Build Security into Software Now or Pay Later: 9 Best Practices
Cloud computing. Big Data. SaaS. If you’re like many of today’s businesses, you’re leveraging these IT tools in your organization. And why not? They’re productive. They boost productivity, increase efficiency, and cut costs. Plus, they provide a healthy return on investment.
But these advancements also present unique security challenges—challenges that expose your most sensitive data to risk. That’s asking for trouble.
A proven way to beat these unique security challenges is to integrate security into your software development process—especially when it comes to web apps.
Web apps are easy prey for hackers. They can quickly penetrate them and gain access to your sensitive data before you know they’re there, leaving you with a legal and public relations nightmare to deal with after they’ve gone.
Hardening Web App Defenses
To harden web app defenses against an attack, you need to make security a primary concern during the development process. Below are nine best practices on how to weave security into your development process. They’re practices we’ve gleaned over the years while building web applications for clients:
- Assume attackers are smarter than you — While you may know security well, your attacker probably knows it better. Plus, they may be using automated tools developed by a third party who also knows security well. That puts you at a significant disadvantage. Your best bet is to take steps beforehand to thwart any efforts hackers may make to exploit vulnerabilities once your site goes live.
- Use existing solutions — Developing your web security components for things like authentication, encryption, and authorization, may seem like a good idea at the time, but it’s not. Use battle-tested solutions instead that have stood the test of time. Solutions to tough but common web security problems exist for most languages and frameworks. They save time, money, and aggravation.
- Put the right foundation in place — You can’t take for granted that other people will protect your system. They probably won’t. So, put the right groundwork in place when building a web app, and make sure the critical parts of your system, like how you protect users’ data, are as fortified and scrutinized as they can be.
- Implement proper logging — Inevitably, something will go wrong with your app. Maybe you forget to do something or there’s a bug no one saw before going live. When that happens, you must respond quickly before the situation explodes. That’s when you need to have proper logging implemented. That will provide you with data on what occurred, what led to the incident, and what else was happening at the time.
- Encrypt everything you can — Even though you have a firewall and other defenses protecting your app, it’s still a good idea to encrypt everything—not just HTTPS. Better yet, look at encryption holistically when it comes to protecting your web applications. That might seem a little over the top, but scrutinizing security in isolation or one part of it is begging for trouble. Protect data both at rest and in transit.
- Harden everything — You may want to harden everything, once you’ve encrypted your data. When we say everything, we mean everything—from operating system to software development and frameworks. Consider questions like ones below when securing your app, then make adjustments where needed:
- Is your web server using unnecessary applications?
- Is your software language using extra modules or extension?
- Where do you store your session information?
- Is all outgoing and incoming traffic restricted?
- What’s the script execution time set to?
- Keep it simple — Seems obvious, right? But developers aren’t immune from creating complex solutions where simple ones will do like the rest of us. Complexity, however, is the death of software and architectures because it quickly compounds itself. Stay vigilant and try to keep it simple when developing web apps. Simpler and leaner code makes checking and updating vulnerabilities easier.
- Model potential threats — You should model for potential threats whenever you build web apps. Modeling these threats and testing for them will save you headaches later on. You should also be aware of new threats. They evolve and emerge all the time. If you have a development pipeline, don’t make it static. Continue to review to and modernize it to make sure that it’s working the way it should. Continuous real-time monitoring delivers results.
- Build for the future — You can detect and nullify many attacks with minimal effort if you prepare properly beforehand. So, when it comes to investing in web app security, consider the cost of lost confidence, post-mortem forensic investigation, and significant redevelopment to harden your defenses when a breach occurs before deciding on a security action.
These nine best practices will help you build security into your web apps when developing them. Following these practices will help lay a solid security foundation for your apps, one that will make it harder for hackers to get at your sensitive data.
One final thought: The job isn’t over just because you’ve launched the app. The responsibility for an app ultimately lies with you. Stay current with what’s happening in the field, keep your software up to date, and never stop learning about security.
Also, stay abreast of the latest vulnerabilities. You may be well versed in your industry’s threats, but new ones are coming all the time. Staying up-to-date on what’s happening will help you beat the unique security challenges posed by IT advancements like the Cloud, Big Data, and SaaS.