Development Security isn’t an Add-on

Thanks to O’Reilly’s “DRM Day” promotion yesterday, I picked up a copy of a book I’ve been meaning to but could justify because a) full price of the ebook is around $25 USD and b) it was written back in 2003 – almost ten years old! The book, “Secure Coding: Principles and Practice” is more of an overview of things to think about when it comes to secure development and less about specific language-related tips. What’s interesting to me is that, despite the book being 10 years old, it seems like the same challenges they were facing then, we’re still facing now.

Even the introduction reinforces something I’ve been trying to advocate in the PHP community for a while now – security is not an “add on” that you can drop in at the end of the development process. Security must be a part of the planning and architecture of your applications from the beginning. If you “go back and secure things” you’re doing it wrong. Now, this doesn’t mean you have to have some kind of security review process retrofitted into your SDLC. I know of lots of teams that have their workflow down and are cranking out the code and features like there’s no tomorrow. How does a team like this start “thinking secure” without having to add a lot of extra overhead? It’s pretty easy really – all it really takes is a shift in mindset.

When most developers I know start out on problems, they ask themselves questions to figure out how to start in on their solution. They wonder about things like the “best way to do it” or “the most efficient way” to get the job done. Their minds start filling up with object structure and SOLID principles, trying to find the best solution (and maybe even technologies) for the job. To start thinking secure, all it takes is one more question:

How can I break this?

Easy, right? Well, like anything else in development, one question always leads to at least 10 more. This one simple question sets you down the right path, though. It’s too easy to get focused on making things work and writing up unit tests that pass when everything’s good. I want to challenge you as a developer to do one thing in your next project. I want you to take a step back from the code – maybe grab a fellow developer to help – and look at the application from the outside and determine what could be exploited and where (the “attack surface“). A lot of times this is easier when you’re not neck deep in the code, so if you have doubts, find an outsider.

Here’s some related websec.io articles I hope can help get you in the right state of mind as you work to integrate secure principles into your development. There’s lots of other topics in there that devs would find useful, but this will get you started:

Let’s all help make the integration of security and development a thing of the past. Then, ten years down the line, people wil be reading books from 2013 and wonder what it was like “before”. :)

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