Why Is Secure Coding Important? (Essential Info)


Your software code is the core of your application systems; this makes it more vulnerable to malicious malware and unauthorized users. Therefore, you need to check for any vulnerability and apply the relevant security measures; else, the whole application may be endangered. This article aims to address the essence of secure coding.

So, why is secure coding important? Secure coding practices find and remove vulnerabilities that could be exploited by cyber attackers from ending up in the finished code. By developing secure code, cyber attackers will find it difficult to hack the code and gain access to applications and systems, thereby reducing data breaches.

It’s important to ensure any software developed has checks and system in place that helps strengthen the software and get rid of any security issues like vulnerabilities. This process is what secure coding entails; finding and intercepting any threats that may compromise the software code. Hence, secure coding is crucial for any software development team in an organization.

Hacktivist mask with images of software code in background

We delve into the vast world of secure coding to highlight what it means and why it is essential to the cyber world. We expound on the guidelines to use when securing your code and the role of OWASP in matters of security coding. Read on as we present a simplified form of all the information you need in cybersecurity issues.

What Is Secure Coding and Why Is It Important?

At the beginning and early stages of software development, the developer has some critical factors to consider. They need to design the application, optimize the code, and make it very functional so that the application runs smoothly.

A vital factor to consider at the outset is the code’s security and how secure coding will be used. This is to counteract potential fraud and cybercrime, as cases have been on the rise lately. Attackers are constantly developing more formidable ways to attack even the most guarded software.

It is common to hear instances of data security breaches, compromised secrets, and service loss. These are some factors that highlight the essence of secure coding. By dealing with any security vulnerabilities, the developer can block any cyber attacks on the code and eliminate malicious attackers’ chances of exploiting these vulnerabilities for personal gain.

When the company adopts a particular coding policy, they can effectively lower their code’s exposures and keep their data safe.

To make it more concrete, they need to have laid down security standards. The concept is simple if you are a developer who needs to know what we mean by software security and how an unauthorized user can exploit any data vulnerabilities by gaining control of the system. Any development team also needs to understand the meaning and essence of safe coding.

For a more secure code, the team needs to establish whether they are using the proper security standards and whether their security system is strong enough. Doing so ensures that they can comprehend the threats they face and how much risk the company faces suppose there is a security breach.

As much as they may not achieve 100% security, they will still be successful in alleviating the risks, which will be a considerable achievement for the application implementation. Once they establish the most vulnerable points of the application, they can sense the threats and come up with appropriate strategies aiming to mitigate and curb them.

With relevant standards in place, system developers and the entire team can easily understand the guidelines they need during secure coding. You will notice that a secure code is vital to an organization; therefore, it is typical for them to invest in training their teams in the area.

We will soon discuss some useful tools that such organizations use in matters of secure coding. With these tools, they can create a culture where system security is the priority.

Challenges To Proper Security Implementation

Some developers are not aware of the security threats associated with their developed applications. Hence, they may unknowingly launch and keep running these applications without considering the system’s weak points, making them prey to cyber-attacks. On the other hand, other developers may lack the relevant knowledge of how to go about protecting the organization from these vulnerabilities.

Most know how to make the code functional, but not necessarily how to make the code secure. Overlooking the aspect of security may cause damage not only to the application but also to the entire organization.

There are so many reasons why a program developer may have trouble with security implementation. First, most developers are concerned with the application’s release and ignore the fundamental aspect of security. Similarly, other developers may overlook that the program may be susceptible to cyber-attacks and forget to set up any measures to guard the software.

Similarly, there may be little knowledge about the software’s design or language, or the program may be quite complicated. This factor may make it challenging to implement any security protocols. The endeavor to enhance security may be an uphill task for the company.

Therefore, the adoption of secure coding, especially at the early stages of development, may benefit the company. They can do so by training the developers on safe coding standards, which will give them knowledge on the best security practices and tool usage.

What Are Secure Coding Standards?

Secure coding standards are a set of processes, rules and guidelines used during the design and development of software code to prevent potential security holes like security vulnerabilities from coding errors being exploited by attackers. Secure coding practices can ensure the adoption of security best practices.   

The best way to promote secure coding is by putting in place some secure coding standards. These standards are vital in ensuring the security of the program at the early stages of development.

This way, the team can put the necessary measures to ascertain the software’s protection from any malicious attacks. We compiled a list of standards that software developers use for secure coding.

Many of the popular Static Application Security Testing (SAST) tools from the likes of SonarQube and Veracode provide secure coding best practices and guidelines based on many difference security standards.

· OWASP Application Security Verification Standard (ASVS)

OWASP ASVS is provided by a nonprofit organization of the same name, whose role is to educate developers on how best they can develop, manage, and maintain application security. They regularly provide an OWASP Top 10 list highlighting the crucial threats in security.

· CWE

Common Weakeness Enumeration (CWE) is a system providing a listing of hardware and software security vulnerabilities present in many programming languages like Java, C, to C++ as well as libraries of code and applications.

The CWE feedback compiles the list that the user requires; this list represents the most critical vulnerabilities that may lead to grave consequences when the software is under attack.

· CERT

The CERT standard supports the most frequently used programming languages such as Java, C, and C++. Not only does it compile an elaborate list of vulnerabilities, but it also provides a risk assessment that highlights the dire consequences of flouting the laid down rules.

· NVD

The National Vulnerability Database (NVD) standard is linked to the Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) and is from the U.S government National Institute of Standards and Technology and is used to check for data vulnerabilities.

It is also useful in providing the required information such as severity scores, impact ratings, and methods of fixing these vulnerabilities. However, one needs to use Common Vulnerability Scoring System (CVSS) to compute the severity scores. With CVSS, you can assess how severe the exposure is, given that the system assigns the severity score.   

· DISA STIG

The DISA standard provides communication and IT support to any organization or team under the DoD umbrella. It helps to oversee an institution’s IT issues in sorting, transporting, and managing vital information. The STIG, on the other hand, guides the functioning of the institution and directs it on the best way to handle security systems.

What Is OWASP Secure Coding?

The OWASP secure coding refers to Application Security Verification Standard (ASVS). This gives a detailed checklist of practices of secure coding to help guard against security vulnerabilities.

ASVS looks at the architecture and design, using threat modeling techniques, assessing authentication, session management, access control, data at rest encryption, data in transit encryption, input validation to avoid malicious injection, secure error handling, logging, protection of data to detailed configuration settings like HTTP and communications.

ASVS comes in handy when the developer wishes to design an application; they will base the code on the OWASP ASVS guidelines to make it more secure. Let’s take a look at what the policies cover.

  • The guide covers data input and validation aspects, such as the length and range of the data; this ensures that the application is secure from malicious attacks.
  • There is a section on data authentication and password handling, which analyzes software design and architecture.
  • It focuses on the area of error handling that requires a more secure code; if not well-handled, data can easily leak.
  • It provides guidelines on data protection by advising on the most secure way to store passwords; hence, avoiding data leaks, since passwords are one of the system’s most vulnerable points.
  • The guide advises on communication security and data protection, especially when it is in transit.
  • It offers a security approach for the design, which reduces technical debt costs and alleviates the possible risks.
  • Using the access denial policy, the OWASP effectively limits entry access by unauthorized users; this way, the institution can protect valuable information.
  •  It is advisable to update system software that fixes any vulnerability frequently. It is also useful in getting rid of unnecessary components, enabling the user to acquire better and current system versions.
  • It provides a guideline on the best way for threat modeling; this evaluates the code’s vulnerable points, which improves the code’s security.

One crucial factor to consider before getting started on secure coding standards is to ensure that the team is aware of safe coding basics. They should all think about why the code needs to be safe and how important code security is for the company and the product. Next, they need to establish what a hacker could be out for by gaining access to the system.

They also need to understand the essence of keeping the data safe and that a malicious user can exploit any small vulnerability in the system. Lastly, they need to brainstorm to find out whether there are any weak spots in the design. Hence, based on that, they can effectively direct their efforts to prevent any cyber-attacks.

To ensure that the software is secure, we use static code analyzers that execute the coding rules and enforce the security standards. The best analyzers will come with vast example codes, compliance reports, and fully documented guidelines interpretations.

It is also important to note that the developer may need to have extensive knowledge in the software’s computer program language so that they can quickly implement the standards.

Rules for Secure Coding

Learning secure coding is a necessary step that the organization should take to ensure that their data is protected. First, they need to lay down specific recommendations that will form a basis for evaluating a code’s security standards.

Doing so will ensure that application testers can conduct compliance testing on the software to ascertain security standards. Therefore, the testing can establish whether the code conforms to the pre-set guidelines or not.

The following are some rules to put in place to check for code security: First, immediately after using the system, the user should close the files if they don’t need them anymore.

Secondly, the user should ensure that they do not cause information leakages, especially when passing structures over boundaries. Lastly, when declaring objects, the user needs to use the required storage durations.

Also, note that some vulnerabilities result from some programming errors; therefore, the developer needs to be keen during coding. The errors may include buffer overflows, SQL injections, wrong format strings, incorrect authorization, integer overflows, improper error handling, sensitive data leakage, and injection flaws.

Thus, it may help collect all the programming errors that may create room for these vulnerabilities and deal with them during the coding process.

The development team should enforce and carry out these rules to determine security compliance and train the developers on the best safe coding practices. Otherwise, there may be system crashes, unauthorized access by malicious users, and software control loss to hackers.

Secure Coding Practices and Checklist

Even if your code is functional, it may not be instrumental unless it is secure. Therefore, you need a detailed guideline to help you in secure coding. In this segment, we highlight some safe coding practices to support any development team or organization.

First, you need to validate the input, especially if the data is from an un-trusted source. Doing so will enable you to get rid of any vulnerabilities in your code. It would be best to design the software to implement security protocols by separating the system into elaborate subsystems, giving each subset a significant privilege set.

Next, it is vital to eliminate compiler warnings by improving the code; you can use various analysis tools to mitigate security flaws.

Another way to ensure code safety is by keeping the code design simple. If the code is involving, you are likely to make some errors in implementation and use.

You can also employ the service of default access denial; this way, the system can dictate who gets access permission. Similarly, the developer should ensure that the consent granted takes the least time to complete the task.

You can also keep adding defense mechanisms through the application’s production process while securing the runtime environments. Also, you can keep checking in on your codes to detect any case of malicious access. However, this may be a challenge if you have outsourced the developers. 

Lastly, you can implement the use of proper quality assurance to identify and mitigate security vulnerabilities. Similarly, you can develop specific security standards that are in line with your development language. The following is a detailed checklist of all the guidelines that developers should consider to ensure safe coding practices.

Input Validation

  • Use centralized input validation.
  • Be keen on canonicalization issues.
  • Do not depend on the client’s validation.
  • Always validate the length, format, and range.

Authorization

  • Regard authorization granularity.
  • Separate privileges.
  • Restrict access to some system resources.
  • Conduct API validation.
  • Use less-privileged accounts.
  • Guard sensitive resource data.

Authentication

  • Ensure the use of strong passwords.
  • Back up account disabling and password expirations.
  • Bar storing of credentials.
  • Encode communication ways to guard authenticated tokens.

Cryptography

  • Use a pre-tested and pre-tried feature; do not develop yours.
  • Use correct vital sizes and algorithms.
  • Encode the data while it is in transit and storage.
  • Reserve keys in a secure location.
  • Keep the encoded data near the algorithm.

Session Management

  • Log off to terminate any user session.
  • Always restart a session with re-authentication.
  • Generate an identifier on the server for the session.

Any developer and organization must be aware of these vital secure coding practices. Once it becomes a company policy, you can rest assured that your data is safe from any unauthorized access. There are several resources and experts that you can deploy to train the team on the necessary tools secure coding tools. 

Final Word

Every day, hackers come up with more elaborate methods to find and manipulate vulnerabilities in computer systems. The best and most effective way to curb this menace is by implementing secure coding, thereby, guarding the system against errors and bugs.

It doesn’t stop there; the developer will still need to maintain and update the coding standards. This article highlighted some relevant automatic tools you need as a software developer for this process.

It is very crucial that you ensure your development team is trained on all the techniques for secure coding. You may have a brilliant group of experts that develop functional applications.

However, if they are not aware of the security risks or how to deal with them, it may be catastrophic. Training them on the best practices is cheaper than what you are likely to lose when malicious users exploit your vulnerable data.

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