Understanding the importance of code review and analysis to prevent exploitation and breaches

In simple terms, application security is the use of software, hardware, and procedural methods to protect applications from exploitation of inherent flaws.

Web applications are hackers’ favorite target because they have access to valuable information through connection to a database and they are relatively easy to exploit.  According to the 2016 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report, the top multi-industry data breaches are the result of web application attacks (which are the most prevalent), POS intrusions, payment card skimmers, insider and privilege misuse, physical theft, cyber-espionage, crime-ware, denial-of-service-attacks etc.

A successful attack can result in a variety of devastating consequences such as financial loss, reputational damage, and loss of customer trust. Most organizations do not recover from a major security breach, hence, it is absolutely critical to protect your users and customers from threats that target applications.

Security is becoming an increasingly important concern during application development as applications become more pervasive within enterprises and readily accessible over networks, making them vulnerable to a wide variety of threat vectors.  At the development stage, security measures should be built into applications, however, a sound application security routine (of reviewing codes) minimize the likelihood that unauthorized manipulation  of the application to access, steal, modify, or delete sensitive data.

The above introduced the need for Code Review (also called source code review): Code review is a systematic examination of source code with the intention to find and fix programming flaws and bugs. It helps to improve both the overall quality of software and the developers’ skills.

A secure code review involves manual and/or automated review of an application’s source code in an attempt to quickly identify security-related weaknesses in the code. It does not attempt to identify every issue in the code, but instead looks to provide insight into what types of problems exist and to help developers of the application understand the types of issues present. It aimed at giving the developers the needed information to make the application’s source code secure.

As applications are becoming increasingly interconnected, it is important to note that flaws in one application often leads to exploitation of other applications. Based on interconnection of these applications, there is no unimportant application from the security point of view. People with malicious intent are always on the lookout for coding flaws and vulnerabilities and are eager to take advantage of any of these in a target application.

When a vulnerability is found in code (and goes undetected) it can have far reaching negative effects. Developers mostly undertake functional testing throughout development process and most times think applications are secure for release, however, it is advisable that applications have correctly implemented/infused   security mechanisms into the development process.

This is where secure code reviews come into play.  Imagine this simple analogy where you send an important and lengthy document to someone without giving it a review-or a last look over. It is most likely going to have a few typos and maybe grammatical flaws. It is the same with applications, it is important you give your application a “last look” to ensure that the code and its’ components are free of security flaws.

Benefits of Using a Code Review tool

“All code contains bugs. Some of those bugs are security bugs we must find”—Anonymous

  1. A code review tool is designed with an expert understanding of how specific programming languages used to build application are structured. This allows code review tools to uncover the vulnerabilities and flaws that scripts might not.
  2. Code review tools allow a development team, or a peer review team member to review the code collaboratively in an easy and efficient manner. Code review tools are designed to provide all the benefits of formal code inspection with considerably less effort and time when compared to manual code inspection.

When it comes to application security, not all developers are security experts, hence, code reviews reduces the risk of a developer unknowingly introducing vulnerabilities to the code base.

  1. Manual source code scans cannot and does not identify all vulnerabilities. In the coding or development stage, there are certain classes of errors that a code scan might not detect, e.g., a password routine of one-character may be programmatically correct, but would still constitute a security issue. Only a detailed security code review will spot problems of this type.
  2. Other benefits of reviewing application codes is that helps to:
  • Identify and provide remediation guidance on coding flaws
  • Conduct security due diligence of key applications and 3rd party software
  • Meet regulatory requirements such as PCI DSS
  • Educate developers on secure coding best practices
  • Enforces security as a development priority

Types of Security Code Review tool

A secure code review tool is a must for maintaining competitiveness. Good code review and code analysis enable  developers to review, find and eliminate flaws and possible vulnerabilities before an application goes “live” and helps software purchasers identify flaws in applications before they buy.

Listed below are some code review tools:

  • Penetration testing tools
  • Vulnerability scanning tools
  • Static Code Analysis tool
  • Dynamic Code Analysis tools

The effectiveness of tools listed above are not infinite, hence, it is imperative that your team regularly engage code reviews, even after the launch of an application.

Do you want to learn more of security code review tools and analysis? Talk to an Infoprive Information Security Expert Today.

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