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Standards & Requirements

The Standards & Requirements practice involves eliciting explicit security requirements from the organization, determining which COTS to recommend, building standards for major security controls (such as authentication, input validation, and so on), creating security standards for technologies in use, and creating a standards review board.

Standards & Requirements Level 1

[SR1.1: 96] Create security standards.

The organization meets the demand for security guidance by creating standards that explain the required way to adhere to policy and carry out security-centric design, development, and operations. A standard might describe how to perform identity-based application authentication or how to implement transport-level security, perhaps with the SSG ensuring the availability of a reference implementation. Standards often apply to software beyond the scope of an application’s code, including container construction, orchestration, infrastructure-as-code, and cloud security configuration. Standards can be deployed in a variety of ways to keep them actionable and relevant. They can be automated into development environments (such as an IDE or toolchain) or explicitly linked to code examples and deployment artifacts (e.g., containers). In any case, to be considered standards, they must be adopted and enforced.

[SR1.2: 101] Create a security portal.

The organization has a well-known central location for information about software security. Typically, this is an internal website maintained by the SSG and satellite (security champions) that people refer to for current information on security policies, standards, and requirements, as well as for other resources (such as training). An interactive portal is better than a static portal with guideline documents that rarely change. Organizations often supplement these materials with mailing lists, chat channels (see [T3.5]), and face-to- face meetings. Development teams are increasingly putting software security knowledge directly into toolchains and automation that are outside the organization (e.g., GitHub), but that does not remove the need for SSG-led knowledge management.

[SR1.3: 103] Translate compliance constraints to requirements.

Compliance constraints are translated into security requirements for individual projects and communicated to the engineering teams. This is a linchpin in the organization’s compliance strategy—by representing compliance constraints explicitly with requirements and informing stakeholders, the organization demonstrates that compliance is a manageable task. For example, if the organization builds software that processes credit card transactions, PCI DSS compliance plays a role during the security requirements phase. In other cases, technology standards built for international interoperability can include security guidance on compliance needs. Representing these standards as requirements also helps with traceability and visibility in the event of an audit. It’s particularly useful to codify the requirements into reusable code (see [SFD2.1]) or artifact deployment specifications (see [SE2.2]).

Standards & Requirements Level 2

[SR2.2: 80] Create a standards review process.

Create a process to develop software security standards and ensure that all stakeholders have a chance to weigh in. This review process could operate by appointing a spokesperson for any proposed security standard, putting the onus on the person to demonstrate that the standard meets its goals and to get buy-in and approval from stakeholders. Enterprise architecture or enterprise risk groups sometimes take on the responsibility of creating and managing standards review processes. When the standards are implemented directly as software, the responsible person might be a DevOps manager, release engineer, or whoever owns the associated deployment artifact (e.g., the orchestration code).

[SR2.4: 92] Identify open source.

Identify open source components and dependencies included in the organization’s code repositories and built software, then review them to understand their security posture. Organizations use a variety of tools and metadata provided by delivery pipelines to discover old versions of open source components with known vulnerabilities or that their software relies on multiple versions of the same component. Scale efforts by using automated tools to find open source, whether whole components or perhaps large chunks of borrowed code. Some software development pipeline platforms, container registries, and middleware platforms have begun to provide this visibility as metadata (e.g., SBOMs, [SE3.6]) resulting from behind-the-scenes artifact scanning. Some organizations combine composition analysis results from multiple phases of the software lifecycle to get a more complete and accurate list of the open source being included in production software.

[SR2.5: 63] Create SLA boilerplate.

The SSG works with the legal department to create standard SLA boilerplate for use in contracts with vendors and outsource providers, including cloud providers, to require software security efforts on their part. The legal department might also leverage the boilerplate to help prevent compliance and privacy problems. Under the agreement, vendors and outsource providers must meet company-mandated software security SLAs (see [CP2.4]). Boilerplate language might call for objective third-party insight into software security efforts, such as BSIMMsc measurements or BSIMM scores.

[SR2.7: 53] Control open source risk.

The organization has control over its exposure to the risks that come along with using open source components and all the involved dependencies, including dependencies integrated at runtime. Controlling exposure usually includes multiple efforts, with one example being responding to known vulnerabilities in identified open source (see [SR2.4]). The use of open source could also be restricted to predefined projects or to a short list of versions that have been through an approved security screening process, have had unacceptable vulnerabilities remediated, and are made available only through approved internal repositories and containers. For some use cases, policy might preclude any use of open source. The legal department often spearheads additional open source controls due to the viral license problem associated with GPL code. SSGs that partner with and educate the legal department can help move an organization to improve its open source risk management practices, which must be applied across the software portfolio to be effective.

Standards & Requirements Level 3

[SR3.2: 19] Communicate standards to vendors.

Work with vendors to educate them and promote the organization’s security standards. A healthy relationship with a vendor isn’t guaranteed through contract language alone (see [CP2.4]), so the SSG should engage with vendors, discuss vendor security practices, and explain in simple terms (rather than legalese) what the organization expects. Any time a vendor adopts the organization’s security standards, it’s a clear sign of progress. Note that standards implemented as security features or infrastructure configuration could be a requirement to services integration with a vendor (see [SFD1.1], [SE2.2]). When the firm’s SSDL is publicly available, communication regarding software security expectations is easier. Likewise, sharing internal practices and measures can make expectations clear.

[SR3.3: 17] Use secure coding standards.

Developers use secure coding standards to avoid the most obvious bugs and as ground rules for code review. These standards are necessarily specific to a programming language, and they can address the use of popular frameworks, APIs, libraries, and infrastructure automation. Secure coding standards can also be for low- or no-code platforms (e.g., Microsoft Power Apps, Salesforce Lightning). While enforcement isn’t the point at this stage (see [CR3.5]), violation of standards is a teachable moment for all stakeholders. Other useful coding standards topics include proper use of cloud APIs, use of approved cryptography, memory sanitization, banned functions, open source use, and many others. If the organization already has coding standards for other purposes, its secure coding standards should build upon them. A clear set of secure coding standards is a good way to guide both manual and automated code review, as well as to provide relevant examples for security training. Some groups might choose to integrate their secure coding standards directly into automation. Socializing the benefits of following standards is also a good first step to gaining widespread acceptance (see [SM2.7]).

[SR3.4: 19] Create standards for technology stacks.

The organization standardizes on the use of specific technology stacks. This translates into a reduced workload because teams don’t have to explore new technology risks for every new project. The organization might create a secure base configuration (commonly in the form of golden images, Terraform definitions, etc.) for each technology stack, further reducing the amount of work required to use the stack safely. In cloud environments, hardened configurations likely include up-to-date security patches, security configuration, and security services, such as logging and monitoring. In traditional on- premises IT deployments, a stack might include an operating system, a database, an application server, and a runtime environment (e.g., a LAMP stack). Standards for secure use of reusable technologies, such as containers, microservices, or orchestration code, means that getting security right in one place positively impacts the security posture of all downstream efforts (see [SE2.5]).