Home > Articles > Security > General Security and Privacy

Software [In]security: vBSIMM (BSIMM for Vendors)

  • Print
  • + Share This
It's tough enough to build secure software inside of your own firm, but how do you ensure that your third-party software vendors practice good software security? As software security expert Gary McGraw explains, the Building Security In Maturity Model (BSIMM) can play a central role in this effort.
Like this article? We recommend

Software security involves some thorny issues: how to train thousands of developers, how to review millions of lines of code, what exactly constitutes architecture risk analysis, and so on. Things are tough enough when you are charged with building secure software inside of your own firm, but what about all the third-party software you rely on that others produce? How do you ensure that your software vendors (including both those who build code especially for you and commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) vendors) practice good software security in a way that doesn't damage your business? Originally conceived as a way to measure software security initiatives, the BSIMM can play a central role.

We have covered the BSIMM extensively in this column (for one example, see the May 2010 article introducing BSIMM2). Here, we introduce a compact version of the BSIMM for vendors called vBSIMM that leverages the power of attestation. You can think of vBSIMM as a foundational security control for vendor management of third-party software providers.

Why Third-Party Software Matters

Every modern enterprise uses lots of third-party software. Some of this third-party software is custom built to specifications, some of it is COTS, and some lives in the cloud as part of a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model. Many big firms, especially in the financial services vertical, are working hard on software security and are looking for ways to identify and manage the risk of third-party software.

Ideally, we could directly measure a piece of software with a "security-meter" and determine whether or not it is suitable. You know, stick the software in a magic box and see whether the green light or the red light turns on. Unfortunately, this is a technical impossibility (see, for example, the Halting Problem). In the end, even the most extensive penetration testing and/or static analysis regimen is simply a badness-ometer. It is very nice to know that a piece of software you are thinking of buying may be missing one or two silly bugs, but don't overlook the fact that the OWASP top ten makes a pretty lousy badness-ometer.

Because of the badness-ometer problem, we retreated from the direct measurement of software security to observing software security activities in the lifecycle (that is SDLC + touchpoints) in the BSIMM project. The notion is to gain a clear understanding of the role that security plays in a firm's SDLC (or, more realistically, its multiple SDLCs). As an example, the BSIMM has been used to measure Microsoft's SDL efforts twice.

The BSIMM contains 109 activities divided into 12 practices built through the process of observing 33 firms. To date, we have made over 60 measurements with the BSIMM and validated its utility with hardcore statistical analysis. A direct BSIMM measurement can shed plenty of light on a software security initiative and can even be used to compare business units, firms, and verticals. Ultimately, a BSIMM score provides objective evidence of software security controls embedded in an SDLC.

Vendor Control in the BSIMM: Measuring Yourself

The BSIMM includes five specific activities (out of 109) that are relevant to controlling the software security risk associated with third-party vendors. These are worth calling out because they are activities that should be performed by all firms acquiring third-party software. They are:

  1. Compliance & Policy activity 2.4: Paper all vendor contracts with SLAs compatible with policy. Vendor contracts include a service level agreement (SLA) ensuring that the vendor will not jeopardize the organization's compliance story. Each new or renewed contract contains a standard set of provisions requiring the vendor to deliver a product or service compatible with the organization's security policy.
  2. Compliance & Policy activity 3.2: Impose policy on vendors. Vendors are required to adhere to the same policies used internally. Vendors must submit evidence that their software security practices pass muster. Evidence could include code review results or penetration test results.
  3. Standards and Requirements acivity 2.1: Communicate standards to vendors. The software security group (SSG) works with vendors to educate them and promote the organization's security standards. A healthy relationship with a vendor cannot be guaranteed through contract language. The SSG engages with vendors, discusses the vendor's security practices, and explains in concrete terms (rather than legalese) what the organization expects of the vendor. Any time a vendor adopts the organization's security standards, it's a clear win.
  4. Standards and Requirements activity 2.5: Create SLA boilerplate. The SSG works with the legal department to create standard SLA boilerplate for use in contracts with vendors and outsourcing providers. The legal department understands that the boilerplate helps prevent compliance or privacy problems. Under the agreement, vendors and outsourcing providers must meet company software security standards.
  5. Training 3.2: Provide training for vendors or outsource workers. The organization offers security training for vendors and outsource providers. Spending time and effort helping suppliers get security right is easier than trying to figure out what they screwed up later on. In the best case, outsourced workers receive the same training given to employees.

Every firm that acquires third-party software (whether custom, COTS, or anything in between) should take the time to determine how well they are performing these five activities with each supplier. If the answer is "not very well" or "not at all," there should be urgency to improve, especially with respect to the providers of your most critical applications.

Now that you have an idea of the maturity with which your firm deals with software vendors, we can turn to the problem of measuring the maturity with which the software vendors deal with the security of the software they provide. Probably the most effective third-party vendor software risk management approach would be to ask for an objectively-determined BSIMM score from each third-party vendor. With seven major software vendors currently part of the BSIMM Community (Adobe, Google, Intuit, Microsoft, SAP, Symantec, and VMware), this may work in some cases.

The problem is that getting a real BSIMM measurement is heavyweight and takes time. Firms wanting a lightweight alternative to use with their smaller or less critical third-party vendors (not already part of the BSIMM Community) can consider vBSIMM an easier route with a much lower bar.

vBSIMM: Measuring Vendors

Of the twelve practices in the BSIMM Software Security Framework (see below), notice that the five activities above recommended for internal measurement are clustered in Governance (Compliance and Policy, Training) and Intelligence (Standards and Requirements). This is one of the reasons we have chosen to emphasize five different practices in the vendor-focused vBSIMM approach. They are: Architecture Analysis, Code Review, Security Testing, Penetration Testing, and Configuration Management & Vulnerability Management.

Governance

Intelligence

SDL Touchpoints

Deployment

Strategy and Metrics

Attack Models

Architecture Analysis

Penetration Testing

Compliance and Policy

Security Features and Design

Code Review

Software Environment

Training

Standards and Requirements

Security Testing

Configuration Management and Vulnerability Management

Within these five practices, there are 13 level one (easy) activities in the BSIMM model, broken out as follows: Architecture Analysis (4), Code Review (3), Security Testing (2), Penetration Testing (2), and Configuration Management & Vulnerability Management (2). Of these 13 activities, six are very commonly observed and we will refer to these as the six core activities.

The vBSIMM analysis involves a self-assessment (with legal attestation) of the 13 activities, with a special emphasis on the six core activities. Here's how it works.

The six core vBSIMM activities that we feel should probably be carried out by any third-party vendor are as follows:

  1. Architecture Analysis activity 1.1: Perform security feature review. To get started with architecture analysis, center the analysis process on a review of security features. Reviewers first identify the security features in an application (authentication, access control, use of cryptography, etc.) then study the design looking for problems that would cause these features to fail at their purpose or otherwise prove insufficient. At higher levels of maturity this activity is eclipsed by a more thorough approach to architecture analysis not centered on features.
  2. Code Review activity 1.4: Use automated tools along with manual review. Incorporate static analysis into the code review process in order to make code review more efficient and more consistent. The automation does not replace human judgment, but it does bring definition to the review process and security expertise to reviewers who are not security experts.
  3. Security Testing activity 1.1: Ensure QA supports edge/boundary value condition testing. The QA team goes beyond functional testing to perform basic adversarial tests. They probe simple edge cases and boundary conditions. No attacker skills required.
  4. Penetration Testing activity 1.1: Use external penetration testers to find problems. Many organizations are not willing to address software security until there is unmistakable evidence that the organization is not somehow magically immune to the problem. If security has not been a priority, external penetration testers demonstrate that the organization's code needs help. Penetration testers could be brought in to break a high-profile application in order to make the point.
  5. Configuration Management & Vulnerability Management activity 1.1: Create or interface with incident response. The SSG is prepared to respond to an incident. The group either creates its own incident response capability or interfaces with the organization's existing incident response team. A regular meeting between the SSG and the incident response team can keep information flowing in both directions.
  6. Configuration Management & Vulnerability Management activity 1.2: Identify software defects found in operations monitoring and feed them back to development. Defects identified through operations monitoring are fed back to development and used to change developer behavior. The contents of production logs can be revealing (or can reveal the need for improved logging).

By considering other level one activities in the five Practice areas emphasized by vBSIMM, we can round out our simple scoring system. Here are the seven "halo" activities:

  1. Architecture Analysis activity 1.2: Perform design review for high-risk applications. The organization learns about the benefits of architecture analysis by seeing real results for a few high-risk, high-profile applications. If the SSG is not yet equipped to perform an in-depth architecture analysis, it uses consultants to do this work.
  2. Architecture Analysis activity 1.3: Have SSG lead review efforts. The SSG takes a lead role in performing architecture analysis in order to begin building the organization's ability to uncover design flaws. Architecture analysis is enough of an art that the SSG needs to be proficient at it before they can turn the job over to the architects, and proficiency requires practice. The SSG cannot be successful on its own either — they will likely need help from the architects or implementers in order to understand the design. With a clear design in hand, the SSG might carry out the analysis with a minimum of interaction with the project team. At higher levels of maturity, the responsibility for leading review efforts shifts towards software architects.
  3. Architecture Analysis activity 1.4: Use risk questionnaire to rank applications. At the beginning of the AA process, the SSG uses a risk questionnaire to collect basic information about each application so that it can determine a risk classification and prioritization scheme. Questions might include, "Which programming languages is the application written in?" "Who uses the application?" and "Does the application handle PII?" A qualified member of the application team completes the questionnaire. The questionnaire is short enough to be completed in a matter of hours. The SSG might use the answers to bucket the application as high, medium, or low risk.
  4. Code Review activity 1.1: Create a top N bugs list (real data preferred). The SSG maintains a list of the most important kinds of bugs that need to be eliminated from the organization's code. The list helps focus the organization's attention on the bugs that matter most. A generic list could be culled from public sources, but a list is much more valuable if it is specific to the organization and built from real data gathered from code review, testing, and actual incidents. The SSG can periodically update the list and publish a "most wanted" report.
  5. Code Review activity 1.2: Have SSG perform ad hoc review. The SSG performs an ad hoc code review for high-risk applications in an opportunistic fashion. For example, the SSG might follow up the design review for high-risk applications with a code review. Replace ad hoc targeting with a systematic approach at higher maturity levels.
  6. Security Testing activity 1.2: Share security results with QA. The SSG shares results from security reviews with the QA department. Over time, Quality Assurance Engineers learn the security mindset.
  7. Penetration Testing activity 1.2: Feed results to defect management and mitigation system. Penetration testing results are fed back to development through established defect management or mitigation channels, and development responds using their defect management and release process. The exercise demonstrates the organization's ability to improve the state of security.

The scoring works like this. Sum the number of core activities. That is component X. Sum the halo activities. That is component Y. Score is X.Y. So a "perfect" vBSIMM score would be 6.7.

As the software consumer (that is a firm with third-party vendors), you are welcome to set the bar where you will as far as vBSIMM use is concerned. You can even codify the rules into an SLA as suggested in Security Requirements activity 2.5: Create SLA boilerplate.

Attestation

A self-assessment according to this scheme is easy. The main difficulty is that people (and firms) tend toward "grade inflation" during self-assesment. One way to combat this is by asking people to sign on the dotted line attesting to the fact that the information they are providing is correct.

Here is a simple attestation form for use with the vBSIMM.

vBSIMM is only a start

The vBSIMM scheme is far from perfect and it does nothing to guarantee that any particular vendor product is actually secure enough for all uses. The vBSIMM scheme is far superior to no vendor control at all, however, and in our opinion is much superior to a badness-ometer-based approach using after-the-fact penetration testing focused only on a handful of bugs.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.

Overview


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information


To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.

Surveys

Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.

Newsletters

If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information


Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.

Security


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.

Children


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.

Marketing


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information


If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.

Choice/Opt-out


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information


Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents


California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure


Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.

Links


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact


Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice


We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020