Book review: Software Security: Building Security in – Part I: Software Security Fundamentals

This is a review of the first part of the Software Security: Building Security in book.

Chapter 1: Defining a disciplineSecuritySoftwareBookCover

This chapter lands out the landscape for the entire book; the author presents his view on the today challenges in having secure holes free software.
In the today world, the software is everywhere, from microwaves oven to nuclear power-stations, so the “old view” of seeing the software applications as “black boxes” than can be protected using firewalls and IDS/IPS it’s not valid anymore.

And just to make the problem even harder, the computing systems and the software applications are more and more interconnected must be extensible and have more and more complex features.

The author propose a taxonomy of the security problems that can be affected the software applications:

  • defect: a defect is a problem that may lie dormant in software only to surface in a fielded system with major consequences.
  • bug: an implementation-level software problem; only fairy simple implementations errors. A large panel of tools are capable to detect a range of implementation bugs.
  • flaw: a problem at a deeper level; a flow is something that can be present at the code level but it can be also present or absent at the design level. What is very important to remark is that the automated technologies to detect design-level flows do not yet exist, through manual risk-analysis can identity flows.
  • risk: flaws and bugs lead to risk. Risk capture the chance that a flaw or a bug will impact the purpose of a software.

In order to solve the problem of the software security, the author propose a cultural shift based on three pillars: applied risk management, software security touchpoints and knowledge.

Pillar 1 Applied Risk Management

For the author under the risk management names there 2 different parts; the application of risk analysis at the architectural level (also known as threat modeling or security design analysis or architectural risk analysis) and tracking and mitigating risks as a full life-cycle activity (the author call this approach, the risk management framework – RMF).

Pillar 2 Software security Touchpoints.

Touchpoint it’s just a fancy word for “best practices”. Today there are best practices for design and coding of software system and as the security became a property of a software system, then best practices should also be used to tackle the security problems.Here are the (seven) touch points and where exactly are applied in the development process.

Security Touchpoints
Security Touchpoints

The idea is to introduce as deeply as possible the touch points in the development process. The part 2 of the book is dedicated to the touchpoints.

Pillar 3 Knowledge

For the author the knowledge management and training should play a central role in encapsulation and sharing the security knowledge.The software security knowledge can be organized into seven knowledge catalogs:

  • principles
  • guideline
  • rules
  • vulnerabilities
  • exploits
  • attack patterns
  • historical risks

How to build the security knowledge is treated in the part 3 of the book.

Chapter 2: A risk management framework

This chapter presents in more details a framework to mitigate the risks as a full lifecycle activity; the author calls this framework the RMF (risk Management Framework).

The purpose of the RMF is to allow a consistent and repeatable expert-driven approach to risk management but the main goal is to find, rank, track and understand the software security risks and how these security risks can affect the critical business decisions.

Risk Management Analysis steps
Risk Management Analysis steps

The RMF consists of five steps:

  1. understand the business context The goal of this step is describe the business goals in order to understand the     types of software risks to care about.
  2. identify the business and technical risks. Business risk identification helps to define and steer the use of particular technological methods for measuring and mitigating software risk.The technical risks should be identified and mapped (through business risk) to business goals.
  3. synthesize and rank the risks. The ranking of the risks should take in account which business goals are the most important, which business goals are immediately threatened and how the technical risks will impact the business.
  4. define a risk mitigation strategy. Once the risks have been identified, the mitigation strategy should take into account cost, implementation time, likelihood of success and the impact
  5. carry out required fixes and validate that they are correct. This step represents the execution of the risk mitigation strategy; some metrics should be defined to measure the progress against risks, open risks remaining.

Even if the framework steps are presented sequentially, in practice the steps can overlap and can occur in parallel with standards software development activities. Actually the RMF can be applied at several different level; project level, software lifecycle phase level, requirement analysis, use case analysis level.

Threat Modeling for mere mortals

This ticket is an introduction to the threat modeling in the context of software development.


In the context of the IT security, threat modeling is a structured approach that enables you to identify, quantify, and (eventually) address the security risks associated with an application.

A more formal definition

 For somebody having the security mindset the previous definition might be not very formal; let’s try a new definition but before let’s introduce some new definitions:

  • asset  – an asset is what it must be protected. In the context of software, it could be the infrastructure, the software installed, the user data.
  • vulnerability – a vulnerability is a weakness that can be present in one of the assets.
  • threat – anything that can exploit a vulnerability and obtain, damage, or destroy an asset.
  • risk – the potential for loss, damage or destruction of an asset as a result of a threat exploiting a vulnerability.

So, the threat modeling (also sometimes called risk analysis or architectural risk analysis) is the process integrated in the SDLC (Software Development Life Cycle) having as goal to find and address (mitigate, eliminate, transfer or accept) all possible risks for a specific software functionality.

The threat modeling should be applied in the SDLC as early as possible, ideally in the requirements phase (the earliest the problems will be found the easiest would be to fix) and could even modify or adjust the requirements.

The threat modeling process

The threat modeling process have 3 phases:

  1. model the system for which you want to find the threats.
  2. find the threats.
  3. address each threat found in the previous step.

1. Model the system

The goal is to have a diagram representing the system under process. In the specialized literature, the Data Flow Diagrams are very often used because it easily represent all interaction points that an adversary can leverage to attack a system and also show how data moves through the system. The diagram could be improved adding “trust boundaries”, boundaries where data changes its level of “trust”.

2. Find the threats

After having a diagram of the system then you can ask how an attacher could attack the system. There are different approached that can be used to find “what can go wrong”:

  • STRIDE –this methodology (created by Microsoft) classifies threats into 6 groups:Spoofing, Tampering, Repudiation,
    Information Disclosure, Denial of Service and Elevation of Privilege.
    Threat Modeling is executed by looking at each component of the system and determines if any threats that fall into these categories exist for that component and its relationships to the rest of the system.
  • Threat/Attack libraries – libraries containing common and already known attacks. Threat library can be a quick way to take advantage of industry security knowledge (helping teams that lack sufficient knowledge themselves). Some examples of Threat libraries: OWASP Top Ten, CAPEC, CWE.
  •  Misuse cases – These cases should be derived from the requirements of the system, and illustrate ways in which protective measures could be bypassed, or areas where there are none.

3. Addressing the threats

Once identified,each threat must be evaluated according to the risk attached to it (using a risk rating system such as Common Vulnerability Scoring System), the resources available,the business case and the system requirements.

This will help prioritize the order in which threats should be addressed during development, as well as the costs involved in the mitigation  (if you decide to mitigate it).

Not all the treats can be mitigated. It is also possible to decide that some of them should be eliminated (meaning that the feature of the functionality that if affected should be removed), transfered (let somebody or something else to handle the risk) or accepted (accept the risk that could happen).

If you want to go further

If you want to go further and dig deeper hare are some links that I found useful: