Secure SDLC 101

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Most organizations have an efficient workflow to create, release and maintain software. Usually, the highest priority is given to quality assurance testing over security testing. However, the increasing concerns and business risks associated with insecure software have brought increased attention to the need to integrate security into the development process.

What Is Secure SDLC?

A secure software development lifecycle (secure SDLC) involves embedding security assurance into all stages of software development.

A software development lifecycle (SDLC) is a framework that defines the different stages that a software product goes through from beginning to end of its life.

A typical SDLC involves the following stages:

  1. Planning — feasibility study of the project and resource allocation
  2. Analysis — definition of project goals and setting functional requirements
  3. System design-structuring the hardware and software components of the project, and defining detailed specifications
  4. Development — the software development team writes the code
  5. Testing-verification that the software is working according to all specifications in all possible modes and scenarios
  6. Maintenance — the product is delivered to end-users and is regularly updated to fix bugs and add new features

Traditionally, the common practice was to perform security-related activities only as part of testing, rather late in the SDLC. This led to a high number of issues discovered late in the SDLC flow. A better practice to discover and reduce vulnerabilities early is to integrate security activities across the SDLC.

A Secure SDLC process ensures that security assurance activities such as penetration testing, code review, and architecture analysis are an integral part of the software development process.

Why You Should Switch to a Secure SDLC

There are a number of reasons for companies to incorporate Secure SDLC methodologies into their development strategy. Early integration of security within the SDLC results with early detection and resolution of security vulnerabilities.

Advantages of adopting a secure SDLC approach inlcude:

  • Cost reduction — by reducing the technical debt accumulated by an insufficiently secure SDLC, you can also save time and money later on.
  • More secure software — security is treated as a continuous concern, which reduces the number of vulnerabilities in your code.
  • Awareness of security considerations — project stakeholders become more involved in the process.
  • Early detection — detecting flaws in the system sooner enables you to fix it with minimal impact on schedules.
  • Reduced risk — overall reduction of intrinsic business risks for the organization.
  • Speed — quicker time to market without compromising security vulnerabilities.

How Can We Make Our SDLC Secure?

One of the basic principles of the secure SDLC is incorporating security practices and tools throughout the software development lifecycle, starting from the earliest stages. Each stage in the SDLC requires its own security enforcements and tools.

Throughout all stages, automated detection and remediation tools can be integrated with your team’s Integrated Development Environment (IDE), code repositories, build servers, and bug tracking tools to address potential risks as soon as they arise.

Here are the six stages you should follow when you migrate from SDLC to Secure SDLC:

  1. Planning — in the planning stage, developers and security experts are involved in early product exploration to build an initial risk assessment. They should consider the common risks that might require attention during development, and prepare for it.
  2. Analysis — in the analysis stage decisions are made regarding the technology, frameworks, and languages that will be used. Security experts should consider the vulnerabilities of the chosen tools in order to make the appropriate security decisions throughout design and development.
  3. System design — in the system design stage, teams should follow the architecture and design guidelines to address the risks that were already considered and analyzed during the previous stages. When vulnerabilities are addressed early in the design stage, you can successfully ensure they won’t damage your software in the development stage. Processes like to identify risks in the architecture and what resources could be compromised
  4. Development — during the development stage, teams need to make sure they use secure coding standards. While performing the usual code review to ensure the project has the specified features and functions, developers need to also pay attention to any security vulnerabilities in the code. It is necessary to establish secure coding practices among developers through guidelines and awareness campaigns. Organizations can also procure automatic code review tools to ensure security.
  5. Testing — when you test your software, you should always include security testing. It is a recommended practice to use automated DevSecOps tools to improve application security.
  6. Maintenance — security practices need to be followed throughout software maintenance. Products need to be continuously updated to ensure it is secure from new vulnerabilities and compatible with any new tools you may decide to adopt. Remember that security testing does not stop at the development stage. While your teams might have been extremely thorough during testing, real life is never the same as the testing environment. Be prepared to address new risks evolving during the maintenance period of your software product.

Cloud security

An important aspect of secure development is the security of the computing environment in which developers and security teams operate. Agile development practices typically rely on some form of cloud environment, whether in a public, private or hybrid deployment, which often means that there is less control over the computing resources.

Furthermore, in a cloud environment, there is no security perimeter in the traditional sense. Another related aspect is the compatability of legacy software components in the new environment. Vulnerable applications can no longer rely on the isolation of an on-premise data center, so it is important to either upgrade or replace them when moving to the cloud. A well-planned cloud migration strategy should help you move your development lifecycle to the cloud, while protecting the integrity of your software.

Open-source security

Another risk that needs to be addressed to ensure a secure SDLC is that of open source components with known vulnerabilities. Since software products contain open-source code, it is important to pay attention to open source security management throughout the SDLC.

Automated tools that are dedicated specifically to continuously tracking open source usage can alert developers to any open source risks that arise in their code, and even provide actionable solutions.

Wrap Up

The challenge to offer your customers secure products and services, while keeping up with specifications and aggressive deadlines, can be answered with secure SLDC.

In this article, we’ve explained what secure SDLC is, what are the advantages of implementing it, and how it is integrated into SDLC.

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Ilai Bavati

I’m a tech writer and editor based in Tel Aviv, with interests ranging from history and politics to AI and design.