How to Develop a Secure Code Review Process for Application Security

November 26, 20234 min read

Developing a secure code review process is crucial in ensuring that applications are not only functional but also secure from potential threats. Below is a detailed guide on creating such a process.

1. Establish Security Policies and Requirements

  • Define Security Goals: Begin by defining the security goals and objectives for the applications your organization develops.
  • Set Compliance Standards: Identify the security compliance standards required for your industry (e.g., PCI DSS, HIPAA, GDPR).
  • Develop Security Policies: Create comprehensive security policies that include secure coding practices and requirements for developers.
  • Commit to a Security Baseline: Agree on a security baseline or minimum standard that all code must meet before being deployed.

2. Integrate Security into the SDLC

  • Security Training and Awareness: Make sure that all developers and relevant personnel are trained in secure coding practices.
  • Security as a Design Requirement: Incorporate security considerations into the design phase of software development life cycle (SDLC).
  • Development Tools with Security Features: Use Integrated Development Environments (IDEs) and other tools that include security features.

3. Choose a Review Strategy

  • Manual Code Review: Experts manually examine the code for security flaws.
    • Pros:
      • Insightful feedback based on experience
      • Ability to interpret context
    • Cons:
      • Time-consuming
      • May miss some types of vulnerabilities
  • Automated Code Review: Utilize automated tools to scan the code base for known vulnerabilities.
    • Pros:
      • Fast and consistent
      • Can handle large codebases
    • Cons:
      • May generate false positives
      • Less effective for complex security issues

4. Create a Structured Review Process

  • Checklist Creation: Develop a checklist of common security issues relevant to the language and frameworks in use.
  • Divide and Conquer: Break down the application into manageable components or modules for review.
  • Peer Reviews: Encourage peer reviews where developers check each other’s code for security issues before merging.
  • Track and Document: Keep a record of issues discovered, how they were addressed, and any outstanding issues.

5. Define Review Metrics

  • Severity Classification: Define levels of severity for different kinds of security vulnerabilities.
  • Review Coverage: Measure the amount of code that is actually being reviewed.
  • Defect Density: Track the number of defects found per unit of code.
  • Remediation Time: Keep track of the time it takes to fix security issues.

6. Leverage Automated Scanning Tools

  • Static Application Security Testing (SAST): Use SAST tools early in the SDLC to scan source code for vulnerabilities.
  • Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST): Implement DAST tools to analyze running applications for security issues.
  • Software Composition Analysis (SCA): Use SCA tools to manage open source components and their vulnerabilities.

7. Continuously Improve the Process

  • Regular Reviews and Updates: Regularly review and update the code review process to incorporate new threats and best practices.
  • Feedback Loop: Create a feedback loop where insights from code reviews are used to educate developers.
  • Measure and Refine: Use metrics to measure efficiency and refine the code review process.

By incorporating these steps into the SDLC, organizations can develop a secure code review process that minimizes security risks in their applications. It is important to continually evolve the process to keep up with emerging threats and new security practices.