How to Use a

By Lisa Vaas  |  Posted 2006-02-15 Print this article Print

Code Scanner Effectively"> But deploying a code scanner is only one step in the process. As Fallon pointed out, such tools dont constitute a silver bullet; you cant ensure a secure code set merely by scanning at the testing stage. As it is, when reviewing results of a code scanner, you still need experts from a given code base to look at the results, to make sure the results are real and valuable.
And as Fallon said, that means youre looking at taking at least a couple of high-end developers away from other work to help you read test results and to help you make sure you can parallelize the stuff and run it in real time.
Another delicate question that enterprises must confront when considering the use of a volume code scanning tool is how to persuade developers to go fix the errors that the tool finds. Fallon recommends a three-step approach to that issue. First, he said, youve got to eliminate the noise. Youve got to kill as many false positives as you can before you hand developers a set of results that are predominantly bogus and that dont reflect a keen understanding of flaw vs. feature. "If you give a set of results to a developer and theres one real issue and nine bad issues, the chances are theyll hit the nine bad issues first," he said. "Whats the level of confidence that the 10th issue will be something theyll want to look at?" Read details here about Trusted Computing Groups moves toward a secure computing standard. Enterprises have got to make sure the things theyre asking developers to look at are real issues, so that those developers gain trust in the scanning tool, and so as not to waste the developers time. Make sure developers are fixing things that need fixing, Fallon said. To do that, youve got to work with a small subset of developers who have domain knowledge of the code youre looking at; work with them on what tuning has to be done with the tools. With static code scanners, you have to teach the tools what aspects of a code set are functions as opposed to flaws, he said, adding that that will dramatically cut down on false positive rates. Fallon suggested that you also need to eliminate flaw backlogs as well. Dont let known vulnerabilities propagate more positives—get them out of the way so developers can concentrate on keeping up with new developments in hacking technique. Finally, make scanning part of the daily development process. "Its much more palatable for developers if they know were going to spend time doing cleanup, that a new vulnerability has come in and well spend time eradicating it from their code base," Fallon said. Giving developers instant feedback makes it easier for them to do their jobs, as well. Knowing you dont have to hold a release while you clean up code is a relief for everybody. As far as establishing an independent body to evaluate the code test tools, NIST (the National Institute of Standards and Technology) has been working with the Department of Homeland Security in an attempt to document best practices. One area theyve been discussing with companies like Oracle is how to best manage software releases. The feedback will hopefully help to raise the bar on secure coding. For example, the state of the art in security and vulnerabilities is moving ahead constantly. External hackers try new approaches all the time. As internal development groups do research in the area, its vital that they feed back into ISVs and create best practices that can then get picked up by NIST. But the state of the art moves on, on both sides of the security fence. We have to make sure we keep ahead of it, and getting disciplined about volume code testing is one step in that direction. Lisa Vaas is Ziff Davis Internets news editor in charge of operations. She is also the editor of eWEEK.coms Database and Business Intelligence topic center. She has been with eWEEK and since 1995, most recently covering enterprise applications and database technology. She can be reached at Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest database news, reviews and analysis.

Lisa Vaas is News Editor/Operations for and also serves as editor of the Database topic center. Since 1995, she has also been a Webcast news show anchorperson and a reporter covering the IT industry. She has focused on customer relationship management technology, IT salaries and careers, effects of the H1-B visa on the technology workforce, wireless technology, security, and, most recently, databases and the technologies that touch upon them. Her articles have appeared in eWEEK's print edition, on, and in the startup IT magazine PC Connection. Prior to becoming a journalist, Vaas experienced an array of eye-opening careers, including driving a cab in Boston, photographing cranky babies in shopping malls, selling cameras, typography and computer training. She stopped a hair short of finishing an M.A. in English at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. She earned a B.S. in Communications from Emerson College. She runs two open-mic reading series in Boston and currently keeps bees in her home in Mashpee, Mass.

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