Secure Coding Practices to Ensure Application Security

The security of anything developed by writing a code comes down to the precautions followed in the coding process. To make sure the highest level of application security is applied, certain security standards need to be followed throughout the development process. 

Better Safe Than Sorry 

If you are developing an application or any other piece of software, you can have two approaches for taking care of the security of your product: 

  1. You can develop the software/application and then scrutinize it and fix any security vulnerabilities it might have. 
  2. You can make security a part of the development process and develop an entity that is inherently safe and secure.

It has been proven via empirical data that the efficient approach is to make security a part of the development process from the start. 

Here are some things that you can follow to make sure that the application is developed safely.

Top 12 Secure Coding Practices for Enhanced Application Security

1. Input Validation 

The single most dangerous thing for any application is the input. Any input from the untrusted data sources must be validated. If this thing is properly implemented, you can easily avoid most of the vulnerabilities. 

Deal external data sources like command line arguments, network interfaces, environmental variables, and user-controlled files with care and caution and implement strict input validation rules to ensure security.

2. Resolve the Issues Pointed Out  by the Compiler

When you are compiling the code, set the compiler to the highest warning level. Take a look at all the warnings that show up and eliminate every single one of them before you move further with the development process.

Using static and dynamic application security assessment tools to further look into the vulnerabilities of the software is an even better practice. 

3. Follow a Unique Architecture 

Copying the architecture from another application makes your application inherently vulnerable. To make an invulnerable application, design your own architecture and implement your own security policies.

For example, if the system needs different levels of privilege at different times, you can divide the system into subsystems with different levels of privilege and the subsystems can communicate amongst themselves. 

4. Simplicity is the Key 

Research and empirical data suggest that a simpler application is a safer one. If you want an application to be safe, keep it as small and simple as possible. Complicated designs have an increased likelihood of errors and vulnerabilities that can be exploited. 

It does not mean that a complex application cannot be secured. However, the amount of time and effort needed to secure such an application is much more than that for a simpler one.

5. Deny Access by Default

A very secure practice for developing applications is basing the access decisions on permission rather than exclusion. This means, in simpler words, that anyone trying to access the application or the data inside it is considered a hacker unless they can prove otherwise. Only after the access criterion is fulfilled, can someone gain access.

6. Follow the Principle of Least Privilege

Another important and useful practice that can make an application secure is executing tasks and processes with the minimum possible amount of privileges. If a task requires a higher degree of privilege, it must only be allowed for the minimum time that it takes for the task to be completed. This greatly reduces the window of opportunity that a potential attacker has for attacking your system.

7. Sanitize the Data Flowing Between Subsystems 

Data sanitization is one of the most important and effective ways of making sure that if a breach does occur it remains contained. It is a secure coding practice to sanitize all the data flowing to and from command shells, relational databases, and commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components.

It might be possible for attackers to use SQL, command, or injection attacks to invoke unused functions of these components. As input validation might not be sufficient for such cases, security can only be fortified by sanitizing the flow of data.

8. Use Multiple Layers of Defense 

Use more than one defense strategy to mitigate the risks. This can make the application secure by containing any vulnerability in one layer of the defense mechanism if another fails. This cannot only slow down the propagation of a security risk but can also keep it from infiltrating the system. 

9. Use Quality Assurance Techniques 

Following quality assurance techniques can be very effective in recognizing and eliminating vulnerabilities in an application. Things like fuzz testing, source code audit, and penetration testing should be made a part of the development process to make sure no vulnerability slips into the code unnoticed. 

External audits are also important. When you, as a developer, are creating an application you might overlook things. Having a third person verify and scrutinize it can make the application more secure.

10. Use Coding Standards

Coding standards are developed by international bodies and are meant to standardize coding practices to make sure no vulnerability is left in the code. The use of coding standards can make the development process easier and the end product more secure.

11. Define security requirements

Find out and document the security requirements for the application at the start of the software development lifecycle. Make sure that all the subsequent artifacts used in or developed for the software are compliant with the requirements you demarcated. This is important because you cannot ensure the security of a system if you don’t have a set of security requirements for it.

12. Threat Modeling 

Threat modeling can be used to anticipate the threats that the software will be subjected to. The process of threat modeling consists of identifying key assets, decomposing the application, identifying and categorizing the threats to each asset or component, rating the threats based on a risk ranking, and then developing threat mitigation strategies. These strategies are then implemented to make sure that the system has impenetrable security.

PRIYA JAMES is a Cyber Security Enthusiast, Certified Ethical Hacker, Security Blogger, Technical Editor, Author at GBHackers On Cyber Security

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