Why is Secure Coding Important

Did you know that trillions of dollars worth of various damages have been incurred to the economy stemming from security incidents in the digital world alone? Did you know that security incidents like that can have real-world effects? Did you know that cybercrime has surpassed natural disasters on the global risk scale?

How about the fact that cyber-attacks occur every few seconds all over the world? Let’s add one more to the mix for good measure: software vulnerabilities are a huge risk in the world of information security. Even more perspective? Software and password vulnerabilities almost shattered the national defenses of the United States in 2020, known as the SolarWinds attack.

Why and how come? The SolarWinds incident is known to be the worst cyberattack in history and resulted from unsecured systems and easily guessable passwords that led to users downloading a malicious update. This is called a Zero-Day exploit. The victims of the attack were some of the most high-profile organizations in the Forbes 500 and the after-effects are still being felt in the industry.

Why is Secure Coding Important by

So, judging from all of this we can ascertain that software security is extremely important in protecting us all. For that reason, it is important to talk about how software is coded, and what secure and unsecured coding is. For one, insecure code can lead to software vulnerabilities. Secondly, these vulnerabilities can have huge knock-on effects like leading to horrifying Zero-Days, or more recently the Log4Shell (Log4) incident that has affected the stability of the entire internet.

What is Secure Coding?

To understand secure coding, it is first necessary to understand what software itself is. We’ve all used software at some point; your Windows or Mac operating system is software just as much as your Gmail account is. Netflix is software, and Instagram is software. Your local ATM needs software to function, too.

Software is, at its most basic level, a bunch of written code that comprises a set of instructions that then interacts with the hardware on a computer or device. It can be coded to do almost anything within the limitations of the hardware and infrastructure itself. This software code is a combination of symbols, numbers, and letters that form the basis of everything you interact with on a computer or device.

Why is Secure Coding Important

Software programs, depending on their scale, can have a couple of dozens of pages of code, or several thousands of pages of code. To code programs, sometimes dozens of people will collaboratively work on the same code, and creating software is rarely a one-man job. As far as secure coding is concerned, as per the Log4Shell example noted above, one misstep in the software code (one misconfiguration, misplaced letter, or function) can lead to catastrophic results. These are called bugs, software vulnerabilities, or software weaknesses. Since most software is still coded by humans, the possibility of errors is naturally there.

Coding in an insecure fashion means that vulnerabilities will occur, which could wipe an organization off the map, have other domino effects, as well as a compromise a lot of customers, for example. Secure coding requires several things from the developers such as complying with set standards and frameworks (like NIST), as well as understanding the following criteria;

  • Architecture and design requirements of the application
  • Code optimization and efficiency
  • Code security and safety

Furthermore, there are some other pillars in secure coding that will ensure the code is as secure as possible, such as;

  • Data Input Validation
  • Proper authentication and password management
  • Secure access control
  • Simple coding
  • Threat modeling
  • Cybersecurity measures beyond coding

What Constitutes Good Code?

As far as data input is concerned, it is crucial to determine trusted and untrusted sources when coding to avoid external data input vulnerabilities. It is also key that untrusted third-party plugins and APIs are verified if they are used in the coding process. Authentication and password management security of course also needs to be taken into account while building good code. Next, access control is critical because a lot of threats can arise from misconfigured or weak access control facets. Then, it is key to remember that the simpler the code, the better it is and the easier it is to go through if an error occurs.

Good code means more than just the technical aspect of coding itself. It goes beyond that. Secure code means that a well-trained and careful team of developers collaborate to build code with security in mind from the ground up and verify each stage of the coding process. It also means that developers are properly following the Software Development Life Cycle stages of SDLC for short. It also helps to divide the work between departments and to have a separate department that tests code security, as well as a third security audit phase. The more filters a code passes through the better. Although some companies use frameworks like ‘agile’ which is about getting code out fast and efficiently, it is always better to scrutinize a software program’s code and do multiple tests before releasing it.

Focusing solely on the functionality of an application (software program) will get code complete faster, but may come with security mishaps which is why it is important to have a ‘secure code review process. There are automated tools out there that can scan code for security flaws, and while manually doing this is much more tedious ultimately it is better in the long run.

At the very least, these following steps should ensure that code is safe overall;

  • Injection flaws checks
  • Authentication checks
  • Authorization checks
  • Improper error handling checks
  • Cryptography checks
  • Checks for insecure configurations
  • Logging and auditing
  • Filtering false positives

Having a defense-in-depth stance when it comes to coding is necessary with how risky the digital realm is nowadays. Thinking about potential vulnerabilities (like potential SQL injection bugs, out-of-bounds write or bugger/integer overflow potentialities) in the context of the application being created is a good way to think about secure coding.

Learn more from technology and development with 5 common security problems in 2022.

John Harper

#1 File Information bestselling author John Harper loves to dispel the myth that smart men & women don’t read (or write) romance, and if you watch reruns of the game show The Weakest Link you might just catch him winning the $77,000 jackpot. In 2021, Netflix will premiere Bridgerton, based on his popular series of novels about the Why Files.

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