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Fortifying the Castle: A Quest to Secure the SDLC

Fortifying the Castle: A Quest to Secure the SDLC

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This article was written by John Campbell for

Every business is a software business today. But as the pressure to churn out new applications and features grows, so do the chances of developers making mistakes. Tackling these challenges doesn’t just require more diligent developers, it requires continuous education across the software development life cycle (SDLC).

To borrow a metaphor from Arthurian legend, it’s a never-ending battle against hidden risks and formidable adversaries. It will require security champions to share their wisdom and bring order to the kingdom.


A Kingdom Under Siege

These are dark times for those fighting the good fight. The threat landscape is a wild and unruly place where risk is everywhere, and adversaries often have the upper hand. They have the advantage of surprise and are masters at hiding in the shadows. But the threat is real. One vendor blocked over 146 billion threats last year alone.

Many of these attacks take advantage of vulnerabilities in code. It’s a problem made more acute by the widespread use of open source components by today’s developer teams. One estimate suggested that last year alone, developers made 3.1 trillion requests for these components from the top four open source ecosystems. Yet many of these components contain vulnerabilities. According to the Linux Foundation, the average application development project features 49 vulnerabilities across 80 direct dependencies. Worse are the indirect dependencies that are far harder to track and, by some estimates, account for six in every seven project vulnerabilities.

That makes software supply chain attacks and breaches far more likely, especially as threat actors are actively placing buggy components in upstream libraries with the hope they’ll be downloaded en masse. It’s also getting more likely because developers are coming under increasing pressure to deliver. It’s claimed that over half of developers handle a hundred times more code than they did a decade ago. And most are under pressure to write code faster. This increases the chance of mistakes happening, which in turn can cause significant financial and reputational damage.


Fighting Back

The answer to these mounting challenges has traditionally been to focus on “shifting left” or moving testing and scanning earlier in the SDLC. To ensure products are designed with security from the outset, it’s essential to follow “secure-by-design” principles. However, this is only half the picture. Scanning for vulnerabilities is certainly important, but even better is to ensure teams are building more robust code from the outset. Prevention is always cheaper and more effective than cure.

This is where continuous secure coding education comes in. Continuous because technology and market demands are always changing. In this dynamic world full of risk, a one-and-done approach simply doesn’t cut it. Further, courses should be extended beyond the realm of the developer to every member of the SDLC team: From project management and UX specialists to QA, product management and beyond. All must share a common goal with a common responsibility to produce more secure code. Some will be security champions who share best practices with other stakeholders. But everyone must be pulling in the same direction.


Time to Fortify the Castle

So once the kingdom has assembled its diligent developers and security champions, what’s next? With the knowledge and skills imparted through continuous training, plus additional automated checks, real progress can be made to enhance security and resilience.

If you’re familiar with the OWASP Top 10, you’ll recognize concerns such as server-side request forgery, misconfiguration, using vulnerable components and shortcomings in security logging, cryptography and software integrity. A stronger focus on foundational security practices like the principle of least privilege, separation of concerns and layered defense can mitigate these risks. Among the most prevalent threats are injection attacks, which include SQL injection and cross-site scripting. However, by using tools and having developers well-versed in strategies like input validation, parameterized queries, data cleansing and secure LDAP queries, these threats can be effectively addressed.

Above all, it’s important to remember that everyone has a part to play in fortifying the castle, in protecting the kingdom from a mounting and formidable agglomeration of threats. That means, as a baseline, that everyone should be getting some form of continuous secure coding training. There’s no time to waste.