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Code reviews exist in every formal Software Design Life Cycle (SDLC) (see appendix on SDLC diagrams). Code reviews also vary widely in their level of formality. Also to confuse the subject more is code reviews vary in purpose and what the code reviewer is looking for, security, compliance, programming reviews, etc. Throughout the SDLC ( XP, Agile, RAD, BSIMM, CMMI, Microsoft ALM ) there are points at which an application security consultant needs to be involved. The idea of integrating secure code reviews into your SLDC may sound daunting and adding another layer of complexity or an additional cost and time duration to an already budget and time constrained project but it is a proven cost effective, and provides an additional level of security that static analyzers can not provide.

When integrating secure code reviews into the SDLC the organization needs to create standards and policies that the secure code reviewer should adhere to. This is to create the right importance of the task so it is not just looked at as a project task that just needs to be checked off. Project time also needs to be assigned to the task so it has enough time to complete the tasks and for any remedial tasks that come out of the secure code review.

A formal test report will provide enough detail information to enable the code reviewer to classify and prioritize the software vulnerabilities based on the applications threat model. This formal test report does not need to be pages in length but it should provide the following information.

  • Date of review
  • Application Name, Code modules reviewed.
  • Developers and Code Reviewers names.
  • Task name, (TFS, GIT, Subversion, trouble ticket, etc).
  • A brief sentence(s) to classify and prioritize software vulnerability if any and what if any remedial tasks need to be accomplished or follow up is needed.
  • Threat model used.
  • Code Review checklist if used, or link to organization Code Review checklist.
  • If any tools such as FxCop, BinScope Binary Analyzer, etc were used prior to code review.

When to review: Most Integrated Development Environments (IDE) use today, (Visual Studio, Eclipse, NetBeans, Microsoft’s Team Foundation Server (TFS)) have incorporated code reviews process into their IDEs. When a code review request is submitted the request will show up in the reviewers work task. The IDEs today can easily show and detect all changes to the project the reviewer needs to be aware of. This request for code review can be done at code check in or when project is submitted to the QA process.

Today most organizations have modified their SDLC process to use add agile into their SDLC process. Because of this the organization is going to need to look at their own internal development practices to best determine where and how often secure code reviews need to happen. At the minimum an organization needs to complete a secure code review of the design on a new application or if the application is having major software upgrade. Second required is a secure coding review during the QA process before deployment. If QA errors are found the project is returned to development the software fix may cause software vulnerability.

If the project a over budget time and money then this increase the chance of a software fix could cause a secure vulnerability since now the emphasis is on getting the project to deployment. Code reviews for code in production may find software vulnerabilities but lets be honest now we are in a race with hackers to find the bug and the vulnerable software will remain in production while the remedial fix is being worked on.

Who to review: Code reviewer sounds like a job for a security or risk-analysis team member but all developers need to understand the exposure points of their applications and what threats exist for their applications. Most security teams do not have members with coding backgrounds, which can make interactions with development teams challenging. Because of this development teams are usually skeptical of security input and guidance. Security teams are usually willing to slow things down to ensure confidentiality and integrity controls are in place while developers are face with pressure from business units they support to create and update code as quickly as possible. Unfortunately the more critical the application to operational or business needs, the more pressure to deplore the code to production. Adding on top of this is development teams moving to Agile development style, which main mantra is “speed above all else with less formal processes”. So who is going to take on the job of secure code reviews? The answer is not one individual but a team of people. A “security toll gate” needs to be established. During the phases of architecture, development, QA each phase needs to have its own “security tool gate”.

Security team needs to be involved during the design and when confidentiality and integrity controls are being created or modified. The security team needs to work risk-analysis so that a threat model is created so the programmers need to know what threats they need to pay attention to during coding. Programmers peer or technical lead need to ensure that all code check in as been run thru static analyzers and the code has been check by another a peer or technical lead. This will be done in most cases by the IDE the organization is using. Last is the QA process needs to be part of the “security toll gate” before the code is deployed to production.