Application security, like any facet of security, is a complex challenge with a mountain of solutions. Of course, no one solution is complete. Even throwing multiple solutions will never get 100% coverage.
The push today is around devsecops, or pushing left in the SDLC. I am seeing more solutions recommending also pushing right in the SDLC. I feel like we are stuck at this crossroad where the arrow points both ways.
The good news is that none of these recommendations are wrong. We do need to push left in the SDLC. The sooner we address issues, the better off we are. The idea that if we don’t introduce a vulnerability in the first place is the best case scenario. Unfortunately, we also know that is an unrealistic assumption. So this brings us to pushing right. Here, we are looking to quickly identify issues after they are introduced and, in some cases, actively block attacks. Of course, let’s not leave out that automation is our key to scalable solutions as we build and deploy our applications.
Much of what we focus on is bringing in some form of tool. Tools are great. They take they mundane, repetitive work off of our plate. Unfortunately, they can’t do it all. In fact, many tools need someone that has at least some knowledge of the subject. This is where the people come in.
Over the years, I have worked with many companies as both a developer and an application security expert. I have seen many organizations that put a lot of effort into building an application security team, focused on managing everything application security. Often times, this team is separate from the application development teams. This can create a lot of friction. With the main focus on the application security team, many organizations don’t put as much effort into the actual application development teams.
How does your organization prepare developers, business analysts, project managers and software testers to create secure applications?
In my experience, the following are some common responses. Please feel free to share with me your answers.
- The organization provides computer based training (CBT) modules for the development teams to watch.
- The organization sends a few developers to a conference or specialized training course and expects them to brief everyone when they return.
- The organization brings in an instructor to give an in-house 2-3 day trading class on secure development (once a year).
- The organization uses its security personnel to provide secure development training to the developers.
- The organization provides SAST or DAST tools, but the results are reviewed by the security team.
- The organization has updated the SDLC to included security checkpoints, but no training is provided to the development teams.
- The organization doesn’t provide any training on security for the development teams.
By no means is this an exhaustive list, but just some of the more common scenarios I have seen. To be fair, many of these responses have a varying range of success across organizations. We will look at some of the pitfalls too many of these approaches in future articles.
The most important point I want to make is that the development teams are the closest you can get to the actual building of the application. The business analysts are helping flush out requirements and design. The developers are writing the actual code, dealing with different languages and frameworks. The QA team, or software testers, are on the front line of testing the application to ensure that it works as expected. These groups know the application inside and out. To help them understand the types of risk they face and techniques to avoid them is crucial to any secure application development program.
My goal is not, let me repeat, NOT, to turn your application development teams into “security” people. I see this concept floating around on social media and I am not a fan. Why? First and foremost, each of you have your own identity, your own role. If you are a developer, you are a developer, not a security person. If you are a software tester, don’t try to be a security person. In these roles, you have a primary role and security is a part of that. It is not the defining attribute of your tasks.
Instead, the goal is to make you aware of how security fits into your role. As a software tester, the historical goals focused on ensuring that the application functions as expected. Looking at validating use cases. When we start to think about security within our role, we start to look at abuse cases. There becomes a desire to ensure that the application doesn’t act in certain ways. Sometimes this is very easy and others it may be beyond our capabilities.
Take the software tester again. The goal is not to turn you into a penetration tester. That role requires much more in-depth knowledge, and honestly, should be reserved for looking for the most complex vulnerabilities. This doesn’t mean that you can’t do simple tests for Direct Object Reference by changing a simple ID in the URL. It doesn’t mean that you don’t understand how to do some simple checks for SQL Injection or Cross-site Scripting. It does mean you should be able to understand what the common vulnerabilities are and how to do some simple tests for them.
If you invest in your people correctly, you will start to realize how quickly application security becomes more manageable. It becomes more scalable. The challenge becomes how to efficiently train your people to provide the right information at the right time. What type of support are you looking for? Is it the simple CBT program, or do you desire something more fluid and ongoing that provides continuing support for your most valuable assets?
Different programs work for different organizations. In all cases, it is important to work with your teams to identify what solution works best for them. Providing the right type of training, mentorship, or support at the right time can make a huge impact.
Don’t just buy a training solution, look for a partner in your development teams training efforts. A partner that gets to know your situation, that is available at the right times, and builds an on-going relationship with the team.