software development life cycle

Securing the software development life cycle with ease and efficiency

Software developing organizations have a clear objective to design, create, and deliver fully functional software. However, with increasing cyber risks and threats, it becomes impossible to overlook their security aspect. Insecure software leads to a negative impact on the hard-earned reputation of organizations. The concern is eventually emphasizing on the incorporation of a security element during the initial phases of software development. Implementation of a secure software development life cycle is needed now more than ever before.

Earlier, the software development life cycle worked to meet the already set requirements related to the features and functions of the software, but the approach missed security concerns. The multiple processes of different phases make it complex to attain specified security standards.

Best practices for secure software development life cycle

Embedding a security layer during the entire software development life cycle will result in creating a safe cyber environment for software users. It is vital to maintain the formulated security standards at different stages of the software development life cycle, ensuring secure software development.

What is the software development life cycle? Why should it concern you?

The software development life cycle is a framework assisting in the highest quality software development with the best possible budget in the shortest time. It has a detailed plan to develop, modify, maintain, and test the software system. Over the years, many software development life cycle standards came into existence and were used as per individual requirements. A few of the popular software development life cycle models include the waterfall model, spiral model, and Agile model. While its six phases are –

Phase 1: Requirement – Planning, Requirement Gathering, and Analysis
Phase 2: Design – Architecture and Design
Phase 3: Development – Coding (Implementation)
Phase 4: Testing – Quality Assurance and Testing
Phase 5: Deployment
Phase 6: Maintenance

Earlier, performing a security test on a developed software was a common practice. However, this system was flawed as vulnerabilities were noticed only after the software was developed, either during the testing phase or on software usage. Even the chances of patching the flawed software were not strong enough. Integrating the security paradigm with the software development life cycle helps reduce security vulnerabilities at the early stages of development, thus, offering better ways to create secure software.

For these reasons, the secure software development life cycle came into the picture. It introduced processes like penetration testing, code review, and architecture analysis to the software development phase. The benefits of a secure software development life cycle are –

  • Building more secure software than before
  • Keep stakeholders ensured about software security
  • Detect vulnerabilities early for better resolutions and minimal costs to resolve the issue.
  • Business risks get reduced to a significant extent.

6-phase secure software development life cycle

Phase 1: Requirement

The software development process commences with proper planning. Under this phase, the team gathers the requirements and functional specifications from all stakeholders (involved business analysts and personnel) to come up with a development plan. During this initial stage, it’s essential to understand what stakeholders want and what they don’t want. This phase has its significance, especially when upgrading or replacing the existing software.

Tips to consider:

  • A professional with a holistic product life cycle perspective will be a great asset to the team.
  • Identifying applicable standards and policies is a must.
  • Map the security controls to the complied standard framework.
  • For secure software design, follow the CIA matrix – Confidentiality, Integrity, and Availability. It will assist in defining the base of security controls.

Phase 2: Design

After planning and requirement gathering, the second phase ascertains the creation of high-quality software design. In the design phase, the requirements are considered and the scope of the software is determined. To create an architectural design, a few factors that are taken into consideration – technologies to be used, project deadline, pre-defined budget, and other applicable constraints. After this, a design specification document (DSD) is drafted, containing the interaction of business logic with the different layers of software.

Tips to consider:

  • Perform threat modeling for software security. Consider various scenarios in which software security can be compromised.
  • While assessing security robustness, keep in mind that the software will eventually be put in a distributed environment.

Phase 3: Development

Under this comparatively time-taking phase, the software design is translated into coding. The coding part directly impacts the testing and maintenance phases. Well-written codes reduce the efforts for testers. It is recommended to use simple and clear codes that can be easily altered when needed.

Tips to consider:

  • Developers should have the skills to create secure software. Apart from platform-specific obstacles or other technical issues, the development team should be well-versed with the vulnerabilities of the software that can be exploited in the deployment stage.
  • Set security guidelines and awareness training for software developers.
  • A source code review will help keep the code quality in compliance with the applicable standards – automated code review tools can be used.

Phase 4: Testing

After the coding team creates functional software, the product goes through a quality assurance and testing phase to verify its performance, functionality, and security aspects. The testing phase requires tools as well as human intervention to deliver high-quality software.

Tips to consider:

  • Outsourcing the developed software to be tested for vulnerabilities is a better idea, specifically in terms of cost savings and hiring the best of talents for software testing.
  • If outsourcing, consider the legal aspect of data sensitivity and access to in-house assets. Sanitize or mask the data to maintain the required privacy.

Phase 5: Deployment

The deployment phase is all about monitoring the product in its production and post-production environment. While under production, the developed software is put to the test again. At deployment, all identified bugs and vulnerabilities are addressed.

Tips to consider:

  • Even when the application is secure, different components of the platform must interact properly – platform security.

Phase 6: Maintenance

Once successfully deployed, the maintenance team must monitor the software to improve its performance. In the case that any flaw or bug surfaces, the team releases a patch for the software.

Tips to consider:

  • Release software updates and patches as regularly as required.
Traditionally, security-related activities were a part of the testing phase, resulting in unforeseen costs and unreasonable development delays. The software development life cycle ensures fixing the issue with a continuous security check during its development cycle. For a secure software development life cycle, all involved team members – application security engineers, analysts, developers, and testers, should have the security skills to create robust software. The Certified Application Security Engineer (C|ASE) program imparts knowledge on how to secure software in its development stage. The hands-on program dedicatedly works to adopt secure methodologies and the complete software development life cycle process to deliver secure software.

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