tssci security

Security in the SDLC is not just code review

Let's take some time here to discuss what "secure code review" is and what it is not. I see a lot more people talking about code review. Many people have only the view of the PCI DSS compliance standard, which almost pits code review against the web application firewall.

David Rice quoted a Gartner study on his blog post on Insanity: 75% of Security Breaches Due to Flaws in Software.

A Gartner study indicates that 75% of security breaches are due to flaws in software...Do you think we would see a significant decrease in the number of data breaches and records stolen if we shifted our spend to actually writing proper code and protecting data at the source instead of at the edge? I think it is time we gained a few IQ percentage points and stopped the insanity.

However, he also thinks that stopping vulnerabilities at the source is, *"painful, difficult, complicated, and troublesome"*. But is source code review really all of these things?

Sachin Varghese of the Plynt blog doesn't seem to think so. In his blog post, Comply with Section 6.6 of PCI DSS with code reviews and get more, Sachin explains that thousands of lines of code -- even millions of lines of code -- can be reviewed for security properties within a matter of weeks.

In this four-step process, Sachin lists how to "get more bang from your code review bucks":

  1. Do rapid risk assessments to determine which 'money' application should be code reviewed (**Choose the right apps*)*
  2. Use tools / processes that easily finds the meat balls (vulnerable code classes) in your thousands or millions of lines of code (**Choose the right code*)*
  3. Analyze vulnerabilities across applications, vendors to identify recurring issues, across the board solutions and effective developer training modules (**Address root causes*)*
  4. Look at trends like software-as-a-service, outsourcing & offshore centers to reduce your code review costs (**Find a good deal*)*

I also offered up a different perspective in this argument between the F5 DevCentral blog on the importance of rewriting code.

No one development shop is like any other development shop. This is where operations people and managers severely fail to understand why typically people and process approaches don't work the same between quality engineering, operations, and their red-headed step-child (or more like their cranky, senile, old grandfather) -- development.

Some development shops use Test-Driven Development, some use a slight varation called Behavior-Driven Development (and many use neither). Even others skip the programming phase almost entirely by doing Model-Driven Development. In this last case, applications are code generated by a model built during the design phase.

Checking the source code is fine, but in some cases -- checking the models, the designs, and the requirements is often a better approach.

To increase software assurance, I prefer to look at three areas of significance:

Others, such as our friends at Aspect Security, think that security in the SDLC is about giving developers secure components (and to make those components popular in development). Instead of forcing a dev shop into "secure frameworks", any framework can utilize a few well-modeled, well-designed, and well-tested components. Some of the better projects coming out of the OWASP projects are: AntiSamy (recently released a 1.1 version!), CSRFGuard, and the uber-project -- ESAPI.

Well-designed, reviewed, and tested code is great! However, security does not last a lifetime. What is secure today may not, in fact, be secure tomorrow. Maintaining applications over time also means having a plan for their retirement. When an organization decides to acquire software off-the-shelf (commercially, or by downloading open-source components such as ESAPI) -- there should be some sort of "Consumer Reports" that they can go to.

OWASP is a good place to go today for information about secure web applications (including secure code review). I would like to see a commitment from OWASP to be a long-term, official authority for this type of information. CERT's Secure Coding and Secure Coding Standards websites are excellent sources of information for general applications (especially those written in C/C++). A similar committment from CERT might also be in order.

My suggestion is to both test and inspect/review source code in order to obtain results as close to a Gold standard test as possible. Open-source components can be shown as "percentage CWE-free" with "percentage of code coverage". Mapping this to a five-star rating system isn't going to take a lot of time or effort, and certainly this will eventually allow for more detailed research and statistics.

Posted by Dre on Monday, March 24, 2008 in Defense and Security.

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