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Secure Software: Definition & Characteristics

Instructor: Lyna Griffin

Lyna has tutored undergraduate Information Management Systems and Database Development. She has a Bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering and a Masters degree in Information Technology.

In this lesson, we will understand the importance of having a secure software and the characteristics that make a software secure. We will also look at the different types of vulnerabilities that could plague software and the tools and strategies to minimize risks.

Secure Software Definition

There are many different types of software (system or application software). Irrespective of the services offered, software must be developed in a way that protects and preserves the environment and resources within which they work.

Secure Software is defined as software developed or engineered in such a way that its operations and functionalities continue as normal even when subjected to malicious attacks. The systems and resources in its environment remain safe and the attacks detected and removed.

Why Does Security Matter?

A defective software can have very dire consequences to any business organisation or system. The costs of detecting such malicious attacks and remediation of the the damages can be significantly reduced if standards are adhered to and professional steps taken in the early stages of the software development life cycle. Adhering to standards facilitate early detection of software defects, saving costs and resources down the line.

A software system or application offers some sort of services and makes use of varying types of resources. Any one of these components are a potential target of malicious intruders. Securing a software is like securing a device or a gadget that serves you. The level of security will determine the ease with which it can be vulnerable to attacks. If we take a family car for example, it is easier to steal an unlocked car than a locked one. It is also easier to steal a car which uses a manual key than one which uses a smart key. Even though the smart key offers a higher form of security it can't prevent an intruder from smashing the window. The same way, a software cannot be foolproof or prevent physical theft of a system.

Characteristics of Secure Software

Secure Database

One of the most common database attacks are SQL injections. These involve the injection of malicious code into the design code of the software accessing its back-end database and executing malicious queries or actions. With access to the back-end database the intruder has control over the data and damage can be limitless. Securing against database SQL attacks may involve isolating the database from the running code.

Encode Data Prior to Execution

One of the vulnerabilities that facilitate many injection attacks is when the database is not adequately isolated from the running code. Though isolation may curtail, to some extent, some of these attacks, a better standard security measure is to encode data, making it safe before it is used. Encoded data is transformed into unrecognizable executable statements before being passed to the respective interpreter.

Input Data Validation

Data validation is the process of ensuring that input data is accurate and complies with the requirement of the input field. All data originating from outside the software, whether from clients' or other interface applications, must always be treated as questionable. Issues arising from vulnerabilities at input are carried through the system to output.

Access Control

Access Controls are security rules that define who has access to what resource or functionality within the software. Access rules must be carefully planned and implemented. Default access rights on all user profiles must be set at 'minimal' or 'no access' preventing any unauthorized access.

Data Protection and Privacy

Software must not only enforce access control but in addition, encryption as well. Encryption provides better data security and privacy. SSL (Secure Socket Layer) which secures data transmitted between two systems and TLS (Transport Layer Security) which provides encryption of communication over a network must be properly set up wherever applicable. Data is vulnerable in any state and should be encrypted both in transit and at rest. Data violations and exposure have cost companies millions of dollars and hence, must be taken seriously.

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