Thursday, December 18, 2008

OH, I Like Surprises!

Gary McGraw (CTO, Cigital) provides a must-read article this week, Software Security Top 10 Surprises. Gary, along with Brian Chess (Chief Scientist, Fortify) and Sammy Migues (Director, Knowledge Management, Cigital), interviewed nine executives running top software security programs and provided their analysis. I’m always curious to know what the more progressive organizations are doing regarding software security. Some organizations take up a leadership position and the rest will follow -- eventually. I’ve highlighted several snippets that were specifically interesting to me.

“All nine have an internal group devoted to software security that we choose to call the Software Security Group or SSG.”

“...an average percentage of SSG to development of just over 1%.”

Ladies and gentlemen, we have metrics! Many organization are searching for benchmarks offering guidance when budgeting resources for software security and finding limited information. Their work, along with the OWASP Security Spending Benchmarks project, plan to fill the void.


“We were surprised to find that only two of the nine organizations we interviewed used Web application firewalls at all.”

Wait for it!

“In our view, the best use of Web application firewalls is to buy some time to fix your security problems properly in the software itself by thwarting an active attack that you are already experiencing.”

Whoa! I am surprised as well, but ironically in the opposite direction. I would have estimated the number of WAF deployment lower than 22% (2 in 9). However, we are speaking progressive organizations in this case so perhaps it does make sense. Then Gary, Brian, and Sammy go on to confirm what I’ve been recommending for some time -- use WAFs to quickly reduce the immediate exposure (time-to-fix), then fix the root cause (the code) as time and budget allow.


“Involving QA in software security is non-trivial... Even the "simple" black box Web testing tools are too hard to use.”

“One sneaky trick to solving this problem is to encapsulate the attackers' perspective in automated tools that can be used by QA. What we learned is that even today's Web application testing tools (badness-ometers of the first order) remain too difficult to use for testers who spend most of their time verifying functional requirements.”

Exactly right. It’s one thing for a security pro to learn to use some security tools, run scanners, and hunt down all manner of esoteric Web application vulnerabilities. It’s quite another to expect a QA person to do the same. QA people are not security experts, they have a different skill set, much separate from what webappsec requires.


“Unless you understand how potential attacks really work and who really does them, it's impossible to build a secure system.“

Well said, nothing more to add.

“However, though attack information is critical for SSG members, the notion of teaching work-a-day developers how to "think like a bad guy" is not widespread.”

Precisely. Effort is better spent teaching developers how to play defense, a smaller domain of knowledge, and not offense. Leave the offense to the security guys.

“All nine programs we talked to have in-house training curricula, and training is considered the most important software security practice in the two most mature software security initiatives we interviewed.”

In-house security training support is a must have. An education process fueling what development security standards the organization keeps, the libraries available, and other helpful resources is essential. Much better bang for the buck than generic external courses offered.

1 comment:

Christian Folini said...

Well said.