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Secure SDLC

Secure SDLC (SSDLC) is a framework for enhancing software security by integrating security designs, tools, and processes across the entire development lifecycle.

10 min read

Secure SDLC (SSDLC) is a framework for enhancing software security by integrating security designs, tools, and processes across the entire development lifecycle.

In this article, we'll explain the phases of secure SDLC and share some best practices for developing your own workflows.

What is secure SDLC?

Secure SDLC enhances the software development lifecycle (SDLC) by considering security concerns at every phase. It aims to make security a primary responsibility for all teams involved with the software product. By including security in the requirements, design, build, and test stages, everybody can give their input on security problems from the outset, resulting in a lower chance of issues unexpectedly occurring.

Secure SDLC is important because it provides a holistic security approach that can scale with modern development and deployment methods. Software toolchains are increasingly complex—involving open-source components, external APIs, and cloud infrastructure. So it's essential that security is continually considered. Secure SDLC ensures this by making security a first-class part of the process.

Organizations using secure SDLC improve their overall security since the model reduces risk by catching more threats early on—before they ever enter your product. They also see increased throughput (since less time is spent fixing security issues), along with lower costs and less potential exposure to compliance problems. 

How does secure SDLC work?

Secure SDLC builds upon the established five-phase SDLC model:

  1. Defining requirements

  2. Design

  3. Coding

  4. Testing

  5. Deployment

In this traditional method, it's unclear where security fits in. As a result, security is often relegated to a pre-deploy checklist task—or not addressed at all, until a risk is found in production.

Secure SDLC shifts security left into all five of the SDLC phases. This makes security a constant priority, from the initial definition of requirements to development and deployment tasks.

1. Secure requirements

The requirements phase is all about defining what you're going to build and the problems it will solve. It's where you decide what the functional scope will be, as well as any fixed constraints concerning the technologies (such as programming languages and frameworks) that will be used.

Secure SDLC means that security requirements must also be identified and defined as part of this phase. These include the compliance standards you must adhere to, in addition to any specific security mechanisms your system will depend on—such as proper encryption of sensitive personal data and the use of RBAC to prevent unauthorized access.

2. Secure design

The design phase is where you convert your requirements into a feasible solution that’s ready to implement. It's where you decide how you'll achieve the requirements by combining tools and technologies to build useful features.

Successfully designing a system requires the involvement of multiple stakeholders across the product, business, engineering, and security teams. Product managers might want the requirements to be met through a specific user experience, while developers may have preferences for the software architecture that's used. But above all of these varying opinions, it's imperative to consider how the security requirements will be met and whether they’re affected by the other decisions made.

In a secure SDLC, security inputs must therefore be collated and assessed throughout the design phase. Changes to the design will require a reevaluation of the security model. It's important to preempt any security concerns that could appear during the build; unless they're mitigated early on, developers might not be equipped to deal with them, which can result in vulnerabilities reaching your product.

Pro tip

Wiz’s agentless SBOM allows you to gain complete visibility of your applications’ components, including packages, open-source libraries, and nested dependencies, without blind spots and deploying an agent.

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3. Secure coding

Once the design has been signed off on, the SDLC shifts into the build phase. This is where code is written to execute the chosen design.

For a secure SDLC, secure and defensive coding techniques must be used to prevent security issues. In turn, this requires the use of tools and processes that will identify unsafe areas of code and prevent them from being deployed.

Secure coding techniques include:

  • Correctly sanitizing inputs

  • Not hardcoding secrets

  • Using SAST solutions to find potential bugs and vulnerabilities

  • Adhering to existing security guidelines for your frameworks and programming languages

Open-source components that you depend on should also be subject to regular software composition analysis (SCA) scans that let you identify outdated, vulnerable, or non-compliant dependencies, such as by producing searchable SBOMs.

Because automation still can't find every fault, it's imperative to review code for security issues before it is deployed. Implementing policies such as multiple required reviews, including one from a security specialist, minimizes the risk of oversights.

4. Security testing

Comprehensive testing is essential to ensure that your software not only works as designed but that it is also secure and safe to use. Within a secure SDLC, testing should cover the following verticals:

  • Manual tests by developers

  • Larger tests in production-like infrastructure

  • Audits by security teams

  • Penetration tests

  • Security and vulnerability scans

Practicing secure coding means there should be relatively few vulnerabilities to find. However, some issues can be undetectable during the development cycle, such as runtime vulnerabilities in your APIs that are only exploitable in the cloud environment where your app is deployed.

This means that a combination of automated tests, security scans, and penetration tests is critical. If any problems are detected, then the SDLC should be short-circuited back to the design/build phases to allow remediation before a live deployment occurs.

5. Continual security for deployment and maintenance

The modern SDLC is continuous, with an application's lifecycle typically extending for years after its initial launch. The days of shipping software and saying "job done" are long gone.

Accordingly, secure SDLC requires ongoing security coverage for apps that are running in production, as well as associated infrastructure such as CI/CD pipelines. New vulnerabilities could be discovered that affect your system, or changes to a cloud environment might introduce misconfigurations that create a security risk.

To maintain security post-deployment, DevOps teams need solutions that can monitor applications and provide an accurate picture of the changing risk landscape. Automated alerts, suggested actions, and comprehensive visibility into detected threats—all provided by a cloud security posture management (CSPM) platform—will keep you informed of new threats and support consistent resolution efforts within your SDLC.

Further, the risk data surfaced by your monitoring solutions should inform the start of the next loop through the secure SDLC. After analyzing and prioritizing discovered vulnerabilities, you can define new requirements, adjust your design for improved security, and then develop and test improvements. This drives meaningful reductions in risk over your software's lifespan.

Key areas of secure SDLC

To achieve a secure SDLC, you need to integrate security with as many areas of your process as possible. Secure end-to-end software delivery depends on each step being protected by appropriate controls.

Development team

Development teams shouldn't be expected to automatically understand security. Providing training and risk awareness programs will educate engineers and help them anticipate where security problems could occur. This prevents many types of issues while also better equipping devs to apply mitigations when problems are detected.

Having developers share some of the responsibility for security produces a shift-left effect. It means security is being considered continually as code is authored. Developers will be able to spot and resolve potential problems while they work, instead of having to tack on security fixes after they're reported by separate teams. This breaks down silos and tightens the delivery feedback loop.

Secure code

Software can't be secure if its code contains vulnerabilities or misconfigurations. Unfortunately, problems such as hardcoded secrets and injection attacks are still prevalent, even though they're readily detectable using automation.

Securing code comes down to properly training developers, and then supporting them with scan tools that can find any remaining flaws. Developers need to know the implications of using particular coding techniques and how they might lead to security issues when the app is deployed.

As code is constantly changing, automated test suites must be used to guarantee long-term stability. Otherwise, changes in one sub-system could inadvertently lead to a security issue in another. Combining robust toolchains with clearly defined organizational working methods will help increase code consistency and lead to fewer security issues.

Security standards

A substantial part of secure SDLC concerns setting, documenting, and adhering to security standards that apply across all your teams. Ensuring everyone is working against the same baseline means fundamental requirements, like the use of encryption, are always met.

To be useful, your security standards need to be attainable, realistic, and measurable. Vague language isn't helpful here, so aim for "new PRs to add no critical or high-severity vulnerabilities," not "new code should be secure." The standards-setting process must also involve inputs from a range of different teams, including security specialists, developers, and product managers who understand customers’ security expectations.

Secure software

Good software should be secure by design, and this is what the secure SDLC model advocates for. This is ultimately about more than just anticipating security issues and getting developers involved early on.

Secure software needs to be founded on a true security-first ethos. That means avoiding any features that have the potential to negatively impact security—even when they're specifically requested by business leaders or customers. Staying focused on security reduces your risk and will cut costs over time, as you and your customers will be less likely to face a security incident.

Similarly, it's important to strictly adhere to your SDLC, even when it might be tempting to take shortcuts to get a feature across the finish line. This will be counterproductive if the feature launches with a security issue that could have been avoided had proper scans, reviews, and audits been conducted.

User interface

An often-overlooked area of secure SDLC is the user interface (UI) that you deliver. A UI that makes it easy for insecure choices to be made (such as allowing the use of accounts without multi-factor authentication or API keys that never expire) could increase your exposure to security vulnerabilities.

It's possible to play a blame game in this scenario: After all, it was the user's choice to create an insecure API key. But if that key is leaked, abused, and used to direct malicious traffic to your service, then you might be facing an incident that affects more than just one customer.

Enforcing option-less security defaults in your user interface therefore influences the security of your SDLC. Removing the ability to make insecure choices lowers the risk that developers will have to take time out to deal with incidents.

Managing security risks

Your ability to maintain a secure SDLC depends on how well you can triage and mitigate new risks as they appear. Using dedicated risk management solutions will give you visibility into changes in your threat landscape, allowing you to make accurate decisions about future improvements to your SDLC.

For example, if you're being affected by a high number of vulnerabilities in third-party dependencies, then you might want to seek alternative packages for those functions. Alternatively, vulnerabilities that are detected within your source code—such as hardcoded secrets—can indicate you need to provide developer training and adopt new scan tools to improve your code’s security.

Best practices for secure SDLC

Here are some recommended actions for securing your SDLC:

  • Shift security left: Shifting security left should be your first step. Until everyone's involved in security, you can't take a fully holistic approach to anticipating, detecting, and fixing risks.

  • Establish a security-first culture: A security-first culture means everyone is thinking about security and how their decisions affect it. This minimizes the risk of new product features and code changes introducing vulnerabilities in existing services.

  • Standardize security practices in your organization: Security controls should be centralized and consistent to maximize their effectiveness. Standardize your security requirements and working methods, then document for easy reference by everyone.

  • Continually improve based on past experiences: Applications aren't static, and neither is your security posture. Continuously scan for threats, then analyze issues to identify trends that reveal weaknesses in your secure SDLC. Iterate on your processes to improve them and reduce your risk exposure.

  • Reference established secure SDLC frameworks: Still unsure where to start with secure SDLC? Reviewing established frameworks such as NIST's Secure Software Development Framework (SSDF) and OWASP's Comprehensive, Lightweight Application Security Process (CLASP) can provide useful guidance and examples for common types of applications and frameworks.

These tips will allow you to drive security improvements across your software delivery processes.

The successful operationalization of a secure cloud development process is the key to scale your cloud security program. Capabilities like code scanning and in-code remediation deliver on the true promise of cloud-native security and development, because they make fixing risks faster and prevent costly production issues at the source. In this spirit, Wiz is demonstrating our continued commitment to enabling customers to fully embrace the concept of DevSecOps with a simple, intuitive platform.

Summary

Secure SDLC shifts security left, making it a part of all phases of the software development lifecycle. The model reduces your risk by ensuring security is consciously planned during the requirements stage, enforced in your product through secure coding, and maintained in production environments using safe deployment methods.

A secure SDLC approach means everyone is responsible for security. This creates more opportunities to spot problems earlier on and minimizes the number of vulnerabilities you'll encounter in the long term. When all developers are informed about security expectations, they're less likely to introduce new risks. Similarly, any threats that do appear will be quickly resolvable by anyone on the team, without having to wait for specialist security guidance.

Wiz supports your secure SDLC through our suite of cloud security solutions that provide visibility into security issues across your environments. Wiz offers several key features for secure cloud development, including:

  • Code scanning: Wiz can scan your code repositories to identify vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, and secrets.

  • Cloud to code: Wiz can trace risks in production right down to code, so you can quickly fix the root cause of problems.

  • SBOM and image integrity: Wiz can help you secure your software supply chain by ensuring that only verified or trusted container images are deployed.

  • In-code remediation: Wiz provides in-code remediation guidance so developers can fix issues at the source quickly.

  • Developer-friendly experience: Wiz is designed to be easy for developers to use, with features like a GitHub connector and a browser extension.

Get a demo to learn how Wiz can strengthen your secure SDLC with its CSPM platform today.

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