The aviation industry is safer than ever – Businessweek reported the odds of a fatal plane crash in the U.S. have been 1 in 49 million for the past five years – and the sector’s standards for software development should be a model for other areas, according to one coding expert. Robert Dewar, president and CEO of open source software company AdaCore, told Techworld that other industries can learn from the secure coding practices of the aviation world, where failure is not an option.
Dewar explained to Techworld that the embedded software in many aviation products, including air traffic control systems and onboard computers, uses languages like Ada that have built-in security checks. While these checks do not entirely eliminate bugs, they do create a more secure coding approach. The same reliability standards can be achieved in any language, he noted, provided developers carry out comprehensive testing and use formal methods of proof to verify security before application deployment.
“The highest levels of software need formal methods,” Dewar told Techworld. “We have to be able to enforce this level of checking.”
Dewar helped develop the DO-178B Software Considerations in Airborne Systems and Equipment Certification, which evaluates the reliability of software for an airborne environment. Whether official standards are in place or not, developers can use best practices such as source code analysis to write more reliable code. To ensure this change in behavior, however, businesses may need to adopt new perspectives.
Applying high standards across all industries
Perhaps the most important lesson the aviation industry has to offer other sectors, according to Dewar, is that a software glitch is not an excusable problem. Techworld noted that events such as a 2010 flash crash on Wall Street and failures in Toyota’s brake systems have been trivialized by attributing them to software glitches. To cut down on dangerous errors and costly outages, these glitches need to be treated with the same seriousness as in the airline industry, Dewar said.
“You wouldn’t excuse the crash of a jumbo jet by labeling it a glitch, so why the failing of a banking application?” he told Techworld.
Dewar claimed that there has never been a loss of life due to a software bug on a commercial aircraft. By adopting improved software security approaches, other industries may be able to achieve similar results.
Software news brought to you by Klocwork Inc., dedicated to helping software developers create better code with every keystroke.