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Peter Tylee · 10 May 2023


If you’re about to embark on a journey of software development alongside a software developer, taking steps to ensure that your software is as protected as possible from hackers should be your number one consideration.

According to an article published recently by the ABC, there have been 2,784 recorded data breaches in Australia since 2020. Already in 2023 we’ve seen breaches of Service NSW, Reddit and Latitude, as well as an extortion attempt relating to the scandalous Optus data breach of 2022.

Last year also saw an alarming number of companies swept up in cyberattacks including Medibank Private, Deakin University, the University of Western Australia, Uber, TikTok, Telstra, MyDeal, Twitter, LJ Hooker, Medlab Pathology, Amart Furniture, The North Face Outdoor Apparel, Vinomofo, Harcourts Real Estate and more. These data breaches have resulted in the theft of sensitive information, costing businesses millions of dollars in damages while causing a lot of stress and ongoing repercussions for organisations as well as their customers and clients.

As you can see, it’s not just large organisations being targeted – small companies have also fallen victim to hackers. No one is immune, which means everyone needs to be prepared.

The move to cloud-based systems has made us more vulnerable than ever and data breaches will undoubtedly continue – especially as new ways to hack continue to emerge. Safeguarding your business from cyberattacks needs to take place from the very beginning. When you commence your software development journey, be sure to partner with a software development company that you can trust to employ and maintain best practice security right from the get go. Here are the key things to look out for.

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When you partner with a new software developer, the most important thing you can do straight off the bat is make sure your developer is building in secure coding practices. Secure coding practices refers to a set of guidelines, techniques and best practices that developers can follow to ensure the software they are developing is safeguarded against cyberattacks as effectively as possible.

Some of these secure coding practices include:

•    Input validation. Input validation ensures that only properly formed data is entered by users. This then prevents malformed data from existing in the database and causing the malfunction of various downstream components, thereby reducing the impact of XSS, SQL Injection and other attacks.

•    Proper error handling. If errors aren’t handled correctly, this can lead to a range of security problems for your software. One of the most common problems is when a hacker can see detailed internal error messages which reveal telling clues on potential flaws and how your software works. Naturally, a hacker will use this information to their full advantage. To prevent this from occurring, proper error handling mechanisms should be in place across all web servers, applications and web application environments. When building your software, your developer should make sure that it is built to handle all possible errors and that it responds to these errors with a specific result that aids the user without revealing internal details.

•    Use of secure libraries and frameworks. By using pre-built, tested and secure coding libraries and software frameworks, you can avoid attackers taking advantage of even the tiniest of issues in code made from scratch. OWASP’s Proactive Control C2 states that “Secure coding libraries and software frameworks with embedded security help software developers guard against security-related design and implementation flaws. A developer writing an application from scratch might not have sufficient knowledge, time, or budget to properly implement or maintain security features. Leveraging security frameworks helps accomplish security goals more efficiently and accurately.” Essentially, by leveraging tried and tested libraries and frameworks, you can ensure your code is more secure and harder to hack.

•    Proper use of cryptography. Cryptography is critical in software applications but is easily misapplied and can often be insecure even if it appears to working. Accordingly, it’s extremely important for proper principles to be applied and to get it right from the beginning. One key rule is not to create your own crypto algorithm but to use an available crypto algorithm which has gone through years of thorough testing. Your software developer should choose one that is well known, has been properly reviewed, and is consistently maintained.

•    Regular code reviews. Conducting regular code reviews throughout the development process can save you a lot of time and trouble down the line by fixing any bugs and identifying potential weaknesses before the software is finalised.

Incorporating these best practices into a development process led by guidelines means your software developer will be building you software that is more secure and resilient, therefore reducing your vulnerability to attacks. Additionally, your developer will be saving you time, money and headaches in the long-term by reducing the need to fix security issues later on, as well as improving the overall quality and reliability of your software.

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There are a number of guidelines for secure coding best practice that you should be aware of. Six of the most common guidelines to note are:

•    The OWASP Top Ten. The OWASP Top Ten is a list developed by the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP), a non-profit foundation dedicated to improving software security. Completely free and easy to access through the OWASP website, the OWASP Top Ten provides a ranked list of the ten most critical web application security risks along with advice on remediation. This list is updated every two or three years and is based on a consensus among security experts across the globe. Incorporating the report into your processes is highly recommended to reduce or prevent security risks.

•    CERT Secure Coding. CERT Secure Coding are a set of standards developed by members of the software and software security communities. They contain rules and recommendations to prevent insecure coding practices and behaviours leading to security risks for programming languages like C, C++, Python and Java coding.

•    NIST Guidelines. The NIST Guidelines are a set of standards and guidelines for software developers created by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a non-regulatory government agency in the US. The NIST guidelines encompass security best practices across various industries, and include the NIST Cybersecurity Framework which provides guidelines and recommendations to ensure your organisation’s infrastructure is secure.

•    Microsoft Security Development Lifecycle (SDL). The Microsoft SDL is used internally at Microsoft and is designed to help developers build more secure software, while also addressing compliance regulations and reducing development costs. Updated regularly, the SDL contains guidance, best practices, tools and processes, and highlights security and privacy considerations at all stages of the development process.

•    ISO/IEC 27001. ISO/IEC 27001 is an internationally recognised standard published by two leading organisations: the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). This standard provides a framework to help any organisation – no matter how big or small or in what industry – protect their information with an Information Security Management System (ISMS) securely and cost-effectively.

•    Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) Security Technical Implementation Guides (STIGs). DISA STIG security guidelines are important guidelines designed to keep your software secure. Regularly updated, STIGs cover how to configure hardware and software properly, implement security protocols and coordinate training.

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Once everything is set and ready to go, security needs to remain a key consideration. The ideal scenario for maintaining your data’s security includes:

•    Keeping software up to date with regular code reviews. A great complement to automated scans and tests, regular code reviews help to detect security issues and vulnerabilities, and ensure that your software is kept up to date. This includes updating software libraries and frameworks, particularly when there are known vulnerabilities, patching software and making sure all components are current.

•    Using encryption. Encryption is one of the most effective and commonly-used data security methods. It is an effective way of restricting who can view or interact with certain information without affecting your organisation’s productivity. Essentially, encryption scrambles content into ‘ciphertext’, making it illegible to everyone except those who hold a decryption key. There are different methods of data encryption with varying strengths, and whilst it seems like a complicated process, it can be handled easily with the right software.

•    Implementing strong authentication solutions. Building on the username/password mechanism that has existed for decades, strong authentication allows you to confirm a user’s identity by adding a second factor. There are multiple types of strong authentication with varying levels of convenience and assurance, and it’s important to choose one that is right for your business, users and risk. Examples of strong authentication solutions include security questions, which are very easy to set up but also easy to hack or steal, or one-time passwords (OTP) which may be a token, a verification code sent via SMS, or third-party app-generated codes. Other options include physical authentication keys, such as a USB or swipe card, and the increasingly popular biometrics, which requires specific physical characteristics such as using your fingerprint, iris or retina, or voice or facial recognition. When it comes to strong authentication there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, and often a combined approach may be the way to go, with various solutions implemented for different users and situations. When planning your strong authentication methods, you also need to keep in mind all access points and ensure you have a system in place for cloud resources, remote network access and mobile devices.

•    Conducting regular security audits. You aren’t going to know how your organisation will fare in the face of a cybersecurity threat without conducting a cybersecurity audit. A cybersecurity audit is a comprehensive look at your cybersecurity systems, which examines all aspects and tests how well your technologies, people, procedures and policies work together. This gives you a chance to discover any weaknesses in your systems and remedy these to strengthen your security. Security audits can be conducted in-house or with an external auditor, depending on your organisation and its needs. The frequency and depth of a security audit also depends on your circumstances, but should take into account your overall data security:

1.    whether your software is up-to-date and is working as it should
2.    whether you’re compliant with legal regulations
3.    if there are vulnerabilities or inefficiencies
4.    the strength of your policies and training procedures.

Unlike a security assessment, a security audit also involves remediating found vulnerabilities.

•    Limiting access to sensitive data. The fewer people who have access to sensitive data the better. Give sensitive information only to those who really need it, and only give everyone else access to the things they need to perform their specific roles. Employ the Principle of Least Privilege, which means giving each user the fewest access rights possible, and only increasing these privileges if you absolutely have to. Under this principle, you should also take away privileges if someone no longer needs access to sensitive data. For an added layer of security, you could take the “just-in-time approach” and provide employees access to certain data by request, as long as they have a valid reason and for a set amount of time only.

•    Monitoring for suspicious activity. Being aware of what is going on across your network and knowing how to spot suspicious activity can give you the best shot at taking action before too much damage is done. Monitoring for suspicious activity can be achieved through monitoring tools that detect and alert you to suspicious activity such as multiple failed login attempts, unusual traffic on your website or unexplained changes to your software.

•    Having a response plan in place. In the event a cyberattack does occur, it’s important that your organisation knows exactly how to respond. Your response plan should outline how certain people in your business should respond to specific incidents including data breaches and leaks, ransomware attacks or loss of sensitive information. The four essential phases to include in your incident response plan to ensure its effectiveness according to NIST, are: preparation; detection and analysis; containment, eradication and recovery; and post-incident activity.

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The move to cloud-based systems, coupled with hackers utilising increasingly sophisticated technology and constantly finding new ways to hack, makes cybersecurity an ever-growing concern.

As evidenced by the current epidemic in data breaches, businesses of all sizes are at risk and, accordingly, every business should have appropriate measures in place to reduce the likelihood of a successful attack.

Protecting your business from cyber risks starts by laying the foundation at the very beginning of your software development journey. By incorporating and maintaining best practice security from the start of your project, you’ll ensure your software is resilient, robust and secure – saving you from a lot of stress, and wasted time and money down the line. To achieve this, partnering with a software development company you can trust is crucial. Choose a partner who prioritises security, and follows the guidelines, techniques and best practices known to safeguard against cyberattacks as effectively as possible.