Secure Software Development Life Cycle: Navigate Your Way to Security

In the age of the internet, technology is virtually inescapable in all walks of life. Even in very rural areas, some form of connection is needed, whether it be for educational, professional, or personal needs. Now more than ever, companies (and even consumers) must realize and recognize how important it is to have security in all the programs they use.

This is even more important for business organizations, particularly those who specialize in creating and maintaining software. With the constant threat of leaked data, it is hard to be complacent especially if the program made is designed for sensitive data such as bank accounts and other personal information.

This is where Secure Software Development Life Cycles (SDLC) comes into play.

Software Development Life Cycles Defined

First things first, what even is a software development life cycle or SDLC? An SDLC is a framework used by organizations in order to facilitate the creation of an application or program. It lays out how the software will be completed, from the brainstorming of the idea right up to how it can be dismantled, from its birth to its demise. It is quite literally the life cycle of a program.

A few notable bare-bones soft development life cycle models are Agile, Iterative, Spiral, and Waterfall, among a lot of other options.

There are lots of ways to illustrate how an SDLC works, but generally speaking, most SDLCs look a lot like this:

  1. Planning
  2. Analysis
  3. Design
  4. Development
  5. Testing
  6. Release
  7. Maintenance

Secure SDLC vs. SDLC

We’ll talk a little about the framework later on. Before that, why is it important to not only have an SDLC, but to also have a secure one? The difference between a plain old SDLC and a secure SDLC is actually pretty simple to explain. It’s just that a secure SDLC has predictably more security-related steps in its process.

It’s not enough anymore to just perform the basic framework of SDLCs. Especially with handling sensitive information, it is vital to add security measures when developing these programs. By simply tacking on some security requirements to the existing model, you can take your software development life cycle to another level.

Several secure SDLC models are already used in the market. Some of the most well-known and well-used ones are Microsoft Security Development Lifecycle (MS SDL), NIST 800-64, and OWASP CLASP.

  • MS SDL is a model developed by Microsoft and it highlights 12 ways for organizations to add security to their programs.
  • The standards for NIST 800-64 was refined by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and it features processes that can be assimilated into an organization’s existing SDLC framework. 
  • OWASP CLASP is by the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) Foundation, a non-profit foundation that strives for better software security. CLASP stands for Comprehensive, Lightweight Application Security Process. It was derived from the MS SDL, with the addition of mapping security activities to roles in a company.

Before any of these secure SDLC models came to existence, the norm was to execute security-related measures as a part of testing. If you look back at the general layout mentioned above, you’ll see that it’s done close to the end. Since the security measures were done more as an afterthought rather than a priority, it presented a lot of issues and showed vulnerabilities in the system that were too late to fix easily.

This recent style of secure SDLC, as compared to regular SDLC, helps in building a better and sturdier program that is less prone to weak spots. This model incorporates the security measures in between the existing levels of the SDLC framework in order to effectively secure the software.

The processes involved in a secure SDLC model targets a few main points, and involves activities like architecture analysis, code review, and penetration testing. A secure SDLC framework obviously comes with a lot of advantages that tackle hard-hitting points such as the following:

  • Secure software – Perhaps obviously, you get a more secure software as a result of a secure SDLC
  • Early detection – Issues in the program will be exposed earlier in the process rather than found when you’re ready to launch
  • Cost-effective – Starting with a secure SDLC is more cost-effective; existing issues in the program will be detected much earlier and will save the organization the time and manpower needed if the issue was to be found at a later time
  • Less risks – Organizational risks will be lessened considerably

Where Do You Go from Here?

If you or your organization are new to the whole “secure SDLC” scene, then no doubt that this is all a little bit overwhelming. To make things easier, here are a few things you can do to get started on improving your security, in no particular order:

  1. Get yourself and your colleagues updated on the secure SDLC framework best suited for your goals.
  2. Do an architecture risk analysis at the beginning of your project.
  3. Keep security in mind throughout the planning, up until the culmination of the program.
  4. For efficiency, utilize code scanning tools for dynamic analysis, interactive application security testing, and static analysis.

Way Ahead of You

Oh, so you already have a secure SDLC setup in your organization? More power to you, then! However, don’t forget that security is a constantly ongoing concern. You can’t just sit back and relax after you successfully launch your software. You’ll need to stay on top of maintenance. More importantly, you have to make sure that the security measures you put in place do not become outdated.

You can also build on our existing strategy by taking a peek at how your neighbors are doing. Look into your method’s effectiveness by using programs that measure software security. Programs such as the Building Security in Maturity Model (BSIMM). You won’t get a literal look into other organizations’ activities through this, but the BSIMM will show you which security programs are effective for your field.