In The Security Development Lifecycle (SDL), A Process for Developing Demonstrably More Secure Software, authors Michael Howard and Steven Lipner explain how to build secure software through a repeatable process.
The methodology they describe was developed at Microsoft and has led to a measurable decrease in vulnerabilities. That’s why it’s now also used elsewhere, like at EMC (my employer).
Chapter 1, Enough is Enough: The Threats have Changed, explains how the SDL was born out of the Trustworthy Computing initiative that started with Bill Gates’ famous email in early 2002. Most operating systems have since become relatively secure, so hackers have shifted their focus to applications and the burden is now on us developers to crank up our security game. Many security issues are also privacy problems, so if we don’t, we are bound to pay the price.
Chapter 2, Current Software Development Methods Fail to Produce Secure Software, reviews current software development methods with regard to how (in)secure the resulting applications are. It shows that the adage given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow is wrong when it comes to security. The conclusion is that we need to explicitly include security into our development efforts.
Chapter 3, A Short History of the SDL at Microsoft, describes how security improvement efforts at Microsoft evolved into a consistent process that is now called the SDL.
Chapter 4, SDL for Management, explains that the SDL requires time, money, and commitment from senior management to prioritize over time to market. We’re talking real commitment, like delaying the release of an insecure application.
Chapter 5, Stage 0: Education and Awareness, starts the second part of the book, that describes the stages of the SDL. It all starts with educating developers about security. Without this, there’s no real chance of delivering secure software.
Chapter 6, Stage 1: Project Inception, sets the security context for the development effort. This includes assigning someone to guide the team through the SDL, building security leaders within the team, and setting up security expectations and tools.
Chapter 7, Stage 2: Define and Follow Best Practices, lists common secure design principles and describes attack surface analysis and attack surface reduction. The latter is about reducing the amount of code accessible to untrusted users, for example by disabling certain features by default.
Chapter 8, Stage 3: Product Risk Assessment, shows how to determine the application’s level of vulnerability to attack and its privacy impact. This helps to determine what level of security investment is appropriate for what parts of the application.
Chapter 9, Stage 4: Risk Analysis, explains threat modeling. The authors think that this is the practice with the most significant contribution to an application’s security. The idea is to understand the potential threats to the application, the risks those threats pose, and the mitigations that can reduce those risks. Threat models also help with code reviews and penetration tests. The chapter uses a pet shop website as an example.
[Note that there is now a tool that helps you with threat modeling. In this tool, you draw data flow diagrams, after which the tool uses the STRIDE approach to automatically find threats. The tool requires Visio 2007+.]
Chapter 10, Stage 5: Creating Security Documents, Tools, and Best Practices for Customers, describes the collateral that helps customers install, maintain, and use your application securely.
Chapter 11, Stage 6: Secure Coding Policies, explains the need for prescribing security-specific coding practices, educating developers about them, and verifying that they are adhered to. This is a high-level chapter, with details following in later chapters.
Chapter 12, Stage 7: Secure Testing Policies, describes the various forms of security testing, like fuzz testing, penetration testing, and run-time verification.
Chapter 13, Stage 8: The Security Push, explains that the goal of a security push is to hunt for security bugs and triage them. Fixes should follow the push. A security push doesn’t really fit into the SDL, since the goal is to prevent vulnerabilities. It can, however, be useful for legacy (i.e. pre-SDL) code.
Chapter 14, Stage 9: The Final Security Review, describes how to assess (from a security perspective) whether the application is ready to ship. A questionnaire is filled out to show compliance with the SDL, the threat models are reviewed, and unfixed security bugs are reviewed to make sure none are critical.
Chapter 15, Stage 10: Security Response Planning, explains that you need to be prepared to respond to the discovery of vulnerabilities in your deployed application, so that you can prevent panic and follow a solid process. You should have a Security Response Center outside your development team that interfaces with security researchers and others who discover vulnerabilities and guides the development team through the process of releasing a fix. It’s also important to feed back lessons learned into the development process.
Chapter 16, Stage 11: Product Release, explains that the actual release is a non-event, since all the hard work was done in the Final Security Review.
Chapter 17, Stage 12: Security Response Execution, describes the real-world challenges associated with responding to reported vulnerabilities, including when and how to deviate from the plan outlined in Security Response Planning. Above all, you must take the time to fix the root problem properly and to make sure you’re not introducing new bugs.
Chapter 18, Integrating SDL with Agile Methods, starts the final part of the book. It shows how to incorporate agile practices into the SDL, or the other way around.
Chapter 19, SDL Banned Function Calls, explains that some functions are so bad from a security perspective, that they never should be used. This chapter is heavily focused on C.
Chapter 20, SDL Minimum Cryptographic Standards, gives guidance on the use of cryptography, like never roll your own, make the use of crypto algorithms configurable, and what key sizes to use for what algorithms.
Chapter 21, SDL-Required Tools and Compiler Options, describes security tools you should use during development. This chapter is heavily focused on Microsoft technologies.
Chapter 22, Threat Tree Patterns, shows a number of threat trees that reflect common attack patterns. It follows the STRIDE approach again.
The appendix has information about the authors.
I think this book is a must-read for every developer who is serious about building secure software.
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