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Security Features & Design

The Security Features & Design practice is charged with creating usable security patterns for major security controls (meeting the standards defined in the Standards and Requirements practice), building middleware frameworks for those controls, and creating and publishing other proactive security guidance.

Security Features & Design Level 1

[SFD1.1: 104] Integrate and deliver security features.

Provide proactive guidance on preapproved security features for engineering groups to use rather than each group implementing its own security features. Engineering groups benefit from implementations that come preapproved, and the SSG benefits by not having to repeatedly track down the kinds of subtle errors that often creep into security features (e.g., authentication, role management, key management, logging, cryptography, protocols). These features might be discovered during SSDL activities, created by the SSG or specialized development teams, or defined in configuration templates (e.g., cloud blueprints) and delivered via mechanisms such as containers, microservices, and APIs. Generic security features often must be tailored for specific platforms. For example, each mobile and cloud platform will likely need its own means by which users are authenticated and authorized, secrets are managed, and user actions are centrally logged and monitored. It’s implementing these defined security features that generates real progress, not simply making a list of them.

[SFD1.2: 90] Application architecture teams engage with the SSG.

Application architecture teams take responsibility for security in the same way they take responsibility for performance, availability, scalability, and resiliency. One way to keep security from falling out of these architecture discussions is to have secure design experts (from the SSG, a vendor, etc.) participate. Increasingly, architecture discussions include developers and site reliability engineers who are governing all types of software components, such as open source, APIs, containers, and cloud services. In other cases, enterprise architecture teams have the knowledge to help the experts create secure designs that integrate properly into corporate design standards. Proactive engagement with experts is key to success here. In addition, it’s never safe for one team to assume another team has addressed security requirements—even moving a well-known system to the cloud means reengaging the experts.


Security Features & Design Level 2

[SFD2.1: 39] Leverage secure-by-design components and services.

Build or provide approved secure-by-design software components and services for use by engineering teams. Prior to approving and publishing secure-by-design software components and services, including open source and cloud services, the SSG must carefully assess them for security. This assessment process to declare a component secure-by-design is usually more rigorous and in-depth than that for typical projects. In addition to teaching by example, these resilient and reusable building blocks aid important efforts such as architecture analysis and code review by making it easier to avoid mistakes. These components and services also often have features (e.g., application identity, RBAC) that enable uniform usage across disparate environments. Similarly, the SSG might further take advantage of this defined list by tailoring static analysis rules specifically for the components it offers (see [CR2.6]).

[SFD2.2: 64] Create capability to solve difficult design problems.

Contribute to building resilient architectures by solving design problems unaddressed by organizational security components or services, or by cloud service providers, thus minimizing the negative impact that security has on other constraints, such as feature velocity. Involving the SSG and secure design experts in application refactoring or in the design of a new protocol, microservice, or architecture decision (e.g., containerization) enables timely analysis of the security implications of existing defenses and identifies elements to be improved. Designing for security early in the new project process is more efficient than analyzing an existing design for security and then refactoring when flaws are uncovered (see [AA1.1], [AA1.2], [AA2.1]). The SSG could also get involved in what would have historically been purely engineering discussions, as even rudimentary use of cloud-native technologies (e.g., “Hello, world!”) requires proper use of configurations and other capabilities that have direct implications on security posture.

Security Features & Design Level 3

[SFD3.1: 17] Form a review board to approve and maintain secure design patterns.

A review board formalizes the process of reaching and maintaining consensus on security tradeoffs in design needs. Unlike a typical architecture committee focused on functions, this group focuses on providing security guidance, often in the form of patterns, standards, features, or frameworks. It also periodically reviews already published design guidance (especially around authentication, authorization, and cryptography) to ensure that design decisions don’t become stale or out of date. This review board helps control the chaos associated with adoption of new technologies when development groups might otherwise make decisions on their own without engaging the SSG. Review board security guidance can also serve to inform outsourced software providers about security expectations (see [CP3.2]).

[SFD3.2: 18] Require use of approved security features and frameworks.

Implementers must take their security features and frameworks from an approved list or repository (see [SFD1.1], [SFD2.1], [SFD3.1]). There are two benefits to this activity—developers don’t spend time reinventing existing capabilities, and review teams don’t have to contend with finding the same old defects in new projects or when new platforms are adopted. Reusing proven components eases testing, code review, and threat modeling (see [AA1.1]). Reuse is a major advantage of consistent software architecture and is particularly helpful for Agile development and velocity maintenance in CI/CD pipelines. Packaging and applying required components, such as via containerization (see [SE2.5]), makes it especially easy to reuse approved features and frameworks.

[SFD3.3: 7] Find and publish secure design patterns from the organization.

Foster centralized design reuse by collecting secure design patterns (sometimes referred to as security blueprints) from across the organization and publishing them for everyone to use. A section of the SSG website (see [SR1.2]) could promote positive elements identified during threat modeling or architecture analysis so that good ideas spread widely. This process is formalized—an adhoc, accidental noticing isn’t sufficient. Common design patterns accelerate development, so it’s important to use secure design patterns, not just for applications but for all software assets (e.g., microservices, APIs, containers, infrastructure, and automation).