Security code review aims to identify security flaws in the application related to its features and design along with their exact root causes. With the increasing complexity of the applications and the advent of new technologies the traditional way of testing may fail to detect all the security flaws present in the applications. Thus, there is a need to understand the code of the application, external components, technologies and configurations to be able to uproot all the flaws in different kinds of applications. Such a deep dive into the application code also helps in determining exact mitigation techniques that can be used to avert the security flaws. Let’s look in further detail of the benefits of security code reviews.
- Root cause analysis (Source to sink) – There are various reasons why security flaws manifest in the application like lack of validation, parameter mishandling etc. During the assessment, the code is thoroughly studied and such flaws are checked. In the process the exact root cause of the flaws are captured. The complete data flow is traced and source to sink analysis is carried out. Source to sink analysis here means to determine what are possible inputs to the application i.e. source, and how are they being processed by it. Sink refers an insecure code pattern like for instance, a dynamic SQL query. So, its analyzing what is the source (input) and the sink (vulnerable code pattern) for any vulnerability. Consider a scenario where the source is a user input. It flows through the different classes/components of the application and finally falls into a concatenated SQL query i.e. a sink, and there is no proper validation being applied to it in the path. In this case the application will be vulnerable to SQL Injection attack, as identified by the source to sink analysis. Such an analysis exactly helps in understanding which vulnerable inputs can lead to a possibility of an exploit in the application.
- Design Analysis – Design is an important aspect of security code review. The dynamic testing approach does not involve design analysis, which also serves as it one of the limitations. The design flaws are difficult to uncover and requires knowledge of the entire data flow, input sources, integrations and all the configurations of the application. Thus, the flaws related to mishandling of non-user inputs and external integrations like server to server, which are unlikely to get covered in a dynamic testing approach can be easily determined in a security code review. It covers the end-to-end analysis of the application
- All Instances of the Vulnerabilities – Once a flaw is identified the next step of the security code review process is to enumerate its all the possible instances present in the application. Through security code reviews we can uncover insecure patterns present in all the files of the application. Here, all insecure instances includes the list of different the insecure code patterns that lead to a vulnerability and all of their occurrences. For instance, an application can be vulnerable to XSS vulnerability because of use of unvalidated inputs in insecure display methods like scriplets, response.write method etc. at several places.
- Uncommon Security Flaws – Security code reviews is very specific to the application being reviewed. It may highlight some flaws that are new or specific to the code implementation of the application like insecure termination of execution flow, synchronization error etc. These flaws can only be uncovered if we understand the application code flow and its logic well. Thus, security code review is not just about scanning the code for set of unknown insecure code patterns. But it also involves understanding the code implementation of the application and enumerating the flaws specific to it.
- Limitations of Existing Security Controls – The application being reviewed might have been designed with some security controls in place like centralized blacklist validation etc. or there could be some inbuilt validation/security controls present in the application platform being used. These security controls must be studied carefully to identify if they are fool-proof. According to the implementation of the control, the nature of attack or any specific attack vector that can be used to bypass it, must be analysed. Enumerating the weakness in the existing security control is another important aspect of the security code reviews.
- Specific Recommendations – The security code reviews also helps to come up with mitigation techniques that can best suit the application, instead of a generic one.