Security Experts:

Make a New Year's Resolution to Get Serious About Software Security

The beginning of any new year is a time for examination and setting new goals and objectives. Many of you understand that addressing the vulnerabilities in your software is something you can no longer ignore, and are ready to get serious about software security. Resolutions are nice, but if you are serious there are some basic steps on how to turn your resolution into reality.

Put Someone in Charge of Software Security

Pithy statements like, “Software security is everyone’s job,” may look great on a poster, but for real progress in software security, someone needs to be accountable and make it their mandate to create and drive a software security initiative (SSI). One sure sign an organization is committed to software security is the existence of a software security group (SSG) headed by someone who answers to management about how the organization is addressing software risk.

Making someone accountable brings several key elements to the process:

Drives activity. IT security is an extremely reactive endeavor. If someone in IT security has software security as a partial responsibility, just how much time do you think they will spend on that task once they are through with their firefighting duties? A dedicated resource will give software security their full attention, and will drive the activity needed to advance the cause. 

Raises awareness to the next level. Headcount is a precious commodity in IT security. Committing one or more headcount to any area of focus immediately brings visibility. In some organizations, regulatory compliance requirements raise the visibility of software security to the next level. Regardless of how management gets software security religion, this awareness needs to be cultivated to ensure the SSI gets the support it needs to succeed.

Creates budget. Formalizing an SSI, creating an SSG, and raising awareness to the next level leaves management no choice but to fund the process. Having budget creates the opportunity to provision tools and services to meet the goals of the SSI. Once budget is provided and success can be demonstrated, more budget will be found. 

Leave Behind the “Box Checker” Mentality

Many organizations run application security tests to fulfill a management mandate or to comply with some regulatory requirement. Once a test is run, the box is checked and it’s onto the next test. There is no attempt to review the findings, much less fix the key vulnerabilities identified.

The only way for your organization to address the risks created by the vulnerabilities in the software is to pass the results to development so they can apply the appropriate fixes. This may be a significant change in organizational culture as the IT security folks and the developers may not have a working relationship. Building the bridge is critical to making real change.

Challenge Your Application Security Testing (AST) Vendor

Many organizations have been using the same AST vendor for a very long time. Many of you may have inherited long-term contracts that were signed by a predecessor. The reason for choosing your vendor has long been forgotten, and you have accepted, in the words of Pink Floyd, “cold comfort for change.”  You continue to run the same tests at the same level and at the same frequency.

If you are going to get serious about software security you need to be sure that your vendors are going to be serious along with you. Challenge your vendors. Force them to become your partner in success rather than someone who simply runs tests. Actively question the status quo. If you don’t see results, try another partner.

This is especially true for organizations who are upgrading from “box checker” mode. Don’t think for a moment that application security testing vendors don’t understand the “box checker” mentality. They are more than happy to have you continue to run tests and not use the results, because checking the box does not put pressure on the vendor to produce accurate, actionable results.

Get Involved With People Who Do Software Security

Find a conference that focuses on software security rather than a cattle call like RSA. Rub shoulders with people who are leading the software security charge at their organization. Soak up their advice and practical wisdom. Let them show you what they learned on their journey so you can avoid the same mistakes they made. Lean on their experience to help you choose vendors and tools. I am not saying that the analysts are not valuable, but I am saying that I would put weight on the recommendations and cautions of those who have lived it.

I attend one such conference every year and I can tell you that the information exchanged over the breakfast table is powerful stuff. I make it a point to get to breakfast early and look for animated tables where the information is flowing at a high rate of speed. I’ve learned more from listening into those sessions than I could have ever imagined. The conference presentations are certainly informative, but the gold is in the exchange of ideas between the people doing software security every day.

Get Started

Starting a software security initiative is no trivial task, and these are just a few points that must be considered. But the journey of a thousand steps starts with the first one. So, stop resolving and start doing.

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Jim Ivers is Senior Director of Marketing for the Software Integrity Group at Synopsys. Jim is a 30-year technology veteran who has spent the last ten years in IT security. Prior to Cigital, Jim was the CMO at companies such as Covata, Triumfant, Vovici, and Cybertrust, a $200M security solutions provider that was sold to Verizon Business. Jim also served as VP of Marketing for webMethods and VP of Product Management for Information Builders.