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In a sense, every business is a software business. Big or small, just about every commercial entity relies on software in one way or another. It is the same for individuals. It is hard to find anyone in the US who doesn’t use software, whether for social media, shopping, gaming, banking, or just to keep up with the news online.
This means that vulnerabilities in software are taken very seriously by computer engineers. Any security failure can lead to huge financial losses and disruptions in everyday life.
The statistics for hacking underscore just how important software security has become to businesses and individuals. Computer and software engineering professionals are especially aware of how much is at stake, and that is why significant efforts go into teaching them how to combat vulnerabilities during software development.
Software engineering education
Some institutions, like Baylor University have developed courses such as the Master’s in Software Engineering to help students not just understand the cost of software vulnerability but also to prevent breaches during software development. This online Master of Computer Science at Baylor’s offers a specialized track in software engineering, teaching how to develop high-quality software in a systematic, controlled, and safe manner.
The course covers topics like applied Artificial Intelligence (AI), advanced algorithms, advanced data communications, advanced databases, and software engineering. All these topics are designed to teach students about data and software with an emphasis on safety and security during the development process.
For all who wish to enroll for such a course, it is important that they familiarize themselves with the process of software development, including how engineers address vulnerabilities during the coding process.
Steps to address security vulnerabilities
Below are some of the steps that software developers take to ensure that every piece of software they develop is safe from malicious attacks.
This is about designing software with threats in mind. Engineers analyze their designs to identify potential threats and points of weakness, so they can correct them during the development process.
Secure software coding
There are established coding practices that secure the coding process. They include input validation, secure communications, and secure data storage during all stages of the development process. Different software development companies may have different names for these practices, but they all mean roughly the same thing – engineers must keep all data, communication and input secure every step of the way.
The development team reviews the code they have written to identify potential threats that can make software vulnerable. The review team is often different from the development team. They bring a fresh set of eyes to the code which makes it easier to identify weaknesses.
After the code is written and reviewed, it is tested. This includes processes like penetration testing and vulnerability testing. Developers put the code through all sorts of stress tests to make sure that it is sound, and in many cases will give it to other teams to test. To be double sure, some software companies give the code to third parties to test and report back on any vulnerabilities they may discover.
Secure system configurations
This addresses access controls, network settings, and other configurations that may put software at risk. Engineers ensure that systems are optimal and secure before they load the new software, and they control access so that security breaches can be easily traced.
It is important to reiterate the value of access control. Engineers give permissions to only those who are allowed to use the new software, and because each user has a unique key, it is easy to trace breaches.
Hackers work hard to find new ways to infiltrate software, and that is why regular updates are necessary. Engineers continually develop patches to make software more secure.
Most software attacks are inadvertently allowed by users, so software developers need to train their users on how they can make their computers and other devices more secure. This can be anything from teaching them how to come up with stronger passwords to enabling two-factor authentication.
Complacency is a leading cause of software breaches. After engineers develop and deploy software, they sometimes sit back in the hope that everything will continue to run smoothly. In the meantime, malicious entities work hard to discover new ways to hack into company databases and acquire data. The only way to combat this type of threat is by continuously monitoring all the software under their purview. Coders must learn to think like hackers, always looking for weaknesses that can be exploited.
Why do software developers sometimes skip security considerations?
Unfortunately, it isn’t uncommon for coders to skip some or even all the processes outlined above, and one of the most common reasons cited is a lack of time.
When developers are put under pressure to deliver within certain timeframes, they may find themselves cutting corners to meet deadlines. Another reason is a lack of awareness or minimization of potential threats. Some developers release unsecured software because they believe they will never come under attack.
Fortunately, these are problems that can be easily overcome by following all the necessary steps in the software development process. If software engineers take all the prescribed precautions, they make it a little harder for breaches to occur.
Anyone who hopes to do well as a software engineer cannot afford to be complacent or make assumptions during the software development process. They must rigorously test each piece of software they develop, and after release continue to monitor it for weaknesses while developing updates and patches to make it even stronger.