Software Security Training

Training has always played a critical role in software security because software developers and architects often start with little security knowledge. 

Training Level 1

[T1.1: 80] Provide awareness training.

The SSG provides awareness training in order to promote a culture of software security throughout the organization. Training might be delivered via SSG members, an outside firm, the internal training organization, or e-learning. Course content isn’t necessarily tailored for a specific audience. For example, all programmers, QA engineers, and project managers could attend the same “Introduction to Software Security” course, but this activity should be enhanced with a tailored approach that addresses a firm’s culture explicitly. Generic introductory courses that cover basic IT or high-level software security concepts do not generate satisfactory results. Likewise, awareness training aimed only at developers and not at other roles in the organization is insufficient.

[T1.5: 34] Deliver role-specific advanced curriculum (tools, technology stacks, and bug parade).

Software security training goes beyond building awareness by enabling trainees to incorporate security practices into their work. The training is tailored to cover the tools, technology stacks, development methodologies, and bugs that are most relevant to the trainee. An organization might offer four tracks for its engineers: one for architects, one for Java developers, one for mobile developers, and a fourth for testers. Tool-specific training is also commonly observed in a curriculum. Don’t forget that training will be useful for many different roles in an organization, including QA, product management, executives, and others.

[T1.6: 26] Create and use material specific to company history.

To make a strong and lasting change in behavior, training includes material specific to the company’s history. When participants can see themselves in the problem, they are more likely to understand how the material is relevant to their work and to know when and how to apply what they have learned. One way to do this is to use noteworthy attacks on the company as examples in the training curriculum. Be wary of training that covers platforms not used by developers (Windows developers don’t care about old Unix problems) or examples of problems only relevant to languages no longer in common use (Java developers don’t need to understand buffer overflows in C). Stories from company history can help steer training in the right direction, but only if the stories are still relevant and not overly censored.

[T1.7: 47] Deliver on-demand individual training.

The organization lowers the burden on trainees and reduces the cost of delivering training by offering on demand training for individuals across roles. The most obvious choice, e-learning, can be kept up to date through a subscription model, but online courses must be engaging and relevant to achieve their intended purpose. Of course, training that sits around on the shelf does nobody any good, and hot topics like mobile and cloud will attract more interest than wonky policy discussions. For developers, it is possible to provide training directly through the IDE right at the time that it’s needed, but in some cases, building a new skill  (such as code review) could be better suited for instructor-led training.

Training Level 2

[T2.5: 21] Enhance satellite through training and events.

The SSG strengthens the satellite network by inviting guest speakers or holding special events. about advanced topics (e.g., the latest software security techniques for AWS cloud development). Offering pizza and beer doesn’t hurt. A standing conference call with voluntary attendance does not address this activity, which is as much about building camaraderie as it is about sharing knowledge or organizational efficiency. There’s no substitute for face-to-face meetings, even if they happen only once or twice a year.

[T2.6: 23] Include security resources in onboarding.

The process for bringing new hires into the engineering organization requires that they complete a training module about software security. The generic new hire process usually covers things like picking a good password and making sure that people don’t tail you into the building, but this orientation period can be enhanced to cover topics such as secure coding, the SSDL, and internal security resources. The objective is to ensure that new hires contribute to the security culture. Turnover in engineering organizations is generally high, and although a generic onboarding module is useful, it does not take the place of a timely and more complete introductory software security course.  

Training Level 3

[T3.1: 4] Reward progression through curriculum (certification or HR).

Knowledge is its own reward, but progression through the security curriculum brings other benefits, too, such as career advancement. The reward system can be formal and lead to a certification or an official mark in the HR system, or it can be less formal and include motivators such as documented praise at annual review time. Involving a corporate training department and/or HR can make security’s impact on career progression more obvious, but the SSG should continue to monitor security knowledge in the firm and not cede complete  control or oversight.

[T3.2: 8] Provide training for vendors or outsourced workers.

Spending time and effort helping suppliers get security right at the outset is easier than trying to determine what went wrong later on, especially if the agile team has sprinted on to other projects. In the best case, outsourced workers receive the same training given to employees. Training individual contractors is much more natural than training entire outsource firms and is a reasonable place to start. Of course, it’s important to train everyone who works on your software, regardless of their employment status.

[T3.3: 9] Host external software security events.

The organization highlights its security culture as a differentiator by hosting security events featuring external speakers and content. Good examples of this are Microsoft’s BlueHat and QUALCOMM’s Mobile Security Summit. Employees benefit from hearing outside perspectives, especially related to fast-moving technology areas. The organization as a whole benefits from putting its security cred on display (see [SM3.2 Run an external marketing program]). Events open to just certain small groups will not result in the desired change.  

[T3.4: 9] Require an annual refresher.

Everyone involved in the SSDL is required to take an annual software security refresher course. This refresher keeps the staff up to date on security and ensures that the organization doesn’t lose focus due to turnover, evolving methodologies, or changing deployment models. The SSG might use half a day to give an update on the security landscape and explain changes to policies and standards. A refresher can also be rolled out as part of a firm-wide security day or in concert with an internal security conference, but it is useful only if it’s fresh.

[T3.5: 5] Establish SSG office hours.

The SSG offers to help any and all comers during an advertised lab period or regularly scheduled office hours. By acting as an informal resource for people who want to solve security problems, the SSG leverages teachable moments and emphasizes the carrot over the stick. Office hours might be held one afternoon per week in the office of a senior SSG member. Roving office hours are also a possibility, with visits to particular product or application group by request.

[T3.6: 3] Identify a satellite through training.

The satellite begins as a collection of people scattered across the organization who show an above-average level of security interest or advanced knowledge of new tech stacks and development methodologies. Identifying this group proactively is a step toward creating a social network that speeds the adoption of security into software development. One way to begin is to track the people who stand out during training courses or office hours (see [SM2.3 Create or grow a satellite]). In general, a volunteer army may be easier to lead than one that is drafted.