Introduction: Security Awareness and Application Development

Developing applications and software products for a company requires security awareness on many levels. Developers need to understand how their application will be used and how it will fit in with the rest of the organization’s infrastructure. This is because the way that the organization deals with existing security policies needs to be considered. Basic concepts such as remote connections, Internet exposure and update cycles all fall under security awareness principles.

Anyone that has ever had an internal development team working with them at a company will know that security awareness is not something that most developers consider their responsibility. Developers will generally make sure that the security features of the application are integrated into the program, but not necessarily consider how the application performs from a security-awareness perspective. Security awareness is often seen as more of a user issue, making it something for IT to deal with rather than the developer’s concern.

Some of these kinds of security awareness features do actually relate to user-oriented functions and could help to lock down the application even further, making it safer. Some examples are basic features like automatic logouts after a certain time period, mandatory password change cycles that force users to update their current passwords, and application settings lockdowns, which prevents users from changing settings that could affect the security of the application.

Back-end security awareness is equally, if not even more important. Developers must understand how their application’s data is transmitted, and what information is available within these transmissions. If the program needs vast amounts of data to be queried from a database then it must be locked down correctly so that it cannot be intercepted, altered, and then sent to the server or client with malicious content.

These tips will cover some of the most crucial aspects of security awareness in a development environment, as well as how your developers can adopt a more security-conscious approach to creating applications for your organization.

Security Awareness Tips for Developers

Because developers normally work closely with the IT department, it is often thought that the members of the development team are well-versed in security awareness. This might be true in some instances, but it is by no means guaranteed.

Developers are also users of computer systems at the end of the day and like most people, they can become the targets of cybercriminals. Below are some tips for developers to help them keep security awareness at the top of the pile when thinking about maintaining a safe and secure development environment, as well as when creating applications for the organization.

1. Shrink the Target Area

Minimizing vulnerable and commonly-targeted areas within the application is a good place to start. What this boils down to is simplification of the application. Every component that gets added to the application will add more potential gaps in security, which means that attackers will have a possible window of opportunity to exploit.

2. Make Security Your Default Setting

When an application is installed, it should be in its most compact and secure state but remain fully functional for the users that wish to make use of the application. What this means is that by default, the application should be installed with the minimum set of features that could expose users to unnecessary risk.

3. Follow the Path of Least Privilege

Users should not be granted elevated privileges just so that an application will work properly. Users should be able to use all of the features that they need in order to perform their tasks straight out of the box. This makes sure that your environment remains locked down and makes it less likely that system issues resulting from improper access will occur.

4. Limit Error Message Details

When an application is being attacked and scanned for vulnerabilities, hackers will sometimes deliberately try to get error messages. The information contained in an error message could help them reverse-engineer the application and devise more effective attacks, so limit error messages to the absolutely necessary details.

5. Create Internal Failsafes

When designing applications with security awareness in mind, it is important to understand how business procedures work in conjunction with the application. For example, in a business environment that deals with receiving goods, it is critical for a user to be able to check the goods received against the goods that were ordered. In many instances, this will not be the same person. Creating internal failsafes helps to reduce real-world theft through software policy implementations that mirror best practice.

6. Less is More

When coding, it is often simplest applications that become the most secure. Remember that the more features you add, the greater the risk of application vulnerabilities. Similarly, the more complicated each feature is, the more chances there are for hackers to use the inner machinery of the application to their advantage.

7. Plug Holes as They Are Reported

Nobody likes being told that their code is insecure, and this often leads to resentment and procrastination, especially when it comes to debugging. The truth is that the sooner these tasks are completed and sorted out, the sooner the application can become properly secured.

Conclusion

As we can see, being an application developer means that being security-aware is only part of the battle. The other challenges come from implementing security strategies that are in line with the rest of the organization’s policies and corporate ethos.

Hopefully, you have gained some insight into what it means to incorporate security awareness into your development team. This will help you get a security awareness program for your developers implemented as quickly and easily as possible.

 

Sources

Top 20 Security Awareness Tips & Tricks, InfoSec Institute

Security by Design Principles, OWASP