Apply These Techniques To Improve Secure Software Development Life Cycle
Kris Nicolaou, January 27, 2023
The rapid digitization of various processes in several industries has increased businesses' need for software development services. Custom software can help companies address different conditions, such as improving internal processes or customer-facing operations.
However, one significant issue surrounding software development is cybersecurity. Many software programs, especially those used in corporate or business environments, often deal with sensitive information. For this reason, managing security risks is of paramount importance.
For example, 18 percent of Canadian businesses were impacted by cybersecurity incidents in 2021. The most common threats included theft, ransom demands, and attempts to steal personal and financial information.
With threats of data breaches running rampant, it's essential for software developers to maintain security in each step of their processes. One way to do this is through implementing a secure software development life cycle.
- A secure software development life cycle (SDLC) prioritizes security in each phase of software development.
- This framework or methodology helps improve security and increases efficiency in the development process.
- Implementing secure SDLC best practices helps development teams and stakeholders maximize the benefits of the process.
Defining a Secure Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC)
The traditional software development life cycle covers the entire software development process. It includes phases such as planning, design, prototyping, development, testing, deployment, and maintenance.
The aim is to develop a functional, efficient, and productive software application with minimal costs. However, security is often an afterthought in this development framework.
A secure software development life cycle also has similar goals to a traditional SDLC. However, this framework incorporates security in each development phase without significantly impacting costs.
Teams and stakeholders can save resources by making security an integral part of each software development phase. It also helps shorten the time needed to develop a secure and functional software product.
Development teams often implement a secure SDLC when transitioning to development security operations (DevSecOps). This process involves implementing security best practices alongside functional application development to address security issues promptly.
More than a technical approach, a secure SDLC involves significant organizational effort. Stakeholders, managers, and developers all work together to implement security practices in each project life cycle step.
The Importance of a Secure SDLC
The main goal of software development is to create functional software products that fulfill specific requirements. However, functionality is only one part of creating a viable piece of software.
Modern software has to deal with increasingly complex and secure information. Many organizations and businesses across different fields often deal with sensitive information, such as employee and customer data, proprietary information, internal processes, etc.
A secure SDLC helps ensure security in all phases of the software development process, which will reflect in the final product. It allows software development teams and company stakeholders to minimize the impact of possible vulnerabilities.
Software development is costly enough, especially for significant projects. A secure SDLC framework helps organizations prioritize security without substantial delays or added material costs.
The Five Phases of a Secure SDLC
How does a secure SDLC work? This framework usually involves five phases: planning, design and prototyping, development, testing, and deployment/maintenance.
As the name suggests, the process is a life cycle, meaning that teams can go through the phases as often as necessary. Software development is rarely static and will require continuous updates throughout its lifetime.
1. Requirement planning
The first step in any SDLC is identifying the software's required capabilities. This step will usually involve various project stakeholders, such as organizational or departmental representatives, project managers, and the software development team.
Common questions that need answers during requirement planning include the following:
- What features must the final software product have?
- What is the end goal of the software product?
- Who is going to use it?
- What are its potential security vulnerabilities?
- How can the team address these security concerns?
Identifying the stakeholders' needs and capabilities will help the team create a comprehensive roadmap with actionable goals. Since the team will use a secure SDLC framework, security concerns will be a significant part of the project's planning stage.
Aside from mapping out the project requirements, this step will also deal with logistical concerns. Budgeting, task assignments, resource allocation, and scheduling are significant parts of the process.
2. Design and prototyping
Once all stakeholders have agreed on the project requirements, the development team can begin the design phase.
Development teams don't usually have to work from scratch, especially when pressed for time and resources. In this phase, developers would use established techniques and frameworks in software development and application architecture.
Using proven frameworks can also improve standardization throughout the secure SDLC. Through these frameworks, developers can solve problems and create prototypes in a consistent manner. They can compare different technologies and find the best solution to the previously identified requirements.
Developers must address both functional and security requirements in this phase. Functional requirements involve tasks that the final software product must accomplish. Security requirements focus on issues that the final program must be able to prevent or address.
After designing the appropriate architecture for the project, the actual development stage can begin. This phase refers to the actual coding and programming step in developing the application.
Development in a secure SDLC always involves the implementation of security best practices. The team will use established secure coding guidelines and code reviews.
Code reviews help ensure that all team members adhere to established guidelines effectively. Developers can implement these reviews manually or through automated technologies, such as static application security testing (SAST).
Aside from applying established secure coding practices, developers should also ensure that all software and techniques they use, whether closed or open-source, are up-to-date.
The testing phase in a secure SDLC ensures that the final software product meets all software and security requirements. This step includes testing the software's functionality. Does it comply with the requirements established in the first phase?
A key component of testing for a secure SDLC process is testing for security. Teams usually work with Certified Ethical Hackers (CEHs) or penetration testers. Penetration testing is an excellent way to identify potential risks and vulnerabilities in the software.
During penetration testing, a professional will attempt to hack into the software system as a potential malicious hacker would. They will attempt to access supposedly secure information, breach firewalls, and deploy ransomware.
After using various standard hacking techniques, the penetration tester will report their findings and make relevant security recommendations.
The development team can use this information to fix current vulnerabilities. Testing can continue until all security concerns have been adequately addressed.
5. Deployment and maintenance
Once the app is adequately tested and passes all established requirements, it can finally undergo deployment or release. The intended users can install and use the application as intended.
However, the development team's job continues beyond deployment. No matter how thoroughly the developers may have addressed the app's vulnerabilities, some functionality or security issues may still arise.
Ongoing maintenance is essential to address possible bugs and implement necessary updates. New issues and threats may come up, especially with changing technological landscapes. Developers must create patches to address these new concerns.
The team may also have missed some issues during the testing phase. Regular assessment, maintenance, and updates can help address these concerns.
Maintenance marks the end of one cycle of secure software development. However, a secure SDLC is rarely static. Developers would likely go through the phases again as new issues, and technological enhancements become available.
Secure SDLC Best Practices
To stage a secure SDLC, stakeholders and development teams must use the appropriate frameworks, software architecture, and coding standards.
However, development teams can further maximize these resources by employing best practices. Incorporating practices such as the ones below can help improve the implementation of a secure SDLC.
A better workflow begins with the people in the development team. A security-oriented team culture makes it easier to spot and address security concerns through all phases of the SDLC.
Organizing training sessions on secure practices and frameworks helps foster a team culture geared towards cybersecurity. These sessions could cover the following topics:
- Available security frameworks
- Secure coding guidelines
- Secure coding and security awareness training
- Remediation service level agreements (remediation SLAs)
Have secure design requirements
Every software project begins with a set of requirements, and secure SDLCs are no exception. These requirements must be easy to understand, especially for the development team.
Aside from being present in the initial requirements, clarity should also be a priority when making recommendations and revisions. Precise and secure requirements help ensure proper assessments and troubleshooting.
Tackle bigger issues first
Any software project, especially ones with larger scopes, can come with several issues. Although addressing each small concern as they come up can be effective, there are more efficient ways.
To better manage your project's issues, focus on the most severe and actionable problems, then address more minor vulnerabilities. This strategy is advantageous for more extensive projects, which can be challenging to manage.
Teams could utilize a triage approach by organizing bugs or issues according to severity. Through this approach, more significant problems don't go unnoticed and affect other development phases.
Depending on the scope of the software project, the development team can involve a lot of people. Ideally, each person can perform their tasks with no issue. However, some of them may run into specific problems simultaneously.
For this reason, standardization across all phases of the secure SDLC is essential. It ensures that the team addresses all software requirements and possible issues appropriately.
Document and manage vulnerabilities
While it's true that teams should prioritize larger security issues during development, they should not ignore more minor concerns.
Timely documentation and management of possible vulnerabilities and issues help mitigate risks. With proper documentation and triaging, development teams can prevent these issues from incurring additional costs.
Benefits of a Secure SDLC
Transitioning to a secure SDLC framework can be challenging, especially if your development team has been used to a more traditional methodology.
However, organizations still take this step due to the benefits a secure SDLC can provide, such as the ones below.
Since security becomes a priority from the get-go, a secure SDLC helps reduce material costs and improves efficiency.
Teams can address significant functional and security issues within the development cycle itself. This practice helps minimize the risk of substantial issues arising further down the line, which can be costly to fix.
Prioritizing security in each step of the development process ensures better risk management and a more secure final product.
Team members are also more mindful of security best practices. Developing a more security-oriented organizational culture can prevent cyberattacks and address them effectively when they come.
Improves development strategy
Under a secure SDLC, functional and security requirements are clearly defined from the beginning. Precise requirements combined with standardized processes ensure better team dynamics and a more secure product.
Allows thoroughness and precision
Security processes in software development can be complex. Traditional SDLCs often address all security concerns in one phase. This approach can be effective, but increases the risk of missing significant issues affecting the final product.
Since a secure SDLC addresses security in all its phases, developers have more time to address possible issues. They can be as thorough as necessary, resulting in an application with fewer glaring security concerns.
Establishes a security-focused culture
Incorporating security protocols in all software development phases establishes a security-focused team culture. This type of team culture can have lasting effects on the organization.
Not only does it aid in a single project's success, but it can also be applicable and beneficial to all future projects.
Did you know?
SDLC has been in use since the 1970s. One of its earliest iterations is the Waterfall model, developed in 1970 by Winston Royce.
Implement Secure Development Processes With Brain Box Labs
Security in all software processes is critical nowadays, primarily since businesses and organizations often deal with sensitive information. Prioritizing security helps protect the organization, its employees, and its clients from malicious actors.
However, creating and managing secure software applications can be challenging, especially if the company has limited experience in the area.
In these cases, working with software development experts like our team at Brain Box Labs can help simplify the process. Our extensive experience and available talent can help organizations like yours create functional and secure applications that address your unique needs.
Prioritize secure development processes for your software projects. Contact Brain Box Labs today.