When a good developer makes an app, they don’t leave behind any loose ends. They make sure that the product they are giving is free of any vulnerability that can potentially be exploited by someone with ill intentions. This is made possible by using secure coding practices.

What are Secure Coding Practices?

Secure coding practices are the governing principles for coding techniques and decisions involved in developing software. The aim of these standards is to make sure that the code written by the developers has the maximum level of security and minimum vulnerabilities. 

When a developer or a team is solving a software development problem, they can follow a number of different approaches for it. The main difference between these approaches comes in the form of the level of security and reliability that each one of them provides. 

Naturally, some approaches are safer than others and the safest solution might not always be the fastest or the most convenient one. The aim of secure coding standards is to follow the safest route in every possible scenario regardless of it being complex, time-consuming, or difficult.

A simple example of secure coding standards is a “default deny” approach. It mandates that access to sensitive resources must not be granted to a user unless they prove that they fulfill the clearance criteria for the said resource.

When following secure coding standards, developers are expected to ensure that they incorporate the “default deny” feature in their code even if it requires writing extra lines of code. 

Why is Secure Coding That Big of a Deal?

The 2017 Equifax security breach where hackers made their way into Equifax servers and exposed sensitive data is a classic example of the risks of bypassing secure coding standards. The worst part is, they knew they had vulnerabilities in their system and did not do anything about it. 

This is not the first or the last case of its nature. A recent study by Sonatype indicated that one in four organizations have reported or suspected a security breach related to the use of open source components. 

In short, if you don’t want to see your organization’s name next to the words “security breach” in the headlines, you need to implement secure coding standards in your software development practices. 

Different secure coding standards are being used by developers with OWASP Secure Coding Practices being the top one.

Today, we will be discussing some of the most important secure coding standards outlined by the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP).

The Most Important OWASP Secure Coding Practices

OWASP provides these secure coding practices in the form of a checklist, which can minimize the possibility of vulnerability in the code you write. Let’s have a look at them.

Security by Design

This thing can never be overstressed. 

Security needs to be a part of the software development lifecycle and not an afterthought. In real-life software development scenarios, there can be restrictions of development speed and deadlines but secure coding demands security be prioritized over anything else. 

In the broader sense, developing software following secure coding standards actually saves time. Securing a code after developing it without security in the design can waste more time.

Password Management 

In most software systems, passwords are generally the weakest link. The use of multi-factor authentication can take away some of the risks but passwords are still the most important security credential for most systems.

OWASP has several guidelines that make sure that all the passwords used in a system are safe and invulnerable to common attacks. The suggestions from OWASP include: 

  • Avoiding storing passwords in plain text and using salted cryptographic hashes to store them on the server.
  • Enforcing requirements for the minimum length and complexity of passwords.
  • Limiting the number of attempts if a wrong password is tried to gain access.

Access Control

Unauthorized access is one of the most common causes of security breaches. OWASP suggests the following to ensure access is granted only to the ones qualifying for it:

  • A “default deny” approach should be implemented for all sensitive data.
  • Limit privileges, granting only the minimum required by a user.
  • Deny access to users who cannot identify themselves.
  • All requests for sensitive data must be checked to make sure that only the authorized people can gain access.

Error Handling and Logging

Software errors indicate there are bugs in the system and many of them can be potential security vulnerabilities. 

The aim of error handling is to identify and contain errors before they can result in a catastrophic failure of the system and error logging is meant to keep a record of the nature, cause, and effects of errors so that developers can use them as reference.

Secure coding standards mandate that error handling and logging must be done on a trustworthy system.

System Configuration

Anything on the system that is not being used by your software is a potential vulnerability. Clean the system of any unnecessary components and make sure all the software is updated to the latest version and all patches have been applied.

Outdated software is the biggest vulnerability any system can possibly have. You don’t want to have any outdated software in your system if you care about the security of the whole environment.

Threat Modeling

The four steps of threat modeling are: document, locate, address, and validate. It is imperative for secure coding that you examine your software for areas that are vulnerable and have elevated attack risks. 

Threat modeling is a multi-stage process that needs to be made a part of the SLDC in all stages from development to deployment.

Cryptographic Practices

Using cutting-edge cryptography techniques and storing the keys in secure key vaults is the best thing that you can do to ensure the security of your code if a breach happens. 

Before You Go

Secure coding is the most important thing that makes any software invulnerable. The thing to keep in mind is that security does not need to be an afterthought but has to be woven into the fabric of the software from the very start for it to be safe and secure.