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How-to guides

11 SDLC best practices for more secure coding

As the threat landscape grows and the costs of data breaches increase, organizations are looking to adopt secure software development lifecycle (SDLC) methodologies. Here's how to do it.

Tal Morgenstern | October 19, 2022

As the threat landscape grows and the costs of data breaches increase, organizations are looking to adopt secure software development lifecycle (SDLC) best practices and methodoligies. Secure SDLC is a multi-step approach that comprises a set of rules, procedures, and standards that govern the secure software development processes within your organization, focusing on the integration of security early on in the SDLC. In this blog, we’ll cover some secure SDLC best practices, and better workflows for more secure coding. 

What you’ll learn

  1. Understanding secure SDLC
  2. What are the benefits of a secure software development lifecycle?
  3. Popular secure SDLC methodologies
  4. 11 best practices for secure SDLC
  5. How to get started with SDLC best practices
  6. Next steps

Understanding secure SDLC

Secure SDLC is the practice of integrating security activities, such as creating security and functional requirements, code review, security testing, architectural analysis, and risk assessment into the existing development process. This might, for example, involve writing your security and business requirements together and performing a risk analysis of your architecture during the design phase of the SDLC process. 

Throughout every stage of the secure software development lifecycle, security methods and remediation tools are typically integrated with code repositories to address any concerns or potential vulnerabilities as they emerge.

What are the benefits of a secure software development lifecycle?

The key benefits of secure SDLC include:

  • Improved security: Secure SDLC fosters a proactive approach toward security-related rules and regulations. It enhances the security of your applications and allows all stakeholders to be informed about security concerns.
  • Cost reduction: Incorporating security reviews early on in the SDLC can reduce the cost of managing and resolving security-related vulnerabilities. In other words, you save money by detecting and resolving issues as soon as they occur.
  • Regulatory compliance: Secure SDLC provides a secure environment that meets the demands of your business and strengthens safety, security, and compliance. It helps detect design flaws early in the SDLC process, reducing business risks in your organization.

Popular secure SDLC methodologies 

Secure SDLC methodologies fall into two categories: prescriptive and descriptive. The prescriptive approach tells the users what they should do and when. “Descriptives,” on the other hand, are descriptions of the actions taken by other organizations.

Microsoft Security Development Lifecycle

The Microsoft Security Development Lifecycle (SDL) is a prescriptive approach that covers most security aspects and provides guidance to organizations on how to improve application security. It helps build software that is compliant with regulatory standards, while lowering costs.

OWASP Software Assurance Maturity Model (SAMM)

SAMM is an open-source project that follows a prescriptive methodology and guides the integration of security within the SDLC. OWASP maintains it, with contributions from companies of diverse sizes and industries.

Building Security in Maturity Model (BSIMM)

Initially a branch of SAMM, BSIMM has shifted from a prescriptive to descriptive approach and is continuously updated with the most current best practices. Instead of advising about what actions to take, BSIMM summarizes the activities of member organizations.

11 best practices for secure SDLC 

Securing your SDLC process requires embedding security into all phases of SDLC and adhering to the best practices outlined in this section.

SDLC best practices

1. Specify your requirements

Your specifications, security guidelines, and recommendations should be presented in a way that is simple and easy to understand in order to assist your developers.

2. Perform security audits

Security testing is critical for determining your product’s vulnerability to attacks. Ensure security tools and practices are in place from the outset and throughout the development process. It is also important to clearly define the functional requirements of your development teams, take into consideration common security vulnerabilities, and plan accordingly.

3. Educate your developers on best coding practices, tools, and frameworks

Organizing training sessions for your development team can help foster a culture of security awareness. These sessions should cover areas such as secure coding practices, cybersecurity, potential risks, and the available security frameworks.

secure sdlc

4. Conduct an architectural risk analysis at the beginning

Conducting an architectural risk analysis to identify flaws and determine risks that might occur due to those flaws should be done early on in the SDLC process, before coding your application. You should also take advantage of threat modeling to detect and manage threats.

5. Tackle the big problems first

Instead of addressing every vulnerability identified, it is important to prioritize the risks based on your business needs and to concentrate on the most serious threats and feasible remedies. A triage approach—find, prioritize, and fix—can help you to focus on avoiding security risks from entering production and triaging and addressing existing vulnerabilities over time.

6. Secure planning and building for test cases

Conducting a code review is important for verifying whether your development team has adhered to secure coding standards, and allows you to uncover coding and configuration defects or weaknesses in the application. Make your plans ready for penetration testing on your application, and ensure that it is conducted by a third party. Organizations often employ third-party vendors to perform penetration testing. The primary objective of having a third-party vendor assess the security of your systems is to get an impartial, professional, and expert opinion on your security posture.

7. Use code scanning tools

There are two types of analysis tools: static analysis security tools (SAST) and dynamic analysis security tools (DAST). While SAST enables you to analyze your code to identify security flaws in the application without running it, DAST is capable of finding flaws in your infrastructure.

8. Cultivate a growth mindset

Secure SDLC changes how teams operate and communicate. Everyone on the team should be open to learning, and your developers should be encouraged to adhere to the guidelines and best practices to secure the applications they build.

9. Keep an eye on open-source security

Open-source components with known vulnerabilities are another important factor to take into consideration when building a secure SDLC. Because today’s software products rely heavily on open-source code, it is critical to focus on open-source security management throughout the SDLC process.

Automated software composition analysis (SCA) tools can help determine security vulnerabilities in code and provide remediation insights and automatic patches.

SDLC secure

10. Perform a gap analysis

A security gap analysis is a great way to check the integrity of your application. Performing a gap analysis will help you assess how effectively your system is operating based on your expectations. If there is any deviation from these expectations, you can identify which part of your SDLC needs to be re-examined in order to make the necessary improvements.

11. Create a software security initiative (SSI)

A software security initiative (SSI) is a process that allows you to plan for risk and allocate resources accordingly. An SSI guides you through the SDLC based on procedures and guidelines, and helps you to determine how much you should spend on application security. It also helps to ensure your team really understands their roles.

The benefits of going cloud native

In addition to the best practices discussed above, being cloud native offers numerous benefits when it comes to ensuring a secure SDLC. It enables:

  • Building more reliable systems
  • Faster deployments
  • Avoiding vendor lock-in
  • On-demand infrastructure
  • Improved automation and collaboration
  • Better customer experience
  • Reduced costs through containerization

How to get started with SDLC best practices

There are a number of recommended steps to help you get started with some of the secure SDLC best practices.

Security training and awareness

Security training and awareness sessions are a good starting point and an important part of secure SDLC. The sessions should involve all project team members—the development, QA teams, and release and maintenance teams, for example. 

Make sure the sessions are easy to follow, focusing on concepts such as secure design principles, encryption, and security issues. The training should also cover cybersecurity risks, risk impact, and risk management.

software development life cycle security

Technologies & tools for secure SDLC

There are a number of available tools to help you implement secure SDLC:

Shift left for secure SDLC

Secure SDLC is one example of the “shift-left” strategy, which includes security checks early on in the SDLC process. This allows development teams to plan releases more accurately, making it easier to detect and fix problems that may impact the release schedule. It therefore helps keep releases on track.

The DevSecOps strategy is all about having the right security policies, practices, and technologies from the beginning of the DevOps pipeline and integrating them throughout the entire SDLC process. Securing your SDLC enables you to offer secure products and services to your customers while still meeting tight deadlines.

Next steps

With an increasing number of application-layer threats, the need for more secure apps has become a paramount concern. Identifying and resolving security issues earlier in the software development lifecycle  – with some of the SDLC best practices mentioned above – allows you to deliver more secure applications and thereby better value to your customers while reducing development costs.

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