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What is SSDLC (Secure Software Development Lifecycle) and 6 Steps to Take Now

By Eyal Katz June 7, 2023

The pressure to ship software faster to meet market demands is compromising security in a big way. As cyber criminals find ways to use the glaring disconnect between developers and security policies, companies consider security a necessity rather than a compliance measure. 

As a result, 2022 studies show that 68% of companies are shifting towards security and making developers share responsibility for a secure software development lifecycle. Interestingly, building secure software goes beyond security–It mandates a systematic procedure for development, enabling teams to respect their timelines for developing software. 

This article explores a secure software development lifecycle and its significance. We will also list a step-by-step process and best practices for achieving this approach.

What is Secure Software Development Lifecycle (SSDLC)?

In a single line, SSDLC means incorporating security in every stage of a software development lifecycle.

The SSDLC is typically a framework for including security considerations across the development process, from planning and design to building, release maintenance, and updates. It means that along with functional specifications, developers must also learn and implement security best practices when creating a product. This helps you identify and fix issues that could become a security nightmare in the earlier life cycle stages. 

Specific tasks to undertake under each stage include:

  • Ensuring that security requirements are included in the requirement-gathering stage
  • Conducting threat modeling during design to determine the risk appetite
  • Source code review in the building stage
  • Security scanners & penetration tests just to detect issues before production
Your code is good but it can be better

Rise of SSDLC as a vital development approach

Back when security testing took a long time to complete, enterprises would release the software out in the market before the IT security team could check the application’s security posture in a production environment. One challenge here is that when a security loophole is identified, it is already out in the open for everyone (who’s looking) to see and exploit. Besides causing reputational damage, this approach proved very expensive. A 2022 report estimates the cost of poor software quality to be $2.41 trillion

Here are some of the most significant software attacks in recent times:

  1. Attackers introduced malicious code in SolarWinds Orion, which led to hackers’ invasion of over 18,000 customer systems. Security hardening against supply chain risks should’ve avoided this scandal.
  2. Cyber attackers stole the personal information of over 50 million customers of T-Mobile. The company’s poor security policies are said to have been the underlying cause of the breach. 
  3. A software bug in TikTok’s code caused a glitch that reduced all its members’ follower count to zero.
  4. 100 GB of data was stolen from Colonial Pipeline’s database after attackers gained access to their network through a stolen password.
  5. Gamers demanded a refund from the makers of Grand Theft Auto due to the terrible build quality. It was claimed that the game was riddled with software bugs.

Now, companies are moving towards a secure SDLC instead of relying on security patches to fix vulnerabilities. By integrating security into your lifecycle, you improve your security posture and deliver higher-grade software. 

SSDLC benefits for developers

But anytime you mention SSDLC, there is a pressing question: why is it needed when you have SCA and SAST tools tackling vulnerabilities? These new security checkpoints will complement the security team’s regular testing exercises. Today, hackers target CI/CD pipelines, public-facing assets, cloud spaces, etc. This calls for a holistic approach to security.

Here are some of the SSDLC benefits developers can enjoy:

  1. It brings all the stakeholders into security discussion by signing off on security considerations from the get-go
  2. Detect vulnerabilities early in development to prevent these gaps from snowballing into a significant cybersecurity incident
  3. You can reduce risks by a significant measure by closing every security gap across your development lifecycle
  4. Enterprises save operational and regulatory costs by identifying and fixing bugs before the software reaches production
  5. You can have enough time (almost the entire lifecycle) to be thorough with your testing and security practices
  6. SSDLC builds a security culture within your organization that can invariably help with cyberattacks of all kinds

5 steps to take now for a Secure SDLC 

Each phase of the SDLC needs to feature a set of security practices so that the software you ship will have a minimal risk surface for attackers to target. Further, SSDLC gives you layered security cushioning.

Let’s look at the steps in detail.

Secure Software Development Lifecycle

Step 1: Requirements Gathering

The first step of any software development lifecycle involves bringing together all the stakeholders, like a technical team, industry experts, and the sales department, to finalize a preliminary plan and draw up a list of requirements. These inputs are used to build the first blueprint of the project to conduct a feasibility study in terms of technical, operations, and financials.

The technical feasibility report outlines frameworks, languages, tools, and technologies. It is during this assessment that you consider security requirements. Some frameworks may need security trade-offs or compromises, so you must thoroughly evaluate all aspects of the project and their respective security implications. 

Key points to discuss at this stage include:

  • List of technical frameworks, security policies, and best practices
  • Industry regulations or compliance standards
  • Threats to your software or application
  • Assigning team with increased ownership of security best practices

Step 2: Architecture and design outlining

In this stage, developers consider their software’s different components and what ideal architecture framework they can use to bind them together. The architecture should address your algorithmic requirements. Introduce security at this stage to avoid an extensive overhaul later. Once the architecture is defined and security incorporated, you will not have to shake up the basic structure of your software.

The designing stage is also critical for a secure SDLC. At this stage, decide which external systems your software will interact with and how, and outline how data will flow between the different components. 

Key points to discuss at this stage:

  • Make a list of secrets that need to be validated
  • Implement threat modeling and architecture risk analysis
  • Detect potential vulnerabilities and define a remediation strategy

Step 3: Development of secure software

All your plans and architecture specifications turn into code at this stage. You must follow the industry-defined coding standards and enterprise-level policies to ensure consistency and security. You also introduce open-source and third-party code blocks at this stage. Running code review exercises and testing practices is important to ensure no vulnerabilities seep into your source code.

With supply chain risks becoming one of the leading cybersecurity threats, secure SDLC holds significant importance. It helps uncover hidden security gaps and corrupted lines of code. 

Key points to discuss at this stage:

  • Define and use secure coding practices
  • Keep secrets out of source code management systems
  • Implement guardrails and other security controls
  • Lean on SBOMs (Software Bill of Materials) to avoid vulnerabilities
  • Conduct multiple rounds of code review 
Secure Software Development Lifecycle details

Step 4: Thorough testing

While code reviews and scanners look at the lines of source code, software testing is slightly different: It evaluates your software and its functioning before pushing it to production. 

This is the stage where you find most of your defects, flaws in logic, and open spots that can be exploited. Software that goes through this stage is of high quality and secure. You can achieve this by fixing issues and re-testing deployment. This cycle should be repeated until the results exceed expectations. 

Key points to discuss at this stage:

  • Implement all tests, including SAST (Static Application Security Testing), DAST (Dynamic Application Security Testing), and Penetration testing
  • Review of configurations and SBOMs

Step 5: Release and maintenance

Once you release the application into the market, your litmus test begins. It is a test that will continue as long as your software is out there. This makes it essential to have a continuous security screening practice running in the background. Although you may have multiple testing strategies, reviews, and quality assurance tasks, there is a little chance of missing something. 

Key points to discuss at this stage:

  • Continuously monitor performance and logs
  • Prepare patching or software update plan
  • Use automation tools for effective monitoring and lay the foundation for more secure web app security

Make your software immune to cyber threats with SSDLC

Software security is one of the biggest threats in the digital world. As attackers become more innovative, you must stick to your basics and be even more stringent about security. SSDLC helps with that by providing a methodical way to secure your software, optimize your entire lifecycle, and save costs. 
Even better, use this framework alongside automated tools like Spectral–a security platform designed to let developers drive SSDLC by enabling teams to continuously scan, detect and track suspicious assets within your system. Spectral helps ensure your application can withstand any attempts to break in. Create a free account today.

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