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What is a Secure Code Review and its Process?

What is a Secure Code Review and its Process?

Defining a Secure Code Review

Nowadays, application code vulnerabilities are a lucrative cyber security target in the digital habitat. So, what causes this susceptibility? Indeed, the lack of security observation in the early project development life cycle is the root cause of the security crisis. And here is where the Secure Code Review services benefit in readying your applications.

So, let us first explain the term in detail. A Secure Code Review is a manual or automated technique that examines an application’s code base to discover existing flaws and vulnerabilities. The process also checks for logical errors and inspects spec implementation and style guidelines.

Code review can be of two types – Manual and Automated Code Review. Automated Code Review involves a tool that reviews the application source code using a predefined set of rules. On the other hand, manual review involves a human element inspecting the source code line by line to detect susceptibilities.

History of Secure Code Review

In the initial period, code review was a long and time-consuming process. Sooner, the demand for applications hiked in the digital environment, and the development process also became rapid. As a result, the review process turned more dynamic and lightweight, keeping pace with agile methodologies and modern development techniques.

And then, code review tools came into the testing process that gets easily integrated into IDEs/SCM. The introduction of SAST tools provided additional benefits to manual reviews, aiding developers quick-find and fix exposures. These tools benefit developers in numerous environments like GitLab or GitHub and IDEs such as Eclipse and IntelliJ.

Secure Code Review: Focus

Where does a secure code review plan its applicability? There are seven key areas/security mechanisms a Secure Code Review concentrates on. An application that falls short of protection in any of these areas could be easy prey for malicious users. A Secure Code Review helps identify gaps for the development team, illustrating the soundness of applications in these areas. So, what are these areas or security mechanisms?

  1. Authorization
  2. Authentication
  3. Data validation
  4. Session management
  5. Error handling
  6. Logging
  7. Encryption

You can find several reasons influencing these security mechanisms. Authentication problems can occur if there is weak handling of passwords. If the information included in a message has defects, it can affect error handling. And if there are flaws in a regular expression, it can affect data validation.

Is there a baseline standard for identifying weaknesses, mitigation, and prevention? It is known as Common Weakness Enumeration. Basically, involves a listing of weaknesses/flaws that a secure code review uses as a reference. The listing represents a measuring stick for software security tools that targets security vulnerabilities.

Secure code review: Process

As we already indicated, code review could be of two types – Manual and Automated. The current best practice of organizations involves using Manual and Automated Reviews together. Hence, the approach would be able to catch the most sophisticated threat vectors existing in your application codebase.

When do you require a Secure Code Review? For the best result, applications need code review in the initial stages of the software development lifecycle. It can help developers fast-fix existing flaws in the codebase and help improve application readiness in all ways.

Now, let us consider the situation where a developer is writing the code. A parallel automated review at this time can help incorporate immediate changes to the codebase. An Automated Review enables fast analysis of large codebases using open source or commercial tools. The advanced development team also uses SAST tools to fix vulnerabilities in real-time.

A Manual Review, on the other hand, gets useful in the commit phase of the project. It considers business logic and incorporates developer intentions. The process involves the mindful examination of the source code by a senior code review person. It is time-consuming but effective while looking to catch business logic errors or issues.

So, what is an ideal Secure Code Review Process? Indeed, the combination of both automated and manual approaches. The human element that the manual review involves is vital, and if you combine it with the SAST tool functionalities, it can enhance the overall security of the code. Additionally, it helps minimize the number of flaws or susceptibilities flowing into the production cycle.

What advantages does a secure code review have?

Secure Code Review is a critical process performed by security professionals to uncover all existing flaws in your enterprise application code. The benefits of performing a secure code review are: –

  • Reduce the number of risks coming in the later stages of the software development lifecycle.
  • Minimize the number of security bugs going into the production.
  • Lower the time spent by developers on fixing issues and thereby enhancing productivity.
  • Improve maintainability, continuity and consistency across the codebase.
  • Increase ROI by making the process faster and secure using fewer resources and time.
  • Improve developer efficiency and learning that help future code development.

Best practices and Lessons

Now, let’s turn our head towards the best practices exercised by successful code review teams.

  • Learning the developer approach

Before initiating code review, the team will communicate with the developers. They try  comprehend the developer’s approach to mechanisms like authentication, encryptions, and data validations. Here is where the review team develops all the required information about the target that will help the process further.

  • Using multiple techniques

You can’t find everything by a single type of review. Organizations need to perform both manual and automated checks as a mixture. By doing this, you achieve complete threat visibility. It also means that one method will discover things missed by the other. A successful code review uses more than one automated tool to find weaknesses.

  • Not to assess the risk levels

A code review team never make decisions/ judgements about an application’s risks level or  acceptability. Instead, they report what they find, and the customer uses the provided risk assessment plans or roadmap to assess the risk. And then, they decide whether to accept the risk or not.

  • Aiming for the big picture

While performing a manual review, it is better not to evaluate and understand the codebase line by line. The Secure Code Review team identifies what the code as a whole does and inspects the code based on vital areas. It could be how the code interacts with the database or functions that handle the login part. Also, they use automated tools to gain the required understanding of the intended or focussed areas.

  • Sticking to the review plan

Organizations should be aware that code review is never pen-testing. Indeed, the review team will not test a running version of the code as the results may induce a false sense of  completeness. Hence, sticking to the review plan is vital and something that code review team looks on with mindfulness.

Wrapping Up

So far, we have covered particulars and facts about Secure Code Review, its focus, process, advantages, and best practices followed by the review team. While looking for application readiness, a source code audit or review is one pitstop that makes your code free of security risks and vulnerabilities. Having your application code reviewed in the earlier stages is a plus in the production part of the applications. Not only your application stays free of future risks in the long run but stick with the assurance that it has a proven security binding in its background.