How to Build Secure Software: Best Practices and Tips

Software plays a critical role in every business as mobile apps and web applications are essential for companies to reach their customers and achieve their goals. However, the more applications organisations use, the greater the attack surface and risk of unauthorised  access and exposure of sensitive information

In today’s digital world, security risks are everywhere; reports of cyber attacks and breaches are everyday occurrences and no company or piece of software is immune. Cybercriminals will attack anyone and will use any available attack path. The difference, however, is building applications with a security mindset to ensure software isn’t the path of least resistance. By following best practices for building secure software, it’s possible to mitigate the risk of cyberattacks and protect your business, your data, your customers and your reputation.

What is Secure Software Development?

Secure software development is a development technique that incorporates security into every step of the software development lifecycle (SDLC). This means that security is inbuilt into code from the very beginning rather than being added on at the end after testing highlights security vulnerabilities. In fact, security becomes part of the planning phase and is included long before any code is written. 

In the past, security has been viewed as a roadblock standing in the way of innovation and creativity. When security problems are highlighted during testing, there can be huge delays in getting a product to market which impacts revenue. However, it’s far more expensive and time-consuming to fix a security-related bug during testing in the final stages than it is early on in the development process. 

When it comes to deciding whether secure software development makes sense, it helps to take a customer viewpoint. While users may be thrilled with exciting new features, it’s no good if a product is full of vulnerabilities and at risk of being exploited by hackers. By developing secure software, customers can have confidence that their data is safe and will be far more likely to invest in the product in the first place. 

With a secure software development process, testing is employed dynamically throughout the development process. In addition, development teams document software security requirements alongside the functional requirements. However, achieving this requires changes to people, processes and technology. 

Best Practices for Building Secure Software

As we’ve touched on, developing secure software is challenging and involves a change in mindset for not just the development team but the whole company. However, it’s a critical step to mitigating the ever-growing risk of cyberattacks. To help get a better idea of how to build secure software, here are some key software development best practices that can make a significant difference to security:

  • Integrate Security from the Start – security should be thought of before a single line of code is written. To achieve this, consider using automation to ensure software is tested and monitored for vulnerabilities from the beginning. 
  • Foster a Security Culture – security shouldn’t only form part of your code and your software development process; it needs to be baked into your company culture. Ensure everyone is onboard with your security efforts from the get-go.
  • Create Secure Software Development Policy – to help guide the people, processes and technology behind your software development, it’s helpful to create a formal policy. The policy should supply specific instructions for how security will be implemented at each phase of the development process, outline governing rules and define roles.
  • Build a Secure Software Development Framework – using a proven software development framework, such as NIST, that provides guidelines and best practices can help create a structured approach for building secure software. The frameworks typically include a set of security controls, risk management processes and testing methodologies to ensure that security is considered throughout the development process. 
  • Protect Code Integrity – during the development process is vital to keep all code in secure repositories, ensuring there is no unauthorised access or potential tampering. By regulating all contact with the code, monitoring all changes and closely oversinging the code development process, integrity can be preserved. 
  • Test Code Continuously – instead of using the traditional development pattern of testing code at the end of the development process, it should be tested early and often. Both developer reviews and automated testing should be used so code is continually examined for flaws. By catching vulnerabilities early, development costs and time can both be reduced. 
  • Address Vulnerabilities Immediately – unfortunately, vulnerabilities are guaranteed during the software development process. However, when one is found, it’s vital to have a team and process in place to be able to deal with it quickly. The faster vulnerabilities are identified and responded to, the less chance of exploitation. 
  • Conduct Security Assessment – the software development process has many moving parts, which means that security can get left to the side. By creating checklists and performing security assessments at periodic intervals, it’s possible to ensure that all security policies and procedures are being used and that they’re working.
  • Keep Software Up to Date – it’s vital to regularly check for updates and patches provided by software vendors and to set up automatic updates where possible. By keeping software up to date, it’s more likely to be protected against the latest threats and vulnerabilities. 

How Partnering with a Software Development Company Can Help

By partnering with a software development company to build software applications, your business can gain access to advanced security knowledge. A professional development team will have a deep understanding of software security best practices, including threat modelling and code analysis, and can implement them throughout the software development life cycle. In addition, a development company can provide dedicated resources and expertise that may not be available in-house, including security specialists who can assess and test software for potential vulnerabilities and experienced developers who are knowledgeable about secure coding practices. Furthermore, an experienced development company will have access to the latest security technologies and tools, such as firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and encryption methods, which can be used to enhance the security of software. Working with a development company can also help ensure that the software is compliant with industry and government regulations, such as GDPR.

It’s vital to look at the big picture when it comes to software development and that means knowing and staying current on the industry, evolving threats and best practices. By building software with a reputable development company, you can have confidence that your software is secure and meets the highest industry standards for security both now and in the future.

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