Secure Development Best Practices: Building Resilient Software Applications

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Co-Founder & CTO

With the rise of cloud-native software and the more recent explosion in the use of generative AI, the importance of secure development best practices cannot be overlooked. This is underlined by regular stories in the news of cybersecurity attacks, like the recent attack attempted against JumpCloud.

It’s never been more vital to prepare against potential vulnerabilities and breaches—not to mention safeguard the trust of your organization’s users and customers. In this article, we’ll dive into what secure development looks like, provide some of the most common vulnerabilities and how to mitigate them, and share a philosophy that can help your development and security teams thrive together. We’ll answer the following questions:

  • What are secure software development standards?
  • What is secure software development?
  • Is software security the development team’s responsibility?

Understanding Secure Development

Secure development means every step of the software supply chain follows best practices, is resilient against potential attack, and has clearly defined protocols for identifying and mitigating risks and vulnerabilities. Not only that, but a clearly defined protocol for handing security issues that come up.

In today’s digital era, enterprises rely on software more than ever, making the implications of security breaches devastating. Secure development ensures that software isn’t just functional, but is also robust against threats. It helps with:

  1. Protecting User Data: Data breaches often lead to significant financial and reputational damages. Secure development guards users’ sensitive data, protecting trust. A breach in this area could cost enterprises millions of dollars.
  2. Preventing Financial Losses: Security incidents frequently result in significant direct costs from remediation efforts and potential legal penalties, not to mention the lost revenue from eroded customer trust.
  3. Regulatory Compliance: Many industries are subject to regulations mandating specific security measures. Secure development ensures that software meets these requirements, avoiding penalties and sanctions.
  4. Maintaining System Availability: Attacks typically lead to system downtimes. By developing securely, system availability and reliability are upheld.
  5. Reputation Management: Organizations known for prioritizing security enjoy a competitive advantage, as they are seen as reliable and trustworthy by the customers.
  6. Future-proofing: With the cyber-threat landscape evolving rapidly, securely developed applications are better positioned to adapt and defend against emerging threats.

Common Security Risks and Vulnerabilities and Corresponding Best Practices

Here are some of the most common security risks relevant to today’s landscape. This is far from an exhaustive list, but it gives the reader a general idea of the most relevant threats and solutions.


1. Exposed Secrets

Exposed secrets, like API keys, passwords, and tokens, provide malicious cyber actors (MCAs) access to critical systems, potentially leading to data breaches, financial loss, and compromised system integrity. The repercussions can be both immediate, such as data theft, and long-lasting, like a damaged reputation. To mitigate these risks, organizations should employ secret management tools that detect, store, distribute, and rotate secrets securely. Implementing regular audits, practicing the principle of least privilege, and using automated scanning tools to detect exposed secrets in code repositories should also be part of the strategy. Further, training developers on the importance of never hardcoding secrets directly into applications can preemptively address this vulnerability.

2. Lack of Visibility

Lacking visibility into the software supply chain poses risks, including the inadvertent introduction of vulnerabilities, the use of outdated or insecure components, and potential breaches from compromised third-party software. Such blind spots could lead to costly security incidents and undermine the trust of users and stakeholders. To mitigate these risks, organizations should implement a Software Bill of Materials (SBOM) to track and document every component and its provenance. Additionally, continuous monitoring tools can provide real-time insights into the supply chain’s security posture. Regular audits, vulnerability scanning, and using trustworthy 3rd party vendors further enhance the resilience and transparency of the software supply chain.

3. Generative AI and Large Language Models

Using Large Language Models (LLMs) in development introduces potential hazards, chiefly the inadvertent generation of hardcoded secrets and vulnerabilities in the produced code. If LLMs accidentally generate or expose sensitive information, such as API keys, it can provide unauthorized system access to MCAs. Furthermore, code generated by LLMs needs to be reviewed for vulnerabilities which could make applications susceptible to attacks. To counteract these risks, it’s paramount to integrate automated scanning tools to detect secrets and vulnerabilities in the AI-generated code. Pairing LLMs with thorough review processes and training developers on LLM-specific risks further ensures more secure development.

At Cycode, we recently hosted a webinar on this exact subject. Learn more here.

4. Lack of E2E Encryption

A lack of end-to-end encryption exposes data to significant risks, from eavesdropping during transmission to unauthorized access when stored. Without this encryption layer, sensitive information, such as personal details or financial transactions, becomes vulnerable to interception by MCAs or even unintended third parties. This can result in data breaches, financial theft, and a loss of user trust. To mitigate these risks, organizations should implement end-to-end encryption protocols, ensuring data remains encrypted from its origin to its intended destination. Additionally, adopting a zero-trust model, conducting regular security audits, and educating stakeholders about encryption’s importance further boost data protection and integrity throughout its lifecycle.

5. Lack of Compliance with Best Practices

Failing to adhere to best practices and standards such as SLSA (Supply-chain Levels for Software Artifacts) and SSDF (Secure Software Development Framework) can expose software projects to insecure tooling and development processes, which could have devastating consequences. This can erode trust among stakeholders and customers who seek assurance of software quality and safety. To mitigate these risks, development teams should familiarize themselves with these standards, integrate automated tools and enforce compliance checks, and conduct regular audits to ensure that coding practices align with evolving industry benchmarks. 

Secure Development is a Team Sport

You may be wondering, “Is secure development the responsibility of the developers or the security team?”

Our answer is that secure development should be a harmonized, team-driven endeavor. The problem comes, however, when application security (AppSec) professionals are seen as holding the development process back, or developers are seen as careless. How do teams bridge this gap?

With an automated, easy-to-use platform for security. We recognize that application security is a team sport, so we offer tailored workflows and automations to cater to the specific needs of both stakeholders. By empowering developers to bolster security without ever needing to leave their development environment, Cycode ensures that the process of crafting code remains seamless and efficient. At the same time, AppSecs are given robust tools to manage and oversee security protocols effectively.

What sets Cycode apart further is its commitment to UI/UX. We ensure both developers and AppSecs can navigate the platform with ease, making the collaborative process of ensuring application security more streamlined and cohesive. By committing to “Security first, developer friendly,” we give teams peace of mind from code to cloud.

Summing Up

Cycode can assist organizations in secure development, providing a comprehensive software supply chain security solution that aligns with SLSA and SSDF requirements. This includes features such as code analysis, vulnerability scanning, and pipeline security to help ensure that software is developed and delivered securely. Learn more here or book a demo!