10 SDLC best practices to implement today

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Having a team that’s focused on functionality and security is critical to successful software development. To that end, a secure SDLC is important because it prioritizes the security of software and helps make sure malicious actors do not target your application. Security threats are too complex to simply patch issues following release, so it’s more efficient and effective for developers to integrate security during the coding process.


The problems a secure SDLC solves

One problem with insecure code is that vulnerabilities are prevalent in released software that are integrated with so many partner products and exposed to end users. Fixing security issues already in the wild is more time-consuming and labor-intensive because developers no longer have the code context top-of-mind. Without a SSDLC, developers waste time fixing vulnerabilities, instead of focusing on delivering new features.

An SSDLC also addresses the challenge of recurring developer security errors. The process finds and corrects those periodic issues, and provides solutions quickly enough to implement before software hits production.

The last problem a secure SDLC solves is customers having no way of knowing whether their product is secure in the absence of a security standard. Standardizing the development lifecycle makes sure there will be resources to identify and address security issues.

Now that we’ve established why the SSDLC is critical and requires security to be integrated throughout development, here are ten actionable secure SDLC best practices you can implement.

10 best practices to secure the SDLC

1. Shift mindsets toward DevSecOps

One of the most impactful strategies is implementing software security from the start. This approach builds security into the code itself and sets a precedent for protection throughout the SDLC. To address vulnerabilities in code and improve application security, the mindset shift to security must move beyond the code, however, to protecting the dependencies, containers, infrastructure, and other components of a modern application. DevOps practices accelerate development, but adding in security checks as early as possible (shift left security) can greatly improve the security posture of applications.

Read through the ways other companies have adopted DevSecOps in their organizations and listen to The Secure Developer Podcast to learn how to make these cultural changes.

2. Keep security requirements current

Giving the development team a clear picture of security requirements as the threat landscape evolves is a continuous process. Security risk documentation should be updated when new threats arise to ensure the software is protected against new threats, which are often more complex or creative than previous threats.

3. Take advantage of threat modeling

Threat modeling is a vital process that delivers both speed and security. It predicts potential locations, severity, and risk of security vulnerabilities and proactively addresses security before they become a problem. This SDLC best practice lets developers consider security threats earlier in the development process, where they can more easily modify the source code to mitigate vulnerabilities.

4. Establish secure design requirements

Standardization is one of the most impactful secure SDLC best practices. It creates a predictable roadmap to develop code and it facilitates continuous improvement when integrating security. To standardize most effectively, create design requirements for new code that advise on security best practices and also approve tools for various points in the SDLC that will remind developers what they should add when in the process.

5. Use open source components… securely

Open source components are a great way to increase speed in software development. But because you don’t directly manage the security of this open source code, it is best to implement software composition analysis (SCA) tools and use an open source code analyzer. This tool will check for vulnerabilities created by the third-party component and address them early in development.

Another aspect of using open source components securely is adhering to usage policies. SCA tools can check for license compliance to streamline the process, ensuring developers can maintain a rapid development pace while remaining compliant with open source licenses.

6. Implement code reviews

Continuing the theme of integrating security as early as possible during software development, using a static analysis security testing (SAST) tool such as Snyk Code, which checks your code quality using semantic analysis and AI, is a practical approach for preliminary vulnerability scanning. This process ensures secure code by pointing out deviations from coding practices. The code review team can then assess the logic and intent of the script for code quality and security as well.

7. Perform penetration testing

While a code review looks at the code for potential vulnerabilities, an SDLC best practice that extends that analysis is penetration testing. This assessment process employs a security expert to try to attack the application to identify vulnerable locations or security risks. Penetration testing is a risk management approach that takes proactive security to the limit during code development. Once the code passes initial development, pentesting is often completed later in the SDLC.

8. Manage potential vulnerabilities

While code reviews, software composition analysis and penetration testing is happening, it’s important to track potential vulnerabilities effectively. If development teams fail to manage vulnerabilities in a timely manner, the risk profile of an application as well as remediation costs will increase.

New vulnerabilities can be disclosed at any time, highlighting the importance of continuously monitoring your projects throughout the SDLC, even after they have been deployed. It’s also vital to ensure you have access to up to date vulnerability information, using a database such as Snyk Advisor, which is regularly updated by the Snyk Security Research team.

9. Prepare a standard incident response

Security issues will happen despite all the proactive efforts, tools, and processes you use. Therefore, it’s essential to have a dedicated task force with established roles and responsibilities to absorb the news of a security breach, define a mitigation plan, and execute it as urgently as possible. Conducting mock emergencies and trialing the procedure helps prepare your team for the real thing. This also ties into disaster recovery testing, which can help you plan for a worst-case scenario.

10. Setting up a security champions program

Security champions initiatives help security and development teams work together. Both of these teams aspire to create secure applications as quickly as possible, but security policies have traditionally been added to the SDLC without scaling the knowledge and processes via development teams. This results in automatic or manual security gates, which could lead to developer rework, dissatisfaction, and a slower total product delivery. Security champions can help bring security to the conversation earlier for a more effective SSDLC.

Final takeaway for a secure software development lifecycle

Many best practices include predictive measures to assess the code for potential risks. Using existing tools and standardizing processes like DevSecOps, threat modeling, and code reviews will help your team integrate security without sacrificing speed. In addition, knowing which team member does what when an actual issue arises will empower your team to resolve the threat rapidly.

SDLC best practices FAQ

What is the SDLC?

The software development lifecycle (SDLC) is the process developers use to create software. It includes phases for designing, developing, testing, deploying, and maintaining software. The process can be used for any kind of software deliverable, from small feature changes to large enterprise systems.

What are the secure software development lifecycle best practices?

Shifting your organization’s mindset to DevSecOps and continuously improving security and design requirements are essential proactive measures. Implementing processes like threat modeling, open source code analysis, code reviews, and penetration testing can help identify security threats at various phases of the SDLC.

Visit our Secure Software Development Lifecycle page to learn more about the secure SDLC and how Snyk can help your company assure security throughout software development.

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