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1.2 The Problem

Organizations increasingly store, process, and transmit their most sensitive information using software-intensive systems that are directly connected to the Internet. Private citizens' financial transactions are exposed via the Internet by software used to shop, bank, pay taxes, buy insurance, invest, register children for school, and join various organizations and social networks. The increased exposure that comes with global connectivity has made sensitive information and the software systems that handle it more vulnerable to unintentional and unauthorized use. In short, software-intensive systems and other software-enabled capabilities have provided more open, widespread access to sensitive information—including personal identities—than ever before.

Concurrently, the era of information warfare [Denning 1998], cyberterrorism, and computer crime is well under way. Terrorists, organized crime, and other criminals are targeting the entire gamut of software-intensive systems and, through human ingenuity gone awry, are being successful at gaining entry to these systems. Most such systems are not attack resistant or attack resilient enough to withstand them.

In a report to the U.S. president titled Cyber Security: A Crisis of Prioritization [PITAC 2005], the President's Information Technology Advisory Committee summed up the problem of nonsecure software as follows:

  • Software development is not yet a science or a rigorous discipline, and the development process by and large is not controlled to minimize the vulnerabilities that attackers exploit. Today, as with cancer, vulnerable software can be invaded and modified to cause damage to previously healthy software, and infected software can replicate itself and be carried across networks to cause damage in other systems. Like cancer, these damaging processes may be invisible to the lay person even though experts recognize that their threat is growing.

Software defects with security ramifications—including coding bugs such as buffer overflows and design flaws such as inconsistent error handling—are ubiquitous. Malicious intruders, and the malicious code and botnets1 they use to obtain unauthorized access and launch attacks, can compromise systems by taking advantage of software defects. Internet-enabled software applications are a commonly exploited target, with software's increasing complexity and extensibility making software security even more challenging [Hoglund 2004].

The security of computer systems and networks has become increasingly limited by the quality and security of their software. Security defects and vulnerabilities in software are commonplace and can pose serious risks when exploited by malicious attacks. Over the past six years, this problem has grown significantly. Figure 1-2 shows the number of vulnerabilities reported to CERT from 1997 through 2006. Given this trend, "[T]here is a clear and pressing need to change the way we (project managers and software engineers) approach computer security and to develop a disciplined approach to software security" [McGraw 2006].

Figure 1-2

Figure 1-2 Vulnerabilities reported to CERT

In Deloitte's 2007 Global Security Survey, 87 percent of survey respondents cited poor software development quality as a top threat in the next 12 months. "Application security means ensuring that there is secure code, integrated at the development stage, to prevent potential vulnerabilities and that steps such as vulnerability testing, application scanning, and penetration testing are part of an organization's software development life cycle [SDLC]" [Deloitte 2007].

The growing Internet connectivity of computers and networks and the corresponding user dependence on network-enabled services (such as email and Web-based transactions) have increased the number and sophistication of attack methods, as well as the ease with which an attack can be launched. This trend puts software at greater risk. Another risk area affecting software security is the degree to which systems accept updates and extensions for evolving capabilities. Extensible systems are attractive because they provide for the addition of new features and services, but each new extension adds new capabilities, new interfaces, and thus new risks. A final software security risk area is the unbridled growth in the size and complexity of software systems (such as the Microsoft Windows operating system). The unfortunate reality is that in general more lines of code produce more bugs and vulnerabilities [McGraw 2006].

1.2.1 System Complexity: The Context within Which Software Lives

Building a trustworthy software system can no longer be predicated on constructing and assembling discrete, isolated pieces that address static requirements within planned cost and schedule. Each new or updated software component joins an existing operational environment and must merge with that legacy to form an operational whole. Bolting new systems onto old systems and Web-enabling old systems creates systems of systems that are fraught with vulnerabilities. With the expanding scope and scale of systems, project managers need to reconsider a number of development assumptions that are generally applied to software security:

  • Instead of centralized control, which was the norm for large stand-alone systems, project managers have to consider multiple and often independent control points for systems and systems of systems.
  • Increased integration among systems has reduced the capability to make wide-scale changes quickly. In addition, for independently managed systems, upgrades are not necessarily synchronized. Project managers need to maintain operational capabilities with appropriate security as services are upgraded and new services are added.
  • With the integration among independently developed and operated systems, project managers have to contend with a heterogeneous collection of components, multiple implementations of common interfaces, and inconsistencies among security policies.
  • With the mismatches and errors introduced by independently developed and managed systems, failure in some form is more likely to be the norm than the exception and so further complicates meeting security requirements.

There are no known solutions for ensuring a specified level or degree of software security for complex systems and systems of systems, assuming these could even be defined. This said, Chapter 6, Security and Complexity: System Assembly Challenges, elaborates on these points and provides useful guidelines for project managers to consider in addressing the implications.

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