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1.7 Managing Secure Software Development

The previous section put forth useful arguments and identified emerging evidence for the value of detecting software security defects as early in the SDLC as possible. We now turn our attention to some of the key project management and software engineering practices to aid in accomplishing this goal. These are introduced here and covered in greater detail in subsequent chapters of this book.

1.7.1 Which Security Strategy Questions Should I Ask?

Achieving an adequate level of software security means more than complying with regulations or implementing commonly accepted best practices. You and your organization must determine your own definition of "adequate." The range of actions you must take to reduce software security risk to an acceptable level depends on what the product, service, or system you are building needs to protect and what it needs to prevent and manage.

Consider the following questions from an enterprise perspective. Answers to these questions aid in understanding security risks to achieving project goals and objectives.

  • What is the value we must protect?
  • To sustain this value, which assets must be protected? Why must they be protected? What happens if they're not protected?
  • What potential adverse conditions and consequences must be prevented and managed? At what cost? How much disruption can we stand before we take action?
  • How do we determine and effectively manage residual risk (the risk remaining after mitigation actions are taken)?
  • How do we integrate our answers to these questions into an effective, implementable, enforceable security strategy and plan?

Clearly, an organization cannot protect and prevent everything. Interaction with key stakeholders is essential to determine the project's risk tolerance and its resilience if the risk is realized. In effect, security in the context of risk management involves determining what could go wrong, how likely such events are to occur, what impact they will have if they do occur, and which actions might mitigate or minimize both the likelihood and the impact of each event to an acceptable level.

The answers to these questions can help you determine how much to invest, where to invest, and how fast to invest in an effort to mitigate software security risk. In the absence of answers to these questions (and a process for periodically reviewing and updating them), you (and your business leaders) will find it difficult to define and deploy an effective security strategy and, therefore, may be unable to effectively govern and manage enterprise, information, and software security.8

The next section presents a practical way to incorporate a reasoned security strategy into your development process. The framework described is a condensed version of the Cigital Risk Management Framework, a mature process that has been applied in the field for almost ten years. It is designed to manage software-induced business risks. Through the application of five simple activities (further detailed in Section 7.4.2), analysts can use their own technical expertise, relevant tools, and technologies to carry out a reasonable risk management approach.

1.7.2 A Risk Management Framework for Software Security9

A necessary part of any approach to ensuring adequate software security is the definition and use of a continuous risk management process. Software security risk includes risks found in the outputs and results produced by each life-cycle phase during assurance activities, risks introduced by insufficient processes, and personnel-related risks. The risk management framework (RMF) introduced here and expanded in Chapter 7 can be used to implement a high-level, consistent, iterative risk analysis that is deeply integrated throughout the SDLC.

Figure 1-5 shows the RMF as a closed-loop process with five activity stages. Throughout the application of the RMF, measurement and reporting activities occur. These activities focus on tracking, displaying, and understanding progress regarding software risk.

Figure 1-5

Figure 1-5 A software security risk management framework

1.7.3 Software Security Practices in the Development Life Cycle

Managers and software engineers should treat all software faults and weaknesses as potentially exploitable. Reducing exploitable weaknesses begins with the specification of software security requirements, along with considering requirements that may have been overlooked (see Chapter 3, Requirements Engineering for Secure Software). Software that includes security requirements (such as security constraints on process behaviors and the handling of inputs, and resistance to and tolerance of intentional failures) is more likely to be engineered to remain dependable and secure in the face of an attack. In addition, exercising misuse/abuse cases that anticipate abnormal and unexpected behavior can aid in gaining a better understanding of how to create secure and reliable software (see Section 3.2).

Developing software from the beginning with security in mind is more effective by orders of magnitude than trying to validate, through testing and verification, that the software is secure. For example, attempting to demonstrate that an implemented system will never accept an unsafe input (that is, proving a negative) is impossible. You can prove, however, using approaches such as formal methods and function abstraction, that the software you are designing will never accept an unsafe input. In addition, it is easier to design and implement the system so that input validation routines check every input that the software receives against a set of predefined constraints. Testing the input validation function to demonstrate that it is consistently invoked and correctly performed every time input enters the system is then included in the system's functional testing.

Analysis and modeling can serve to better protect your software against the more subtle, complex attack patterns involving externally forced sequences of interactions among components or processes that were never intended to interact during normal software execution. Analysis and modeling can help you determine how to strengthen the security of the software's interfaces with external entities and increase its tolerance of all faults. Methods in support of analysis and modeling during each life-cycle phase such as attack patterns, misuse and abuse cases, and architectural risk analysis are described in subsequent chapters of this book.

If your development organization's time and resource constraints prevent secure development practices from being applied to the entire software system, you can use the results of a business-driven risk assessment (as introduced earlier in this chapter and further detailed in Section 7.4.2) to determine which software components should be given highest priority.

A security-enhanced life-cycle process should (at least to some extent) compensate for security inadequacies in the software's requirements by adding risk-driven practices and checks for the adequacy of those practices during all software life-cycle phases. Figure 1-6 depicts one example of how to incorporate security into the SDLC using the concept of touchpoints [McGraw 2006; Taylor 2005]. Software security best practices (touchpoints shown as arrows) are applied to a set of software artifacts (the boxes) that are created during the software development process. The intent of this particular approach is that it is process neutral and, therefore, can be used with a wide range of software development processes (e.g., waterfall, agile, spiral, Capability Maturity Model Integration [CMMI]).

Figure 1-6

Figure 1-6 Software development life cycle with defined security touchpoints [McGraw 2006]

Security controls in the software's life cycle should not be limited to the requirements, design, code, and test phases. It is important to continue performing code reviews, security tests, strict configuration control, and quality assurance during deployment and operations to ensure that updates and patches do not add security weaknesses or malicious logic to production software.10 Additional considerations for project managers, including the effect of software security requirements on project scope, project plans, estimating resources, and product and process measures, are detailed in Chapter 7.

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