Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
As concerns surrounding data privacy and security continue to rise in the digital ecosystem, secure coding practices are a top priority for developers. As per the 2023 State of Cyber Assets Report (SCAR), the number of assets managed by organizations on average saw a 133% year-on-year rise from 2022. This was accompanied by a disproportionate increase in security vulnerabilities, which grew by 589%.
Software developers and cybercriminals are in a constant race to outdo each other, which essentially requires the former to stay on top of their game at all times. Given that writing stronger source code is the key to preventing most potential exploits and attacks, this largely comes down to secure coding practices.
What Is Secure Coding And Secure Coding Practices
The term secure coding is pretty much self-explanatory. Secure coding practices seek to eliminate vulnerabilities in the source code that can potentially be exploited by cyber attackers. In other words, secure coding aims to develop software safe from malicious actors by bolstering the source code.
Now, secure coding is an umbrella term that covers a variety of secure coding practices. These include a variety of coding habits, audits, and techniques meant specifically to bolster cyber security. Together, they keep sensitive information out of the reach of cybercriminals. From leading eCommerce platforms like Ubuy to games and entertainment apps, secure coding practices are adopted by every company that cares about the security of their applications.
As revealed by Edgescan’s 2021 report, small companies that have 100 or fewer employees suffer from the largest portion of high-risk vulnerabilities.
The above graph shows the distribution of vulnerability risk levels across companies of different scales.
In addition to the initial development of an application, secure coding practices should also be adopted when making any changes. In the face of evolving data security regulations, these practices are indispensable.
10 Secure Coding Practices To Adopt When Developing An Application
The coding practices adopted when writing an application’s source code acts as its DNA, defining its behavior and functionality. Here are 10 secure coding practices that developers must implement to keep their applications safe from cyber threats.
1. Steering Clear Of Shortcuts
This is hands down the most common mistake made by developers, and understandably so. Shortcuts in coding might appear to be a smart way to get the job done faster and with lesser effort. While this does help release the code into production more quickly, it can have severe security implications. Hardcoded credentials and security tokens left as comments when developing a code using shortcuts can give cybercriminals exactly what they need.
2. Validating Input
When developing software, make sure it validates all inputs such as the files, database, keyboard, and network properly and in a restrictive manner. No input without adequate validation is to be allowed, which means the application should only accept input that’s known to be correct. This step is crucial in reducing the scope of successful cyber-attacks.
3. Avoiding The Implementation Of Vulnerable Components
This might seem like a no-brainer, but developers often compromise the security of an application by using vulnerable open-source components from other sources. Indeed, open-source libraries and components are a huge time-saver for developers.
However, being open-source, they are also an obvious choice for malicious actors to try and infiltrate applications. Steer clear of components with known vulnerabilities. Throughout the development process, monitor open-source components for new vulnerabilities.
4. Adopting The Best Cryptography Techniques
Proper encryption of passwords, communications, and other sensitive data is crucial in keeping them safe from prying eyes. Adopting the right cryptographic practices can go a long way in bolstering application security.
Only use well-known cryptographic libraries that are actively maintained and reviewed properly. All external transmissions that store, maintain, transmit, or process sensitive data should be encrypted. If possible, also encrypt sensitive information at rest.
5. Minifying And Obfuscating Your code
Here’s a clever trick to deter bad actors from breaching your application’s security. Simply minify the code by removing all line breaks and white spaces. This makes the code much harder to access and the extension more difficult to read than usual. Additionally, it also reduces the footprint of the code files and enhances the application’s performance.
An even better technique to make your exposed code difficult for cybercriminals to access is code obfuscation. This involves turning human-readable code into text that is very difficult for people to understand.
6. Quality Assurance Testing
Q/A testing is relevant to almost every aspect of application development, but it’s particularly crucial for security. The application must undergo stringent quality assurance testing before any major change or revision is moved on to production. Effective quality assurance techniques like penetration testing, application scanning, and source code audits can help weed out major security flaws.
7. Automating Scanning And Code Reviews
Vulnerabilities in your code that fail to distinguish between commands and data leave your application open to XSS and SQL injection attacks. While cross-site scripting (XSS) executes malicious codes under your domain, SQL injection attacks can steal and manipulate data in your internal database. Secure code practices like reviewing can be further enhanced by implementing automated scanning of code for vulnerabilities.
8. Secure Session Management
Alongside other secure coding practices, it’s essential to implement secure session management techniques. Session tokens should only be sent over HTTPS, as HTTP isn’t secure enough. Also, make sure that the URLs do not contain session IDs. Always create a new token upon user login – this will help prevent fixation attacks.
9. Logging And Auditing Tips
Adequate logging and auditing enables you to detect potential incidents while the software is deployed in the production environment. Make sure you know what good traffic looks like and be vigilant to identify malicious behavior. Proper logging and auditing are among the most important secure coding practices.
Activity throughout all the tiers of the application, especially user access should be audited and logged regularly. Access to the log files must be secured at all times. Also, back up and analyze the log files on a regular basis.
10. Implement Secure Access Control
This is among the relatively new secure coding practices that help protect applications from malicious actors. Access decisions for both users and developers must be based on permission rather than exclusion, adhering to the principle of least priority.
Your code should only use necessary privileges, to minimize risks. Any elevated privileges must be dropped as soon as they’re no longer necessary. Also, try to grant the application its privileges based on affiliation, role, or membership whenever feasible. These secure coding practices will significantly reduce the scope of exploits.
Does Any Specific Coding Language Offer Greater Security?
Implementing secure coding practices doesn’t require you to use a specific coding language. You may develop a secure software regardless of your language choice, as long as the secure coding practices are followed. That said, it’s still important to remember that the best practices in this regard are dependent on the language, implementation, and platform.
While Java-based web applications are susceptible to resource leaks, outdated memory management capabilities raise the risk of buffer overflow in C, C++, and Assembly language programs. Developers are free to use any language, as long as they possess an in-depth knowledge of it and can work around these security caveats to implement the best secure coding practices.
Adopting secure coding practices is an absolute necessity for independent developers and software development studios of every scale. Hence, developers must implement the best secure coding practices at the earliest, regardless of their scale of operations. At a time when the digital world is thoroughly intertwined with the physical world, cyber security is crucial to business growth and long-term success.
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