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What is Secure Coding?
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A skillful black hat hacker can quickly assume control of your digital products with just a few swift modifications to its coding, and as businesses continue to digitize their processes, this risk of penetration will only multiply.

The solution is the adoption of secure coding practices.

What is secure coding?

Secure coding is a method of writing software and source code that's shielded from cyber attacks. With an increasing demand for rapid delivery, most businesses forsake best secure coding standards in their software development life cycle and development process. Such negligence will eventually negate the short term benefits of rapid distribution as clients begin to vocalize their data breaches on social media and in the courtroom.

The first step to securing all of your sensitive data is identifying common security vulnerabilities most businesses are unaware of.

Most common security vulnerabilities

Buffer overflow

Buffer overflow occurs when software developers under allocate the memory reserves required for a program to run. A common software security vulnerability, this results in sensitive data “spilling over” memory stacks where they’re exposed to hungry cyber attackers.

A function's return address is one of the many sensitive stack variables that are exposed during these overflow events. When accessed and rewritten, a hacker can assume control of all associated programs.

Assembly, C and C++ are the most vulnerable program languages to buffer overflow attacks

Open source software

Open source software may be a tantalizing option for businesses on a tight budget, but if you peel away it's free price tag, you’ll discover many security loopholes.

The community focused nature of open source software means that all aspects of its coding are frequently publicized. This includes details of all security vulnerabilities and software vulnerabilities. Hackers are often silent members of these communities and use this information to cultivate their cyber-attacks.

Because the coding of open source software is readily accessible to the public, secure coding practices are not always enforced. With no defenses and all security vulnerabilities publicized, open source software is a popular choice within the hacker community.

Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)

Cross-site scripting is the most common security vulnerability that even the most trusted website can fall victim to. XSS occurs when hackers inject a malicious script into the input fields of web applications.

Because these scripts are rendered in the browser, there’s little to no way of identifying them as a foreign injection. With unimpeded access to end users browsers, hackers can access all the sensitive information stored in the browser, and even manipulate the HTML of pages to access specific information from end users.

Code injection

Secure coding negligence isn’t only an issue with Assembly, C and C++ coded software. All programming languages are vulnerable to cyber-attacks if best security coding practices are not followed. This includes popular options such as Python, Java, SQL, Ruby, Perl and PHP, or all web application languages.

These programming languages often fall victim to code injection attacks. In a code injection attack, hackers submit code into a web application to manipulate its functions. SQL injection is a common form of code injection that hackers use to access a website’s database.

Sensitive user information such as email address, contact details and even credit card details can be retrieved via a successful SQL injection.

Implementing best secure coding practices

To ensure your sensitive data is always protected from cyber-attacks, the following secure coding practices should be strictly followed to ensure you have secure code:

1. Follow OWASP guidelines

The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) is a non-for-profit dedicated to enforcing secure coding efforts by offering free application testing resources. The organization is most famous for its up to date publication of the top 10 web application security risks.

OWASP also continuously updates its web security testing guide for software developers to freely implement into their SDLC. This guide alone will help you uncover many application vulnerabilities that would have otherwise gone undetected.

2. Avoid unbounded write operators in C++

Unbounded read or copy operators such as "strcpy" and "strcat" in C++, do not account for the limited capacity of buffers, so they often cause buffer overflow. Instead, C++ software developers should use “strncpy” and “strncat” operators.

These operators take into account the length of all the data being written into a buffer as well as the buffer’s capacity. The result is an immediate cessation to data transfer either when the destination fails to meet these length requirements or when the buffer is filled, whichever comes first.

This particular secure coding practice, however, is not perfect because it requires software developers to accurately predict and specify the length of all data flowing into the memory banks. Any logic flaws will result in buffer overflow, and the subsequent attack.

3. Implement proper input validation

Input validation scrutinizes and validates all of the data that’s submitted through a web application. Intelligent application of input validation will stop all XSS and code injection attacks.

There are two forms of input validation, whitelisted or blacklisted.

Whitelisted validation only permits expected data to pass through a web application, Blacklisted validation is an inverse approach that prevents all black listed inputs from passing validation. Because coders cannot account for all code injection variations, whitelisted validation is the safer secure coding option.

4. Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST)

After a software has been fully developed, it should then be run through a series of cyber-attack scenarios it might encounter when deployed. This process of testing operational software is known as Dynamic Application Security Testing, or DAST.

DAST examines the functional resilience of software. If properly executed, DAST will uncover all security vulnerabilities that only surface when the software is in use. This is an essential secure coding practice that should be integrated into all software development life cycles.

5. Monitor the security status of your Vendors

You may strictly follow secure coding practices and security policies but your vendors may not protect their coding with equal vigor. To prevent third-party security breaches from affecting your business, a barrier needs to be established between your internal sensitive data and your vendors.

Upguard Vendor Risk allows you to monitor the security status of all your vendors. All risks are clearly identified so that they can be swiftly remediated.

A personalized questionnaire can also be submitted to all vendors to quell any specific cyber security concerns you may have.

Final thoughts

With cybercriminals continuously adapting their tactics, it’s more important now than ever to adopt secure coding practices in your software development workflow to ensure the team produces secure software. Follow the steps in this guide to defend your code from cyber-attacks.

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