How to Reduce Security Flaws and Vulnerabilities in the Software Code

Andrew Zola
Andrew Zola on Linkedin

Software today is often riddled with security flaws and vulnerabilities that bad actors can leverage to gain access to IT systems. In fact, according to a study (based on 268 penetration tests) conducted by security firm Rapid 7, only 16% of the software companies investigated were in the clear.

When it came to internal penetration tests, that figure dropped down even further to 4%. Penetration testers also reported encountering some vulnerability in the code as much as 32% of the time. That number rose to 56% when combined with one or more specific security vulnerabilities. 

Penetration testers also reported encountering at least one network misconfiguration that could be exploited 80% of the time. When it came to internal penetration tests, that figure rose to 96%. External customer-facing web applications also lacked common tools such as cross-site request forgery (CSRF), cross-site scripting (XSS), and SQL injection (SQLi).

In response to these finding, it’s imperative for enterprises to actively identify and eliminate security flaws during the course of the development cycle. This is also the most cost-effective approach as opposed to the test phase or post-deployment.

With millions of lines of code released each year, it’s now more critical than ever before to follow best practices as almost all modern software is connected to the internet.

While there are many ways to protect your software, one of the primary ways to achieve it is by making security part of the culture. This means that security needs become an everyday discipline that’s followed by the whole development team.

However, this doesn’t mean that security will take away all of the joys surrounding software development. Instead, it should be perceived as a practice that will provide deep insights into computing and programming languages.

So what are the software security best practices that every firm should follow? Let’s take a look.

1. Establish an Enterprise-Wide Security Policy

Right off the bat, it’ll be important to establish a unified security roadmap to understand your risk tolerance. This approach will help business leaders align expenses with asset value.

To make security the norm, the business should also provide role-specific training on secure software development practices. Once the security policy has been established, it’ll also be important to set up compliance gates to collect the right type of data that can support security audits.

2. Engage in Robust Enterprise Risk Assessment

Secure software development should cover all low-end, insufficient, inconsistent, and ad hoc procedures and high-end, robust iterative processes. These must be validated regularly against industry standards.

An excellent place to start is by determining if both internal software engineers and external technology vendors have implemented Open Web Application Security Project processes or something similar. It will also help to ascertain if they have hired a competent third-party to conduct security audits against those guidelines.

It’s also essential to create an environment where staff can provide honest feedback without the fear of reprisals. These individuals are on the front-line and could hold invaluable insights that can help build the foundations of your assessment.

Self-assessments always work best when complemented by a third-party with proven experience who can identify vulnerabilities that were missed by your internal security team.

3. Conduct Extensive Penetration Tests

Penetration testing is a great way to identify vulnerabilities in the software code. Again, this is best-handled by security teams both internally and externally. When you engage in the activity, you can quickly understand if your security defenses work and match your company’s overall strategy.

At this juncture, it can also prove valuable to engage ethical whitehat hackers to identify, evaluate, and mitigate application-specific threats. In the long run, this approach can also help the development team adopt secure architecture and embed secure-by-default principles.

4. Leverage Automated Code Analysis Tools

To approach software security from all sides, it will also be important to integrate automated code analysis tools into the software development cycle. This approach will help the team identify language-level risks and application-specific vulnerabilities during the customized code review.

When you combine both human penetration testing and automated application-specific testing throughout the development process, you’ll have a better chance of developing software with highly secure code that’s ready for deployment.

5. Go Back to the Basics!

Sometimes software engineers can forget where they came from and completely ignore the basics. This is often the root cause of insecure code. As a result, it can make a huge difference if they’re reminded of the basics.

What are the basics of secure software development?

One of the easiest ways to develop highly secure software is to make the code your responsibility. You can do this by encouraging the development team to write all the code themselves.

When following this method, programmers will be more inclined to check input data and test the code against malicious code to get a better idea of what might happen.

They might even take it further by modeling the threats to the code by creating a detailed list of all the entry points into the code and trace them through the code. By doing this, you can ensure that the data has access only to the required code.

Finally, before writing a single line of code, it’s best to first build security in by defining the permissions required for the application. This process should also cover how permissions will impact each part of the software.

Next, assign levels of users and their permissions for what they’re going to work with. This approach will help the software developer design tight and secure permission protocols.

It’s also important to remind the development team that they aren’t allowed to use language functions that are already known to be insecure. Whenever they can create simple, repeatable processes for writing code, they should be encouraged to do it.

As far as best practices go, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Reducing security flaws and vulnerabilities in the software code will be an extensive rapidly evolving process that has to be revisited regularly.

To find out more about securing your software code and third-party penetration testing, get in touch with one of our in-house experts now!