J.D. Meier's Blog

Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness

Security Inspections

Security Inspections

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Inspections are among my favorite tools for improving security.   I like them because they’re so effective and efficient.  Here’s why:

  • If you know what to look for, you have a better chance of finding it.  (The reverse is also true: if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you’re not going to see it)
  • You can build your inspection criteria from common patterns (Security issues tend to stem from common patterns)
  • You can share your inspection criteria
  • You can prioritize your inspection criteria
  • You can chunk your inspection criteria

Bottom line -- you can identify, catalog and share security criteria faster than new security issues come along.

Security Frame
Our Security Frame is simply a set of categories we use to “frame” out, organize, and chunk up security threats, attacks, vulnerabilities and countermeasures, as well as principles, practices and patterns.  The categories make it easy to distill and share the information in a repeatable way. 

Security Design Inspections
Performing a Security Design Inspection involves evaluating your application’s architecture and design in relation to its target deployment environment from a security perspective.  You can use the Security Frame to help guide your analysis.   For example, you can walk the categories (authentication, authorization, … etc.) for the application.  You can also use the categories to do a layer-by-layer analysis.  Design inspections are a great place to checkpoint your core strategies, as well as identify what sort of end-to-end tests you need to verify your approach.

Here's the approach in a nutshell:

  • Step 1.  Evaluate the deployment and infrastructure. Review the design of your application as it relates to the target deployment environment and the associated security policies. Consider the constraints imposed by the underlying infrastructure-layer security and the operational practices in use.
  • Step 2.  Evaluate key security design using the Security frame. Review the security approach that was used for critical areas of your application. An effective way to do this is to focus on the set of categories that have the most impact on security, particularly at an architectural and design level, and where mistakes are most often made. The security frame describes these categories. They include authentication, authorization, input validation, exception management, and other areas. Use the security frame as a road map so that you can perform reviews consistently, and to make sure that you do not miss any important areas during the inspection.
  • Step 3.  Perform a layer-by-layer analysis. Review the logical layers of your application, and evaluate your security choices within your presentation, business, and data access logic.

For more information, see our patterns & practices Security Design Inspection Index.

Security Code Inspections
This is truly a place where inspections shine.  While static analysis will catch a lot of the low hanging fruit, manual inspection will find a lot of the important security issues that are context dependent.  Because it’s a manual exercise, it’s important to set objectives, and to prioritize based on what you’re looking for.   Whether you do your inspections in pairs or in groups or individually, checklists in the form of criteria or inspection questions are helpful.

Here's the approach in a nutshell:

  • Step 1. Identify security code review objectives. Establish goals and constraints for the review.
  • Step 2. Perform a preliminary scan. Use static analysis to find an initial set of security issues and improve your understanding of where the security issues are most likely to be discovered through further review.
  • Step 3. Review the code for security issues. Review the code thoroughly with the goal of finding security issues that are common to many applications. You can use the results of step two to focus your analysis.
  • Step 4. Review for security issues unique to the architecture. Complete a final analysis looking for security issues that relate to the unique architecture of your application. This step is most important if you have implemented a custom security mechanism or any feature designed specifically to mitigate a known security threat.

For more information on Security Code Inspections, see our patterns & practices Security Code Inspection Index.  For examples of “Inspection Questions”, see Security Question List: Managed Code (.NET Framework 2.0) and Security Question List: ASP.NET 2.0.” (Security Question List: ASP.NET 2.0).

Security Deployment Inspections
Deployment Inspections are particularly effective for security because this is where the rubber meets the road.  In a deployment inspection, you walk the various knobs and switches that impact the security profile of your solution.  This is where you check things such as accounts, shares, protocols, … etc. 

The following server security categories are key when performing a security deployment inspection:

  • Patches and Updates
  • Accounts Accounts
  • Auditing and Logging
  • Files and Directories
  • Ports
  • Protocols
  • Registry
  • Services
  • Shares

For more information, see our patterns & practices Security Deployment Inspection Index.

My Related Posts

  • This is an oldie but a goodie. Alex (from our original team) walks through our patterns & practices

  • This is an oldie but a goodie. Alex (from our original team) walks through our patterns & practices

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