Why firms need to integrate security testing into the software development life cycle

Digital security is critical for companies of all sizes as malicious attacks not only risk exposing sensitive data, but they can also erode customer trust and put brand reputation in jeopardy. Because many system incursions target applications, software development firms need to integrate industry best practice security measures into software infrastructure and implement security testing throughout the development life cycle. For those looking for a new custom software development partner, here’s a look at why security testing is so important and what developers can do to mitigate risk for clients.

Security threats are everywhere

To fully understand why it’s so important to integrate security testing into the software development life cycle, it helps to understand the scope of cybersecurity threats. Some small and medium-sized business (SMB) owners feel that bad actors only attack large corporations. But the fact is that 43% of cybersecurity attacks target small businesses. So, it’s clear that companies of all sizes need to prepare their IT systems and infrastructure to guard against attacks.

For web applications in general, including increasingly popular progressive web apps (PWAs), security experts estimate that “82% of vulnerabilities were located in application code.” That means development firms and their clients must start designing in and testing security measures long before software systems are complete.

The nature and sophistication of security threats is evolving. In a perfect world, simple username and password authentication work extremely well, but we don’t live in a perfect world. The bad guys know people use simple username/password combinations that can be guessed, easily re-constructed, or used across a broad spectrum of applications. Such practices leave people vulnerable to hacker theft of unencrypted data which can be used in later intrusion attacks against popular web applications, or used in identity theft schemes.

Bad guys also use sophisticated phishing schemes to dupe users into providing their security credentials, which can be later used to gain access to critical information or assume the identity of the victim user. This is mostly a user training vulnerability which is very difficult to fix without the use of more sophisticated authentication strategies.

Fortunately, these and other hacking attempts can be prevented through a combination of user education and security controls, like two-factor authentication schemes and other methods. However, all security measures must be thoroughly tested to ensure no loopholes exist and the intended result is achieved.

Types of security testing

There are five types of security testing that custom software development firms should integrate into the development life cycle. They include:

1. Risk assessment – This holistic assessment of a company’s operations, specifically focused on both physical and digital security considerations, must be performed as a first step. The goal is to identify any potential vulnerabilities in a company’s physical or digital security processes or deviations from security industry best practices. For example, could employee data transfer practices potentially leave the door open to bad actors?

2. Security scanning – Developers will use either manual or automated tests to check both software and the client’s network for vulnerabilities. This is important because vulnerabilities in the network could compromise software applications and vice versa.

3. Vulnerability scanning – This is a more specialized scan that looks for vulnerabilities in the software or application itself. It’s important to note that this scan may not uncover all vulnerabilities, so developers will still need to check for loopholes using other means.

4. Security audit – This is a review of the actual code, whether completed manually or with an automated program, to check for flaws and vulnerabilities. Although it can be tedious to go through code line by line, it’s an important step for ensuring system security. Software security best practices have evolved a lot over the years, reacting to ever increasing sophistication of hackers’ methods. Even a cursory code review can reveal security holes big enough to drive a truck through, particularly in legacy software systems that were developed to meet the less comprehensive standards of the time.

5. Penetration testing – Also known as a pentest, this is perhaps the most robust of all security tests as it essentially simulates an attempted incursion to test the software from a hacker’s point of view. This can be the most revealing test in terms of identifying vulnerabilities that were missed in previous stages of the development cycle.

How security testing becomes integrated into the development process

Security testing should begin in the planning and design phase of all thoughtfully considered applications. From that point, where security testing occurs in the development life cycle ultimately comes down to the development partner you select. Some will conduct testing at pre-determined intervals, while others take a more dynamic approach. To try to ensure the best results for your software project, look for a development firm that uses the agile development methodology. This approach uses multiple sprints of development work to complete software projects, with each iteration involving some sort of functional and security testing method. Also, be sure to ask any prospective development partners about how they conduct their security testing to see if their approach will meet your needs, both in terms of budget and project timeline.

Benefits of integrated security testing

The goal of developing secure applications is to protect the valuable assets potentially exposed to a broad spectrum of bad actors on the internet or internal to the organization. Assets worth protecting can include personal information, financial assets, and a company’s hard-won reputation. Significant breaches can severely tarnish the reputation of any company, and even minor breaches provide significant disruptions. That said, the most immediate benefit of integrating security testing into the software development life cycle is simply that your new system will be more secure. By testing early and often, you are better able to identify vulnerabilities and take action to address them, providing better security for your sensitive data. But there are other benefits as well.

For one, if you conduct security tests and reveal vulnerabilities early in the development process, you will be able to fix them earlier as well. While this may seem obvious, it can actually lead to significant cost savings over the life of the project. Refactoring and testing flawed code is vastly more expensive than building in security best practices during the design phase. In fact, some firms estimate that the cost to find and fix a security flaw during system integration is 15-90 times higher than it would be at the design or coding phase.

This is often because vulnerabilities identified later will require significant rework of development efforts, which takes time, increasing overall costs and delaying your deployment timeline. In other words, you not only want to identify vulnerabilities in your system so you can fix them, you also want to identify them as early as possible to keep costs low.

When it comes to custom software development projects, ensuring data security is truly a never-ending process. Security should be a priority from the earliest planning stages and then continued throughout deployment and implementation of your new system. By understanding the risks associated with cybersecurity attacks and selecting a development partner that integrates security testing throughout the software development life cycle, you will be better positioned to keep your project on schedule, on budget and ultimately mitigate risk for your business.

About Saturn Systems

Saturn SystemsSaturn Systems is an entirely U.S. based software engineering firm that provides a broad range of services, from project-based development and quality assurance testing to fully integrated staff augmentation teams. Saturn's Rural Outsourcing model couples the lower cost of doing business in Duluth, MN, with an experienced engineering team - making Saturn an attractive alternative to high-priced metro firms and the inherent difficulties of offshore services.

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