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: 76] Conduct software security awareness training.

To promote a culture of software security throughout the organization, the SSG conducts periodic software security awareness training. As examples, the training might be delivered via SSG members, an outside firm, the internal training organization, or e-learning. Here, the course content doesn’t necessarily have to be tailored for a specific audience—for example, all developers, QA engineers, and project managers could attend the same “Introduction to Software Security” course—but this effort should be augmented with a tailored approach that addresses the firm’s culture explicitly, which might include the process for building security in, avoiding common mistakes, and technology topics such as CI/CD and DevSecOps. Generic introductory courses that cover basic IT or high-level security concepts don’t generate satisfactory results. Likewise, awareness training aimed only at developers and not at other roles in the organization is insufficient.

[T1.7: 53] Deliver on-demand individual training.

The organization lowers the burden on students 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 an online curriculum must be engaging and relevant to the students in various roles to achieve its intended purpose. Training that isn’t used won’t create any change. Hot topics like containerization and security orchestration and new delivery styles such as gamification will attract more interest than boring policy discussions. For developers, it’s possible to provide training directly through the IDE right when it’s needed, but in some cases, building a new skill (such as cloud security or threat modeling) might be better suited for instructor-led training, which can also be provided on demand.

[T1.8: 46] Include security resources in onboarding.

The process for bringing new hires into an engineering organization requires that they complete a training module about software security. The generic new hire process usually covers topics like picking a good password and making sure that people don’t follow you into the building, but this orientation period can be enhanced to cover topics such as how to create, deploy, and operate secure code, the SSDL, and internal security resources (see [SR1.2 Create a security portal]). The objective is to ensure that new hires contribute to the security culture as soon as possible. Although a generic onboarding module is useful, it doesn’t take the place of a timely and more complete introductory software security course. 

Training Level 2

[T2.5: 39] 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 DevOps or cloud-native technologies). This effort is about providing to the satellite customized training so that it can fulfill its specific responsibilities, not about inviting the satellite members to routine brown bags or signing them up for the standard computer-based training. In addition, a standing conference call with voluntary attendance won’t get the desired results, which are as much about building camaraderie as they are about sharing knowledge and organizational efficiency. Face-to-face meetings are by far the most effective, even if they happen only once or twice a year and some participants must attend over videoconferencing. In teams with many geographically dispersed and work-from-home members, simply turning on cameras and ensuring everyone gets a chance to speak makes a substantial difference.

[T2.8: 27] 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 a problem, they’re more likely to understand how the material is relevant to their work as well as when and how to apply what they’ve learned. One way to do this is to use noteworthy attacks on the company’s software as examples in the training curriculum. Both successful and unsuccessful attacks can make good teachable moments. Stories from company history can help steer training in the right direction, but only if those stories are still relevant and not overly censored. This training shouldn’t cover platforms not used by developers (developers orchestrating containers probably won’t care about old virtualization problems) or examples of problems relevant only to languages no longer in common use (e.g., Go developers probably don’t need to understand how buffer overflows happen in C). 

[T2.9: 35] Deliver role-specific advanced curriculum.

Software security training goes beyond building awareness (see [T 1 .1 Conduct software security awareness training]) by enabling students to incorporate security practices into their work. This training is tailored to cover the tools, technology stacks, development methodologies, and bugs that are most relevant to students. An organization could offer tracks for its engineers, for example: one each for architects, developers, operations, site reliability engineers, and testers. Tool-specific training is also commonly needed in such a curriculum. While perhaps more concise than engineering training, role-specific training is necessary for many stakeholders within an organization, including product management, executives, and others. In any case, the training must be taken by a broad enough audience to build the desired skillsets.

Training Level 3

[T3.1: 6] Reward progression through curriculum.

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 human resources 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 human resources team 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. Coffee mugs and t-shirts can build morale, but it usually takes the possibility of real career progression to change behavior.

[T3.2: 23] Provide training for vendors and outsourced workers.

Vendors and outsourced workers receive the same level of software security training given to employees. Spending time and effort helping suppliers get security right at the outset is much easier than trying to determine what went wrong later on, especially if the development team has moved on to other projects. Training individual contractors is much more natural than training entire outsource firms and is a reasonable place to start. It’s important that everyone who works on the firm’s software has an appropriate level of training, regardless of their employment status. Of course, some vendors and outsourced workers might have received adequate training from their own firms, but that should always be verified.

[T3.3: 23] Host software security events.

The organization hosts security events featuring external speakers and content in order to strengthen its security culture. Good examples of such events are Intel iSecCon and AWS re:Inforce, which invite all employees, feature external presenters, and focus on helping engineering create, deploy, and operate better code. Employees benefit from hearing outside perspectives, especially those related to fast-moving technology areas, and the organization benefits from putting its security credentials on display (see [SM3.2 SSI efforts are part of external marketing]). Events open only to small, select groups won’t result in the desired culture change across the organization.

[T3.4: 24] Require an annual refresher.

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

[T3.5: 9] Establish SSG office hours.

The SSG or equivalent stakeholder offers help to anyone during an advertised meet-up 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 approach to security best practices. Office hours might be hosted one afternoon per week by a senior SSG member, but flexible office hours are also a possibility, with visits to particular product or application groups by request, perhaps prioritizing visits by key functionality being developed and its security implications. Slack and other messaging applications can capture questions 24x7 as a good way to seed office hours conversations, but instant messages alone aren’t a replacement for conversation and problem-solving.

[T3.6: 4] Identify new satellite members through observation.

Recruit future satellite members (e.g., champions) by noting people who stand out during training courses, office hours, capture-the-flag exercises, hack-a-thons, and other opportunities to show skill and enthusiasm, and them encouraging them to join the satellite. Pay particular attention to practitioners contributing code, security configuration for orchestration, or defect discovery rules. The satellite often begins as an assigned collection of people scattered across the organization who show an above-average level of security interest or advanced knowledge of new technology stacks and development methodologies (see [SM2.3 Create or grow a satellite]). Identifying future members proactively is a step toward creating a social network that speeds the adoption of security into software development and operations. A group of enthusiastic and skilled volunteers will be easier to lead than a group that is drafted.