with many teams combatting unrealistic timelines. Companies need to understand that programming is not a rapid-fire process. Most of the time, projects require trial and error to align with predetermined outcomes. While using OSS helps to speed up the timeline, it only opens systems up to more vulnerabilities. Organizations need to prioritize security over speed to reduce their future risks. 

Secure Programming Techniques

Secure programming is vital to software and web development, and it is crucial to implement practices early in the SDLC. Waiting to secure an application until the development’s end phase can result in the identification of thousands of vulnerabilities, requiring massive rewrites and delays. To ensure that such events do not occur, programmers and organizations need to implement secure coding best practices

  • Define security requirements early 
  • Maintain simplicity of design 
  • Heed compiler warnings 
  • Validate input from untrusted sources 
  • Customize security policies to meet design objectives 
  • Use “default deny” policies 
  • Adhere to the theory of least privilege 
  • Sanitize data before sending it to other systems 
  • Develop and apply a secure programming standard  
  • Model threats 

Securing Web Applications

Traditionally, software security was more about protecting operating systems and networks against threats. However, as companies and developers began shifting focus from local designs to web-based applications, cybersecurity needed to alter its scope to Web AppSec and the creation of secure web applications. 

Web AppSec is the practice of designing websites around the core principle of functionality, with the goal being to protect assets and isolate threats without compromising function. When instituting best practices for application security, secure programmers focus on: 

  • Maintaining a security presence through all development stages 
  • Requiring input and injection validation 
  • Encrypting data 
  • Implementing exception management 
  • Applying authentication, access control, and role management 
  • Configuring at the service level 
  • Avoiding misconfigurations 
  • Implementing HTTPS 
  • Including logging and auditing at the server level 
  • Practicing effective quality assurance techniques

While implementing best practices and secure programming strategies will help eliminate many vulnerabilities, it is vital to use other tools to identify and improve programming weaknesses. Security testing is an invaluable tool to DevOps teams. Primarily, testing is performed in the application layer and involves input commands and requests to provoke errors and see how the program behaves. Successful completion of these “negative” tests helps developers identify and correct vulnerabilities in the code before launch. However, web security testing is not only about testing security features; it is also about ensuring the exposed functions of web applications are secure. SOOS can help your organization secure its applications and projects with in-depth security analysis of your open source software. With proprietary tools, the security experts at SOOS will help identify vulnerabilities and mitigate future risks. For the low monthly price of $99, sign up and start securing your developments. 

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