Simple software security: do we ask too much of developers?

As security professionals, we recognize software security’s crucial role in protecting sensitive data, maintaining user trust in applications, and ensuring the overall safety of the software landscape. However, with the ever-evolving threat landscape and growing sophistication of cyber attacks, even seemingly minor security gaps can have significant consequences.

Developers are asked to do a lot. Unfortunately, most developers have had no formal security education throughout their schooling. If a developer has security experience, it’s often self-taught. Security champion programs provide a mechanism to build developers up in security, but most are new and are in the process of bestowing security knowledge and experience.

This blog post is a simple idea and a simple command. What if we had to limit the software security guidance we could offer developers to a simple list of five things? (Caveat — as an author, I understand that many more things are required for success. Please accompany me on this thought experiment, constraining us to only five items.)

  1. Input Validation and Sanitization: Always validate and sanitize user input to ensure your application accepts only the expected data. This helps prevent common security vulnerabilities like SQL injection and cross-site scripting (XSS).
  2. Keep Dependencies Updated: Regularly update all libraries, frameworks, and third-party components to their latest versions. This ensures that your application benefits from the latest security patches and reduces the risk of known vulnerabilities.
  3. Implement Secure Authentication and Authorization: Enforce strong passwords, and enable multi-factor authentication (MFA) for all user and admin access. Implement attribute-based access control, and enforce user and object-level access control. Strong authentication controls on who can enter the system and robust access control constrain what data users can access.
  4. Store Sensitive Data Securely: Encrypt sensitive data in transit and at rest using appropriate encryption techniques and securely manage encryption keys. This ensures that sensitive information is protected from unauthorized access and data breaches.
  5. Follow the Principle of Least Privilege: Limit user and application permissions to the minimum necessary for performing tasks. By granting the least privilege, you reduce the potential damage in case of a security breach.

What do you think? Would you add anything to this list, knowing you must delete something first?

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