The Alphabet Soup of Software Security Guidelines

The Alphabet Soup of Software Security Guidelines

on Jun 15, 10 • by Todd Landry • with 5 Comments

With the recent story that the iPad has inherent security vulnerabilities, I thought it might be an appropriate time to delve into the world of software security guidelines…but I must warn you, this blog will contain an abnormal amount of acronyms, and may not be suitable for all audiences. When talking about...

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With the recent story that the iPad has inherent security vulnerabilities, I thought it might be an appropriate time to delve into the world of software security guidelines…but I must warn you, this blog will contain an abnormal amount of acronyms, and may not be suitable for all audiences.

When talking about software security guidelines, there are really 5 or 6 organizations that are leading the charge, and they include:

-          OWASP

-          SANS Institute

-          MITRE

-          PCI Security Standards Council

-          SEI

Let’s first look at OWASP. OWASP stands for Open Web Application Security Project, which is a not-for-profit charitable organization that is focused on improving the security of application software. They are probably best known for their Top 10 lists from 2004, 2007, and most recently 2010.

Next is the SANS Institute. SANS of course is a FLA that stands for SysAdmin, Audit, Networking, Security. The SANS Institute claims to be the most trusted source for computer security training, certification and research, and have been developing and releasing their Top 20 annually for the past 7 years or so.

The MITRE Corporation is a not-for-profit organization that was founded in the late 50’s, and has over 7,000 very smart dudes (65% have Masters or PhDs). MITRE has come up with their own security guideline as well, that is the CWE (Common Weakness Enumeration) and it provides a common language of discourse for discussing, finding and dealing with the causes of software security vulnerabilities as they are found in code, design, or system architecture. The CWE lists over 800 programming errors, design errors, and architectural errors that can lead to exploitable vulnerabilities. Interestingly, MITRE and SANS decided to collaborate to come up with the CWE Top 25, yet another “Top” list they have been putting together for the last couple of years.

The PCI Security Standards Council was founded by American Express, Discover Financial Services, JCB International, MasterCard Worldwide, and Visa, Inc. and is an open global forum for the ongoing development, enhancement, storage, dissemination and implementation of security standards for account data protection. The PCI SSC has come up with the PCI DSS, “a multifaceted security standard that includes requirements for security management, policies, procedures, network architecture, software design and other critical protective measures. This comprehensive standard is intended to help organizations proactively protect customer account data”.

Finally, there is the SEI (the Software Engineering Institute, which is a federally funded R&D center at CMU, aka Carnegie Mellon University). The SEI is home to CERT which was established in 1988 to address internet security problems and to find ways to reduce the number and impact of security breaches. CERT focuses on protection, detection, and response to attacks on networked computer systems. Surprisingly enough, CERT is not actually an acronym.

Neither PCI nor CERT has received the memo yet that in order to be cool, you have to have a “Top X” list…perhaps next year?

Now, not to be left out of the fun, the NCSD (National Cyber Security Division) of the DHS (Department of Homeland Security) has their own strategic initiative called BSI (Build Security In). The NCSD obviously wants to cover pretty much all the bases since, in addition to their own BSI, they also sponsor pretty much all of the other guidelines.

I would be remiss if I didn’t at least acknowledge a few other notables with respect to software security guidelines, and to make it more interesting, I will only provide the acronym. I challenge you to come up with the full name. So, a few others involved in security guidelines are NIST (who run a project called SAMATE, and also run an event called SATE, which BTW is also sponsored by DHS NCSD), WASC, and finally STIG. For fun, I’ll throw in CVE, even though it is not a guideline, but more of a dictionary or list that was put together by MITRE, and shockingly is sponsored by DHS NCSD. I’m starting to think that DHS wants to be everyone’s BFF.

Hopefully you’ve learned a little more about the alphabet soup of security guidelines out there. If you’re scratching your head thinking WTF, you’re probably not alone…

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