Code Security

Code security, also known as secure coding, refers to the practices, methodologies, and tools designed to ensure that the code written for applications and systems is secure from vulnerabilities and threats.

7 minutes read

What is code security?

Code security, also known as secure coding, refers to the practices, methodologies, and tools designed to ensure that the code written for applications and systems is secure from vulnerabilities and threats. It involves various activities aimed at preventing, detecting, and mitigating security risks that could be exploited by attackers to harm the software, its data, or its users.

Code security aims to minimize the presence of weaknesses (vulnerabilities) within the code that could be leveraged by malicious actors. These vulnerabilities can take various forms, such as SQL injection flaws that allow unauthorized database access or buffer overflows that enable attackers to execute arbitrary code.

Common Types of Code Vulnerabilities

SQL Injection (SQLi)This occurs when an attacker can insert or manipulate SQL queries in the input fields to be executed by the database. It can lead to unauthorized data manipulation or access.
Cross-Site Scripting (XSS)XSS vulnerabilities occur when an application includes unvalidated and unescaped user input as part of HTML output. It allows attackers to execute malicious scripts in a user’s browser, potentially stealing cookies, session tokens, or other sensitive information that leads to identity theft.
Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF)This type of attack forces an end user to execute unwanted actions on a web application in which they are currently authenticated. CSRF attacks specifically target state-changing requests, not theft of data, since the attacker has no way to see the response to the forged request.
Buffer OverflowThis occurs when a program writes more data to a buffer than it can hold. This can lead to arbitrary code execution, where an attacker could take control of a system.
Use of Hard-coded CredentialsEmbedding fixed usernames and passwords in source code can lead to unauthorized access if the codebase is exposed.

Challenges of implementing code security

While the benefits of secure code are undeniable, implementing it is not without its challenges. Juggling speed, functionality, and security is a delicate act.

Below are the common challenges organizations often face trying to implement code security best practices:

Balancing security with speed and functionality:

  • Time Pressures: Developers often face tight deadlines and pressure to release features quickly, which can lead to shortcuts in security practices.

  • Perceived Trade-offs: There's a misconception that security measures slow down development and hinder innovation.

  • Balancing Act: Finding the right balance between security, speed, and functionality requires careful planning and prioritization.

Building a culture of security awareness:

  • Lack of Awareness: Not all developers prioritize security or have sufficient training in secure coding practices.

  • Security as an Afterthought: Security is often viewed as a separate task rather than integrated into the development process.

  • Shifting Mindsets: Building a culture where security is intrinsic to development requires ongoing education and leadership support.

Integrating security tools and processes:

  • Tool Overload: The abundance of security tools can overwhelm developers, leading to tool fatigue and neglect.

  • Process Disruption: Integrating security testing and reviews can disrupt existing workflows if not managed effectively.

  • Workflow Optimization: Organizations need to streamline the integration of security tools and processes into development cycles.

Keeping up with evolving threats:

  • Rapidly Changing Landscape: New vulnerabilities and attack methods emerge constantly, requiring continuous vigilance and updates.

  • Staying Informed: Developers need to stay up-to-date on the latest threats and best practices to address them.

  • Proactive Approach: Organizations need to adopt proactive approaches to threat identification and mitigation.

Pro tip

Compromised development and management tools present a significant threat to software supply chains. Attackers may target essential components such as code repositories, build servers, and integrated development environments (IDEs) to inject malicious code. This strategy causes developers and/or users to distribute compromised software without knowing it.

Learn more

Managing third-party dependencies:

  • External Vulnerabilities: Vulnerabilities in open-source libraries or third-party components can introduce risks into applications.

  • Visibility and Control: Organizations often lack visibility into the security of external dependencies, making it difficult to assess risks.

  • Vetting and Monitoring: Implementing processes for vetting and monitoring third-party code is crucial for reducing risks.

How does code security fit into the development process?

Engineers have to remember code security at every step of the development life cycle. If you don’t plan for encryption when gathering requirements or designing your system, it might be costly to encrypt all the data later. The same goes for permissions. Giving people more permissions later is easier than taking them away when you notice someone shouldn’t see specific data. 

Don’t just test that your features work; test that the implementation conforms to security best practices. And if your features change, make space in your maintenance windows for new security practices.

Keep in mind that code security doesn’t just apply to the code of the applications you are currently implementing but also the configuration of the applications themselves and the tools you use. One more important reminder: Follow the principle of least privilege for your CI/CD pipelines. That means you should give users only the permissions they really need instead of giving everyone admin access because it’s easier.

Code security tools and techniques

There are plenty of methods to ensure code security. Let’s look at a few popular options:

Static application security testing (SAST)

SAST tools scan your code and compare it with databases of known security vulnerabilities. They’re like static typing or linters but geared more toward security issues than general coding best practices. SAST tools are easy to integrate into IDEs and CI/CD pipelines, and they scan code files at different stages of the development process. Keep in mind that scanning code requires that your chosen SAST tool supports the programming language you use.

Dynamic application security testing (DAST)

DAST tools test your application at runtime. Like SAST tools, they use databases of known vulnerabilities, but DAST solutions are more concerned with the runtime behavior of your application. Because you have to execute your application, DAST is slower than SAST. The upside is that DAST tools can catch other categories of errors, like config issues that allow access to restricted resources. And since they use standardized protocols like HTTP to connect to your application, DAST solutions aren’t tied to a specific programming language.

Infrastructure as Code security

IaC security adds another layer of protection by ensuring the code that defines your infrastructure (Infrastructure as Code) is secure. This is critical because IaC controls how resources are provisioned and configured, including security settings and access permissions. IaC security scans IaC templates early in the development process to identify vulnerabilities and misconfigurations.

This "shift left" approach prevents insecure infrastructure from being deployed, reducing the attack surface and strengthening your overall code security posture. By ensuring IaC adheres to security best practices and compliance regulations, IaC security helps automate security checks and minimize human error in infrastructure management.pen_spark

Automated code reviews

In the wake of AI and large language models (LLMs), automated code reviews have become an increasingly popular technique to ensure code security. If they are fine-tuned for common security issues, automated code reviews can spot pull-request vulnerabilities before they enter your code base. While automated code reviews can be complicated by hallucinations, automation is still preferable to code that’s been waved through review just because engineers don’t have time to look at it in detail.

Secure coding frameworks and libraries

Frameworks make building a specific type of software much easier by supplying engineers with a proven architecture and common utilities. Some even go so far as to include code security features out of the box so application developers don’t have to explicitly remember to include them.

Here are a few examples popular frameworks:

  • The Spring web framework, popular in the Java ecosystem, includes a security-focused framework for authentication and authorization.

  • The Django web framework for Python comes with security best practices baked right in.

  • The Express web framework for Node.js can be extended with the Helmet library to prevent common security issues.

A few simple code security best practices

Let’s look at some simple best practices to integrate into your development process:

Prioritizing security from the start:

  • Embrace a "security by design" mindset by integrating security considerations into every stage of the development lifecycle, rather than treating it as an afterthought.

  • Conduct regular threat modeling to proactively identify and address potential vulnerabilities before they can be exploited.

  • Educate developers on secure coding principles through training and resources, empowering them to write secure code from the outset.

Protecting sensitive data with encryption and hashing:

  • Utilize industry-standard encryption algorithms (e.g., AES-256) to safeguard sensitive data both at rest (in storage) and in transit (during transmission).

  • Implement proper key management to protect encryption keys and ensure their confidentiality, integrity, and availability.

  • Apply salted hashing techniques (e.g., bcrypt, Argon2) to store passwords securely, rendering them virtually impossible to reverse engineer.

Implementing robust authentication and authorization:

  • Go beyond simple username-password combinations by incorporating multi-factor authentication (MFA) to significantly enhance account security.

  • Enforce granular authorization controls based on user roles and permissions, ensuring that users only access the resources and functionality they need.

  • Validate user-supplied data meticulously to prevent unauthorized access through techniques like SQL injection and cross-site scripting (XSS).

  • Consider code signing certificates to establish authenticity and integrity of code, safeguarding against unauthorized modifications.

Coding defensively to prevent vulnerabilities:

  • Adhere to secure coding standards and guidelines (e.g., OWASP Top 10, SANS Top 25) to mitigate common attack vectors.

  • Prioritize input validation and sanitization to neutralize any malicious code or characters within user-provided data.

  • Employ prepared statements and parameterized queries to shield against SQL injection attacks.

  • Properly encode outputs to thwart cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerabilities.

Maintaining vigilance through testing and updates:

  • Conduct regular security testing, including penetration testing and vulnerability scanning, to proactively detect and address weaknesses.

  • Address identified vulnerabilities promptly, prioritizing those with the highest potential for exploitation.

  • Keep software, libraries, and frameworks updated with the latest security patches to address known vulnerabilities and reduce attack surfaces.

Example of a Github code repository scan identifying vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, and secrets

Upholding the principle of least privilege:

  • Assign users and processes only the minimum permissions essential for their tasks, minimizing the potential impact of unauthorized access.

  • Restrict access to sensitive resources and functionality based on explicit need and authorization.

Securing configurations and protecting administrative accounts:

  • Configure systems and applications securely, disabling unnecessary features and services to reduce attack vectors.

  • Enforce strong passwords and access controls for administrative accounts, as they often hold elevated privileges.

  • Regularly monitor and audit system logs for suspicious activity or potential intrusions.

The Wiz approach to code security

Fortunately, you don't have to tackle all the above best practices alone. Wiz recently announced new capabilities to help organizations secure the cloud software development process and speed up the resolution of issues.

Below are just a few ways that Wiz helps organizations implement and maintain code security best practices:

1. Early Risk Detection and Resolution:

  • Code Scanning: Wiz integrates with GitHub to scan code repositories proactively, identifying vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, secrets, and compliance issues early in the development process.

  • Traceability to Code: When a security issue is detected in the cloud environment, Wiz traces it back to the specific code and team responsible, enabling faster remediation at the source.

  • In-Code Remediation Guidance: Wiz provides detailed guidance directly within the code to help developers fix issues quickly and effectively.

2. Secure Software Supply Chain:

  • Container Image Integrity: Wiz verifies the integrity of container images to prevent tampering and ensure only trusted images are deployed.

  • Software Bill of Materials (SBOM) Visibility: Wiz generates comprehensive SBOMs without requiring agents, providing full visibility into all components within the software supply chain, enabling better vulnerability management.

3. Shift Left Security:

  • Integration with CI/CD Pipelines: Wiz integrates with CI/CD pipelines to automate security scans and enforce policies, shifting security to earlier stages of development.

  • Secret Scanning: Detects and prevents sensitive information like passwords, API keys, and tokens from being committed to code repositories. What is secret scanning? ->

  • Compliance Checks: Ensures code adheres to industry standards and regulations, such as PCI DSS, HIPAA, and SOC 2.

Learn more about Wiz's code security solution, or see for yourself how it can help secure your cloud from code to production by scheduling a demo.

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