How Do You Really Know if Your Software Security Measures Up?

Written by

Every organisation that develops or integrates software needs a software security initiative—a blend of people, processes, and tools that ensure applications and the data they process are secure.

You might call it an application security program or even a product security program. In any case, as customers, regulators, executives, and Boards of Directors start asking for evidence of a formal approach to software security, organisations are trying to determine where to start, how to construct a viable initiative, and what resources they will require.

Fortunately, there are innovative ways to rapidly establish a functional and scalable software security initiative that results in secure, higher quality software at a significantly lower cost and level of effort. The key is to plan and implement the initiative in stages, focusing on highest risks first, while building in the flexibility to scale and adapt the initiative to address your evolving technical and compliance requirements.

When effectively implemented, a software security initiative results in: executives understanding its value and impact; a software security group able to govern; engineering teams integrated into the development processes; internal and external stakeholder acceptance of the initiative as compliant with their risk tolerance and an idea of good software security practices

Just a few years ago, minimal effort on software security may have been sufficient to prevent your organisation from being attacked and breached. Today, if you don't have someone (or a team) specifically responsible for software security, you are falling further behind every minute and regulators, attackers, customers, and executives are noticing.

Fortunately, there are ways to jumpstart this process immediately and quickly build the foundation for a software security initiative that will satisfy your security needs today and in the future.

The goal of establishing a software security initiative is to improve the security of all deployed software—whether acquired, outsourced, used as a service, or developed internally—leveraging a disciplined and scalable approach.

At its most basic, your initiative is a combination of people dedicated to software security (commonly referred to as a Software Security Group) and the processes and technologies they employ to ensure your applications are not exposed to unacceptable levels of risk.

There is no one-size-fits-all product or initiative; each organisation needs to map out a strategy, establish best practices and plan for a right-sized initiative and level of effort that meets its software security needs. Building a software security initiative does not need to be an overly complex, time-consuming or expensive process. In fact, there are only five key characteristics your initiative must have in order to quickly deliver meaningful and visible improvements in your software security posture. Your software security initiative must include:

  1. A dedicated Software Security Group of at least one person. To ensure the success of your software security initiative, it is imperative that you remove resource constraints and provide the infrastructure and capabilities for staff to effectively support your initiative. If you can clearly demonstrate value through policies, processes and a charter, even a one-person Software Security Group can evolve into a fully supported team.
  2. A software security policy. It is important to lay out the software security policy statements that define the business controls that manage risk across your software portfolio. Software security policy can cover areas such as application risk ranking, development project impact ranking and data classification. These policy statements should also clarify mandatory objectives and describe what each stakeholder must accomplish.

  1. Security tools for engineering. Drive efficiencies by helping developers fix security defects before they are committed to the code base and preventing common vulnerabilities from ever being introduced. Enabling developers to fix defects in real-time is less expensive than scanning completed applications for defects and entering a fix-and-retest cycle. Early detection and remediation may remove potential delays in releases and prevent patch cycles, eliminating the significant costs associated with each. An effective approach is leveraging an IDE plug-in that automatically provides "just in time" security guidance as the code is written. It empowers developers to create secure code the first time with a tool that acts as a desktop security expert, providing guidance automatically.

  1. Training for internal and external development teams. Provide software security awareness and best practices across your organisation through an on-demand training e-library. This enables your firm to scale knowledge transfer efforts and ensures developers are exposed to secure coding practices.

  1. Reports that validate progress and show value to executives. Proactively and consistently provide your senior management with greater visibility into and governance over, the business risk associated with your organisation's software assets. Showing progress from baselines toward objectives is critical if you want to maintain (or increase) ongoing support and resources for your software security initiative.

Building a software security initiative can be intimidating, but there are experts available to streamline the process of building an initiative that can grow and adapt to your evolving software security requirements. The pressure to implement a more focused and holistic initiative around software security is coming from many directions—from customers and senior executives to regulatory agencies and the companies in your software supply chain.

For all these stakeholders, accepting the risks of insecure software is no longer an option. Piecemeal products and services will not reliably improve your security posture; the cost-effective solution is a software security initiative that integrates all the individual policies, tools and processes.

What’s hot on Infosecurity Magazine?