SAFECode on software assurance

Software Association Forum for Excellence in Code outlines core practices for secure software development

An information technology industry group formed to develop and share best practices for secure software development has released its first paper, outlining the core practices being used by member companies.

The Software Association Forum for Excellence in Code (SAFECode) was announced in October as a way to enhance communications between software companies. Many companies have internal programs to improve the quality of the code they are producing, but a lack of communications has limited their effectiveness, said former White House cybersecurity adviser Paul Kurtz, executive director of SAFECode.

The paper, titled 'Software Assurance: An Overview of Current Industry Best Practices,' is the group's first product.

'As the initial step in our efforts, SAFECode has identified the assurance best practices that have proven to be effective across its member companies,' Kurtz said.

Founding members of SAFECode are EMC, Juniper Networks, Microsoft, SAP and Symantec.

The group acknowledged the difficulty of prescribing security processes across the technology industry. 'Not surprisingly, there is no single method for driving security and integrity into and across the globally distributed processes that yield technology products and services,' the report said. 'Yet, regardless of the method used, there is a core set of best practices for software assurance and security that apply to diverse development environments.'

'By sharing this information, we hope to encourage the adoption of these types of practices by other software developers and respond to the growing customer desire for greater visibility into the steps technology vendors are taking to continually improve the security of their products,' Kurtz said.

The paper identifies and explains security best practices and controls currently used by SAFECode members:
  • Security training: A prerequisite to coding secure software is for engineers to be knowledgeable about information security issues affecting users.
  • Defining security requirements: Requirements must be defined in the early stages of product development.
  • Secure design: The early design phase must identify and address potential threats to the application and ways to reduce those risks.
  • Secure coding: The product development team must implement secure programming practices.
  • Secure source code handling: The integrity and confidentiality of source code must be protected.
  • Security testing: Specialized validation should be implemented to ensure that security requirements, secure design and coding guidelines are followed.
  • Security documentation: Documentation for users should help customers understand how to optimally configure security controls, and how configuration options could produce potential security vulnerabilities.
  • Security readiness: Prior to releasing a product, the application developer must evaluate, document and assess risks posed by potential security gaps in the product.
  • Security response: An incident response mechanism must be in place to relay reports of security vulnerabilities (exploited or not) after the product is released to the product development or sustaining teams for mitigation.
  • Integrity verification: Products must offer customers methods to verify that the software they have acquired is from their trusted vendor.
  • Security research: Ongoing research should be conducted into new threat vectors and ways to mitigate them.
  • Security evangelism: Leaders in the area of software assurance should promote the use of best practices by discussing their practices and findings in open forums, articles, papers and books.

'Vendors who have implemented these best practices have seen dramatic improvements in software product assurance and security,' Kurtz said.

Beyond development by the vendor, the paper also outlines the responsibilities of integrators, who must work with vendors to mitigate vulnerabilities that could be introduced when an application is integrated into a heterogeneous environment; operators, who must ensure that systems remain properly configured and patched and protect them from intrusion; and end users, who should report bugs and not introduce untrusted software into systems.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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