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Saturday 28th of May 2022

Security in Software Development – Guide for IT Business Leaders


    The need for Security in Software Development

    The importance of software security cannot be overstated. While it is becoming more necessary every day, there are many new developments that make it hard to stay up-to-date. With the introduction of IoT devices in specific industries, and AI coming into play for software development teams in general (especially self-learning), cyber-security will be a continual problem for IT professionals who work on these projects.

    In 2022 security is becoming a vital part of software development. Being entirely prepared requires a holistic approach and different security layers.

    Digital transformation acceleration is going through the roof and change management is getting increasingly tougher.

    Currently, software development does not just include the coding that is used to create specific programs or apps but also other types of projects such as self-driving cars and AI interfaces. This requires a new way to address cybersecurity because it’s hard for one person (or team) to stay on top of everything. Cybercriminals come up with new ways to attack software systems and a lot of the solutions are not perfect, as they introduce new vulnerabilities.

    Security threats and vulnerabilities

    Social engineering and malware are still the top security threats

    Attacks like phishing and ransomware are the most prominent forms of social engineering. Phishing is when someone tries to scam you into giving them sensitive information, such as your credit card number or social security number with a fake email message that seems legitimate.

    Ransomware is malware that locks up all of the data on your computer and requires payment in order for it to be unlocked again.

    Now, the factor that is mostly responsible for such attacks is our proneness to human error. Since our reasoning and mentality is flawed, we can easily be tricked by a social engineering attack. Even seasoned developers can be deceived.

    The other common mistake is to install software without reading the end-user license agreement (EULA) that you agree to when installing it and granting access or rights to your computer system, thereby creating vulnerabilities in your system.

    It’s not just humans who are vulnerable; computers, machines, and other forms of infrastructure are likely to be attacked as well.

    Hardware attacks

    Power grids, control stations, and heavy machinery can all fall victim to hacker attacks. Most commonly, these methodologies are used to create diversions or distractions. For example, a power grid can be overloaded with thousands of demands for electricity all at once in order to cut the line and cause a blackout.

    In 2015, the three most prominent energy suppliers in Ukraine suffered an attack that resulted in 73MWh of energy loss.

    Of course, it’s not only governments that can suffer from such attacks, it’s corporations as well. For instance, construction companies are also very much vulnerable.

    IoT attacks

    The popularisation of the Internet of Things has created other backdoors for hackers. Since the devices are interconnected and often operate in a centralised way, the risk of security breaches got immensely high.

    IoT attacks mostly consist of data breaches. Information that corporations keep is most often sensitive and valuable to the company itself. The most popular way of hacking IoT networks is by infecting the device with malware and then using that to steal data.

    What’s more, because devices are often just storage or gateways for remote servers, an attack on a single point can result in all data security being compromised. This means hackers don’t need even physical access to the machines to wreak havoc.

    The most famous example of such an attack is the Dyn DDoS incident in 2016, which took down a number of popular websites including Netflix and Twitter. In this case, hackers had compromised IoT devices to mount their assault on the servers controlling them remotely.

    According to Tech Republic, DDoS attacks increased by 91% due to the adoption of IoT on an unprecedented scale. For this reason, mobile security should be one of the top priorities.

    A deficit in Cyber Security Professionals

    While the gap is shrinking year-to-year, there is still a shortage of security professionals of 3.1 million worldwide.

    This leads to an increased risk of attacks, as there simply isn’t enough staff to assess protocols and secure development practices. The cyber-security industry’s struggle to scale up with demand has led to extensive use of farshore resources like freelancers or third parties who have little expertise.

    Lack of proper education

    Business owners often don’t educate their employees enough for them to be capable of spotting threats and vulnerabilities in software. This makes their businesses even more prone to attacks due to human error.

    Important concepts for Secure Software Development

    Seeing that there are so many threats and software security is one of the biggest concerns, the security requirements are getting more and more strict. Here’s a list of security principles and concepts to ensure a secure development process and suitable application security program from an expert point of view.

    Software Security policy

    A well-established security policy should be the beginning of any project. Erik Nielsen, Senior Dev Ops Engineer at Infosec notes that

    A good place to start is with an accepted security policy. Providing examples of known, good security practices can save time and ensure everyone is taking security into consideration at the start of any new development project. Involving the cybersecurity team early and often in the development process ensures vulnerabilities can be detected and mitigated.

    Implementing proper security controls can further diminish this risk.

    Patch management

    Instead of using possibly compromised systems, you should go for libraries that are known to be secure.

    Patch management is also important — if you are using third-party libraries with vulnerabilities, it doesn’t matter how secure your own code is, elaborated Nielsen.

    Sometimes, a software developer might slip and use a framework that has weak points.

    Static and Dynamic Analysis

    Instead of simply developing the application and leaving it be, it should be subject to constant analysis. According to Nielsen:

    Static and dynamic analysis (SAST and DAST) can help identify bugs in the code or at runtime as part of a continuous integration (CI) pipeline. This will catch some issues before they get into production.

    Threat modeling

    Getting a grip on what threats your application can fall victim to is crucial to the success of your product. Threat modelling can help you identify the security vulnerabilities of your application very early in the software development lifecycle.

    Heinrich Long of Restore Privacy remarks that

    Threat modelling is a process whereby my team can identify security threats and vulnerabilities and better understand how to tackle them. Threat models are systematic and structured, meaning they don’t just pinpoint threats, but work towards an understanding of the environment they’re in.

    Threat modelling has been around for years but has taken significant strides in the last 5-10 years – a big reason my team is so excited about what it has to offer. We have clients from around the country who require the best when it comes to cybersecurity, so these tools are essential in order to maintain proper cybersecurity etiquette.

    SDLC (Software Development Life Cycle) and SDL (Secure Development Lifecycle)

    Nowadays, these two concepts are or should be, mostly synonymous. Security measures ought to be an integral part of development. Of course, SDLC is a much broader idea, but SDL is necessary to be incorporated in there as well. Erik Nielsen says,

    I’m not sure there should be a difference between them unless security isn’t a concern in your application. For example, if you write unit tests, you should also be writing unit tests for security. If you’re writing integration tests, those integration tests should cover access control and authorization. Just like if a unit test fails, if a security test fails, you stop and fix it. If you find a security bug in production, you triage and fix it like any other bug.

    Adding on to that, Nikisha Shah of Simform describes the difference further:

    The software development cycle defines all the standard phases which are involved during the development process and insecure development cycle. While SDL is a process that standardizes security best practices across a range of products/ applications. It follows the industry-standard security activities, packaging them so they may be easily implemented.

    Penetration testing and monitoring

    After you’ve done developing the application, you need to assume that threats will change. Frequent penetration testing and continuous monitoring are necessary to ensure security.

    Nielsen agrees,

    In production, continuous security monitoring is essential. Software doesn’t end at development — a culture of DevSecOps means that there is a constant operations feedback process. 

    Operations, like diamonds, are forever (or at least for the life of the product), and even if your app is normally secure today, that does not mean that new exploits won’t later be found. That’s why constant monitoring and regular pen-testing is important along with considering security in all phases of development.

    Future outlooks for IT Security

    Beyond Trust has made a forecast of new possibilities hackers might utilise to jeopardise companies.

    Network Time Protocol

    NTP controls every transaction within a business’s infrastructure. Once its security is compromised and unauthorised access is gained, hackers can make money transfers fail. Whether it’s software licensing or office rent, every transaction can be interrupted.

    Malicious data injection

    More and more companies rely on machine learning for their business decisions. Every new opportunity for companies will inevitably lead to more vulnerabilities, and with data being produced in real-time, if not well protected, cybercriminals can use this as an advantage and inject the servers with information to skew the results.

    AI-based attacks

    While Artificial Intelligence can be incredibly helpful, it can also be the main source of vulnerabilities for organisations. AI is still evolving and hackers can utilise that technology, if not well implemented, to teach their malicious software based on previous successful attacks. Instead of looking into vulnerabilities and security issues manually, they could “simply” program a bot to scan the available data and identify entry points and establish the attack surface.

    Deepfake technology

    Hackers can use Deepfake to pose as an authorised user and make the victim believe that they are talking to another person. It’s a type of artificial intelligence video technology which creates doctored videos with so much detail that people cannot distinguish between real footage and fakes. While it’s not entirely perfect yet, the power it has is frightening. Deepfake will play a major role in future cyber-attacks as it can be used for extortion or identity theft.

    Remote work dangers

    Increase in remote work forced stakeholders to use decentralised networks, i.e. network edge, which facilitates attacks. On top of that, employees have grown more comfortable with working remotely.

    People are more likely to fall victim to cyber-attacks or fraud when they’re not physically at the office, so it’s crucial that companies pay extra attention to security measures and protocols for remote work. They’ve let their guard down due to social distancing and isolation. Since remote work is a trend that doesn’t seem to stop, hackers are more than likely to make use of it.

    New data privacy legislations

    A shield that protected EU-US data transfers has been effectively dismantled by the European Court of Justice. Without proper regulations, information security can become compromised.

    Social Media

    With social media thriving like never before, hackers can take advantage of people’s negligence of good authorisation and password practices. Social media can also provide cybercriminals with a new angle of attack. By posing as a legitimate expert inviting their audience to a conference or a webinar, hackers post links that lead to malicious websites instead.

    What is needed to prepare for future challenges in software development security?

    Education

    Qualified professionals should be equipped with the knowledge of how to avoid cyber-attacks in order to protect data and comply with legislation.

    Collaboration

    To best prepare for future challenges, businesses will need to collaborate not only internally but also externally with other security experts and IT specialists who have a wide range of experience. They can share their expertise with one another to strengthen the company’s security.

    Diversity

    A robust system will need to be able to deal with multiple types of attacks, both online and offline because an organisation can never predict when a cyber-security attack could happen. Diversity is important in that it gives stakeholders more opportunities for defense as well as an offense against threats.

    Outsourcing

    Software outsourcing is a growing trend. Since the shortage of professionals is still extremely high, companies should be looking to outsource experts who can help them with their projects. This is a great way for companies to get the talent they need without having to constantly worry about hiring new people and training them up. In fact, the security in software development outsourcing companies can often prove to be on a higher level than that of an internal team.

    Cloud Computing

    If you’re not already using it, cloud computing could save your company money in terms of both hardware as well as application development. For example, multi-cloud strategies are known to provide a higher degree of security than using a single provider. Since you diversify your processes between different platforms, cloud computing security is better. There are also numerous advantages to cloud computing including scalability, faster deployment of resources among many others. If you’d like to find out more, here’s our cloud service provider comparison.

    Wrap-up

    The cybersecurity market will continue to grow at a rapid pace due to the ever-increasing security risks and damages caused by cyberattacks. Companies should not only be on guard for attacks but also look to invest in the right security solutions, train their staff and outsource talent when needed.

    Protecting your company’s software development will be a critical priority as cybersecurity continues to grow more sophisticated with new technologies emerging every day.

    In order to stay ahead of cybercriminals, it is now more important than ever for companies to invest in advanced security solutions and keep staff up-to-date on the latest trends. Educate your employees about identifying design flaws, using the best coding practices, business risks, web application security principles, as well as protection mechanisms to ensure that all components of your software are safe and secure.

    Is your software safe? Run an audit with experienced software engineers and find out.


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