SAN FRANCISCO—It’s the best of times and the worst of times to be a software developer. There are lots of jobs and business opportunities for developers, but thousands of new applications reach the market each day with inadequate attention to built-in security flaws.
Cloud computing, containers, new programming languages and continuous integration and delivery tools are changing the game and enabling developers to create new types of applications and reach new levels of agility. Despite all the opportunity, there’s one area in which developers can’t catch a break—security.
Here at the RSA Conference this week there was a lot of talk about Apple vs. the FBI and the coming security market consolidation. Dig a little deeper and the real issues confronting enterprise CIOs and security managers include the never-ending stream of insecure applications being put into production from vendors as well as corporate developers.
For enterprise developers, this is not necessarily their fault. They are facing, in geek speak, the Kobayashi Maru Star Trek command test scenario: They can’t win. Either they push out apps quickly and insecurely, or slowly but more securely. Security processes and agile development methodologies require their own schedules and resources.
To that point, a new survey from CloudPassage found that 50 per cent of security professionals don’t believe security is capable of moving as fast as app release cycles; 65 percent said a lack of resources and organizational siloes are the main barriers to security getting into release cycles earlier.
Businesses, seeing great opportunities in increasing developer productivity, are pushing developers to get apps out as fast as possible. Sometimes, security best practices are being ignored. More often, they are merely being put off until later. Software producers will wait to work on security until hackers find the product’s weak spots. This symptom is already pervasive in the Internet of things. Experts who monitor and test application security call this “security debt.”
Which kinds of applications are the ones causing the most problems?
“New ones. That’s the reality,” said Amichai Shulman, CTO of Web application firewall vendor Imperva. “There are not bad programmers or bad languages. It’s mostly those apps that have very tight schedules—a very fast time to market—that are the most vulnerable. No one has enough time to weed out vulnerabilities and write secure code.”
The biggest code culprit for security these days are APIs for mobile apps and server-side controls. Companies are creating mobile versions of their legacy applications and in the process generating security bugs. “Companies say let’s go mobile, they mobilize the apps and they end up with APIs that are vulnerable,” he said.
Again, business imperatives are not necessarily the developer’s fault. Nor do security flaws occur because student developers are not getting enough training on writing secure code and preventing exploits like SQL injection and cross-site scripting.
It’s also a simple numbers problem. IT industry research shows that over the next few years millions of cyber-security jobs will go unfilled.
Security Training for Developers Failing to Keep Up With Threats
Despite a constant influx of new talent into the industry, there simply aren’t enough specialists in application security, and many of today’s experts are aging out of the market.
At one RSA session, Shannon Lietz of DevSecOps.org said that in large enterprises the average ratio of developers to security analysts is as high as 100 to 1.
Chris Wysopal, CTO of security testing service Veracode, cited a large financial services customer that has one security analyst for every 20 applications in its portfolio. Services like Veracode and White Hat Security can help because their remediation services include consultation with coding experts so that developers see where mistakes are being made.
“You need to start before you get to that point,” Wysopal said. “You need to understand your application’s threat model up-front, how you could be attacked, what data they might go after. Then test before you get hacked versus the threat model.”
Stepping into this “mess,” as Amjed Saffarini puts it, is CyberVista. Saffarini is CEO of CyberVista, a new business unit of Graham Holdings, better known as the owner of the Kaplan Inc. education service. Saffarini was at RSA to talk about the company’s forthcoming cyber-security training program for executives and board members, continuing education for IT practitioners and certification test preparation.
“Walking around RSA you see tons of products and services, and it’s difficult to figure out who does what, who are the competitors, who integrates with whom. Frankly, it’s a mess,” he said. “I can’t imagine what is going through the minds of CISOs or chief risk officers thinking how many of these products do I have to buy and are they adding security or creating security problems?”
One approach CyberVista is taking is modeling security training after medical school rotations, in which an intern is exposed to all areas of medicine. So rather than people learning specific tasks, security training is treated as a workforce development issue.
Other than better education, everybody agrees that security must evolve in two ways. First, the industry—vendors and practitioners alike—needs to come together around open threat and breach information sharing. Second, make IT and cyber-security a board-level issue. Corporate leaders can mandate more attention to security right now if they wanted to. Too few do.
Scot Petersen is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. He has an extensive background in the technology field. Prior to joining Ziff Brothers, Scot was the editorial director, Business Applications & Architecture, at TechTarget. Before that, he was the director, Editorial Operations, at Ziff Davis Enterprise. While at Ziff Davis Media, he was a writer and editor at eWEEK. No investment advice is offered in his blog. All duties are disclaimed. Scot works for a private investment firm, which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this blog, and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made.