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360° of Secure Software Development Life Cycle

SSDLC is a holistic approach for integrating security practices into each software development life cycle phase. From the initial stages of planning and requirements gathering to the final stages of testing, deployment, and maintenance, SSDLC emphasizes security considerations. The objective is to identify and mitigate security risks early in development.

Like in other practices in the digital era, the software development process uses open-source tools that shorten the development process and should make the developer's life “easier.”

SSDLC aims to identify and mitigate security risks early in development by implementing practices such as; threat modeling, secure coding standards, code review, and security testing to ensure the software is inherently secured.

Why do you need a Secure Software Development Life Cycle?

There are a few reasons for Securing Software Development Life Cycle; let’s dive into three.

  1. Prevention of Cybersecurity Breaches: The first and the simplest is identifying and mitigating potential vulnerabilities early in the development process. The SSDLC can help prevent cybersecurity breaches. This will cut future costs in a case of a cyber incident. With cyber threats growing in number and sophistication, catching and fixing vulnerabilities early is more crucial than ever.

  2. Compliance: There are several industry-specific regulations and standards, such as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) for the payment card industry, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) for healthcare, and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) for data privacy in the EU. These standards require organizations to demonstrate that they have implemented specific security controls in their software development processes.

  3. Customer Requirements: Consumers are more aware of the value of their personal data and the risks of it being compromised. As such, they demand that the software is secure and protects their data effectively.

Unfortunately, having a Secure Software Development Life Cycle is not enough. And an organization developing a code must understand the difference between writing a secure code and Securing the code development environment.

SSDLC in the supply chain

The supply chain typically involves multiple layers, from the code developers who write code from scratch to third-party libraries downloaded from public domains, open-source components, and outsourced services. Each layer is a potential avenue for compromise, which makes supply chain security a complex yet necessary undertaking.

In this context, the SSDLC provides a systematic approach to identify, prevent, and mitigate security risks throughout development.

Unfortunately, many companies are exploited due to vulnerabilities in their supply chain, such as:

  1. Data Breaches: Expose the customer's data to unauthorized access or theft. This could result in significant financial losses, legal issues, and reputational damage.

  2. System Disruption: A compromised key component can lead to system failures or, disruptions in the customer's operations.

  3. Compliance Violations: A breach that occurs due to a supplier's vulnerability can result in the customer violating compliance regulations, leading to potential fines and legal repercussions.

Examples from the real world:

One of the most common examples from recent years is the SolarWinds case in 2020.

The SolarWinds hack was a supply chain attack that affected numerous government agencies and private companies. In this attack, malicious code was inserted into the software updates for SolarWinds' Orion software, a widely used network management tool. This allowed the attackers to gain access to the networks of organizations using the compromised software, leading to a significant data breach. The attack highlighted the risk posed by vulnerabilities in the software supply chain and the potential for widespread impact.

Another example is the attack on Kaseya VSA (2021).

Kaseya, a software company that provides IT management services, experienced a supply chain attack. Attackers exploited a vulnerability in Kaseya's VSA software to distribute ransomware to the networks of several of Kaseya's customers. In this case, the supplier's vulnerability directly impacted its customers, causing operational disruption.

How to Create a Secure Software Development Life Cycle

Writing Secure Code

Integrating security considerations into every stage of the software development process. Here are key strategies to reduce risks:

  1. Requirements & Design: Security requirements should be part of the initial discussions. Use threat modeling to anticipate and design against potential attacks. Privacy by design and secure by design principles should be incorporated.

  2. Development: Train your developers with secured coding practices. Security flaws like buffer overflows, SQL injection, and cross-site scripting should be avoided. Code review processes should include security checks.

  3. Testing: Implement rigorous security testing, including static and dynamic analysis, fuzz testing, and penetration testing. Use automated security tests as a part of the continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipeline.

  4. Deployment: Use secure deployment practices like digital signatures to verify software authenticity. Also, limiting the permissions and access rights for applications to the minimum number of users. Create segregated environments for developers or users.

  5. Maintenance: Regularly update and patch software to fix vulnerabilities. Use vulnerability scanning tools and subscribe to relevant security bulletins for vulnerability disclosures.

Securing the Code Development Environment

As described above, writing a secure code is vital. Securing the code development environment focuses on the environment where the software is created, tested, and deployed. It pertains to the infrastructure, systems, and practices developers use during software development. The goal is to protect the code, configurations, and associated data from threats that could compromise the security of the software.

This includes measures such as; Access Controls and Permissions, ensuring only authorized individuals have access to the development environment. It involves using secure, up-to-date tools for development, and vendor management, implementing least privilege principles, software integrity checks, and segregating different stages of the environment (development, testing, staging, production) to avoid accidental leaks or changes.

Securing the code development environment is a crucial part of overall software security. Here are several best practices to consider:

  1. Vendor Management: Vet your software vendors for their security practices. Require transparency about their security policies and incident response plans.

  2. Software Integrity Checks: Verify the software integrity and updates before installation using techniques like hash checking or digital signatures.

  3. Least Privilege Principle: Limit the access rights of applications. If compromised, applications with minimal access rights can cause less damage.

  4. Monitoring & Anomaly Detection: Monitor network and system activity for unusual behavior that might indicate a compromise.

  5. Incident Response Plan: Have a plan to respond quickly and effectively to any identified compromises.

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