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10 Common Security Mistakes in Software Development

Paul Kovalenko Paul Kovalenko | November 8, 2023 | 10 min

As technology advances, robust and secure software becomes more critical. However, the push for rapid development and innovative features often leads developers to commit security oversights. According to studies, over 92% of IT professionals sometimes deprioritize application security to speed up development or to meet customer demands.

It is crucial for decision-makers and developers to recognize and address all common cybersecurity mistakes in software development. Ignoring such pitfalls can result in data breaches and significant financial and reputational damage.

In this guide, we’ll explore some of the common security mistakes in software development and provide practical prevention tips. This knowledge is essential for protecting your applications and user data security.

Let’s begin.

#1: Mixing Up Authentication and Authorization

Mixing up authentication and authorization is one of the most common cybersecurity coding mistakes in software development. While authentication verifies a user’s or system’s identity, authorization dictates their permitted actions or resource access post-verification. Mixing up these concepts can result in security vulnerabilities and unauthorized access to sensitive data or functions.

How to Check for This Mistake

  • Review your codebase to check for instances where authentication checks are used to make authorization decisions.
  • Verify that your application consistently follows well-defined processes for both authentication and authorization.

How to Prevent or Fix This Mistake

  • Explicitly separate the code-handling authentication from the code-managing authorization. Authentication should solely verify user identity, while authorization should determine what authenticated users can do.
  • Implement a reputable authorization framework (e.g., role-based access control or attribute-based access control) to streamline access control and permissions management.
  • Assign the minimal access rights or permissions needed by each user or system to carry out their tasks (principle of least privilege, or PoLP). This curbs excessive access.

#2: Neglecting Penetration Testing

Penetration testing, often called “pen testing,” is a systematic security assessment process where ethical hackers simulate cyber attacks on a system, application, or network to identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses. The goal is to discover and rectify potential entry points for malicious actors before they can be exploited, enhancing overall cyber security and reducing risks. Unfortunately, overlooking pen testing is one of the common cyber security programming mistakes, resulting in undetected security issues within the software code.

According to Cobalt’s State of Pentesting 2022, the top five most frequent vulnerability categories in the pen-testing community are:

  • Authentication and sessions (8%)
  • Sensitive data exposure (10%)
  • Access control issues (11%)
  • Cross-site scripting (XSS) (13%)
  • Server security misconfigurations (38%)

How to Prevent or Fix This Mistake

  • Make penetration testing a standard part of your software development lifecycle. Engage ethical hackers or security experts for regular assessments to uncover vulnerabilities.
  • Integrate security testing into your continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipeline to catch vulnerabilities early in the development process.
  • Embrace security best practices and coding guidelines, such as input validation, parameterized queries, and secure authentication/authorization mechanisms.
  • Routinely update your software and dependencies to address known vulnerabilities.

#3: Failing to Conduct Third-Party Code Assessments

Software development seldom starts with a blank slate. Instead, it typically involves weaving together pre-existing code, tools, and, often, open-source resources. A case in point is a video game using a third-party engine like Unity 3D. However, some developers fail to thoroughly evaluate the security of the third-party libraries, frameworks, or components integrated into their software applications. Cyber security mistakes like these can create security concerns — in up to 70% of applications, according to one study — as these external dependencies may harbor flaws or vulnerabilities that attackers can exploit.

How to Prevent or Fix This Mistake

  • Create a comprehensive list of all third-party libraries, frameworks, and components used.
  • Employ security databases like the National Vulnerability Database (NVD) or Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) to check for known vulnerabilities in third-party libraries, frameworks, and components.
  • Use tools like OWASP Dependency-Check, Snyk, or Mend.io for automated codebase scanning and vulnerability detection.
  • Regularly update third-party libraries, frameworks, and components to include security patches.
  • If a component has vulnerabilities or lacks maintenance, explore more secure alternatives.
  • Implement organizational policies mandating security assessments of third-party code before inclusion.

#4: Maintaining Active Backdoor Accounts

A backdoor account is a concealed, unreported, or unacknowledged user account that grants access to a system or application. Developers typically establish these accounts for administrative/testing purposes but, when left active and undiscovered, they pose a significant security threat.
Maintaining active backdoor accounts in software development is a grave security oversight that can result in unauthorized access and potentially catastrophic breaches. According to an IBM report, illegal backdoor access accounted for 21% of all reported cyber security incidents in 2022.

How to Check for This Mistake

  • Review codebase and configurations for unauthorized or undocumented user accounts.
  • Identify and disable any suspicious accounts with elevated privileges.
  • Monitor access logs for unusual activities tied to unknown or unauthorized accounts.

How to Prevent or Fix This Mistake

  • Document all active backdoor accounts.
  • Immediately disable or remove these accounts to prevent system access.
  • Reevaluate access controls, user roles, and permissions to block unauthorized access.
  • Establish a clear access policy defining resource access.
  • Follow the principle of least privilege to limit user privileges.
  • Promptly deactivate the accounts of departing employees.
  • Implement periodic reviews to uncover and address unauthorized or unnecessary accounts.
Need help preventing security issues?
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#5: Overlooking Data Security and Encryption

Overlooking data security and encryption is a common mistake in software development that can lead to sensitive data being exposed to unauthorized access. Developers need to adequately protect data stored, transmitted, or processed by an application. Not doing so can result in data breaches, privacy violations, and legal consequences.

How to Check for This Mistake

  • Review your codebase to locate areas where sensitive data (e.g., passwords, personal info, financial data) is handled.
  • Search for instances where encryption is needed but missing, possibly by checking for specific encryption libraries or functions.
  • Inspect how data is stored in databases or files and how it’s transmitted over networks.

How to Prevent or Fix This Mistake

  • Apply appropriate encryption algorithms and methods to safeguard sensitive data, relying on established encryption libraries and industry best practices.
  • Store encryption keys separately and securely, utilizing standard key management solutions.
  • Encrypt data during network transmission using secure protocols like TLS/SSL.
  • Implement encryption for data stored in databases or files to protect against unauthorized access in the event of breaches.

#6: Relying on In-House Security Measures and Self-Developed Algorithms

Some developers believe using custom-built security solutions and algorithms instead of established security libraries is safe since intruders would be unfamiliar with their fundamentals. This is one of the common cyber security coding mistakes made by rookie developers, and unfortunately, it’s a false assumption. These in-house security solutions can introduce vulnerabilities because they may not undergo the same rigorous testing and scrutiny as widely accepted security standards.

How to Prevent or Fix This Mistake

Your programmer should prioritize the use of established security libraries and standards over custom solutions. This ensures that security measures undergo rigorous testing and scrutiny, reducing the risk of vulnerabilities. To maintain a strong cybersecurity posture, don’t falsely assume that custom-built solutions are safer.

#7: Ignoring Layer 8

In software development, “Layer 8” humorously signifies the human factor in security, underlining that the people involved in software can be its weakest link. Data shows that 74% of breaches can be attributed to human errors. Neglecting Layer 8 is one of the most important cyber security programming errors and implies that the impact of human behavior has been disregarded. This mistake can lead to security vulnerabilities, including social engineering attacks, weak passwords, lack of security awareness, and inadequate user training.

How to Prevent or Fix This Mistake

While Layer 8 issues are primarily related to human behavior, these tips can help you prevent or fix them:

  • Validate user inputs to prevent security risks.
  • Ensure proper user access controls, authentication, and authorization mechanisms are in place.
  • Enforce strong password policies and promote password manager use, with multi-factor authentication for added security.
  • Maintain comprehensive audit logs to detect suspicious activities.
  • Provide security awareness training for the development team and stakeholders that covers common threats.

Develop and document an incident response plan for effective security breach handling, including communication and containment strategies.

#8: Remote File Inclusions

Remote file Inclusion (RFI) is a critical security flaw that lets attackers load and execute external files on a web application, potentially leading to actions with severe consequences, like running malicious code, stealing sensitive data, or compromising the application’s integrity. RFI attacks account for over 25% of malicious web sessions, surpassing SQL injections.

How to Prevent or Fix This Mistake

  • Use security scanners to find potential RFI vulnerabilities.
  • Always treat user inputs as potentially malicious and filter them thoroughly before processing.
  • Programmers should limit the privileges granted to codes to the minimum necessary for performing their intended task.
  • Ensure that queries or commands involving user inputs are properly quoted to prevent injection attacks.
  • Prevent special characters or control characters in user inputs.
  • Maintain a whitelist of permitted resources and only allow access to these resources.

#9: Mishandling Error Messages

It can be a problem when error messages generated by the software reveal too much information about the system or the specific error. The information can be leveraged by attackers to gain insights into the system’s architecture or exploit vulnerabilities.

You will know your coder made this mistake if your application’s error message

  • Provides detailed stack traces and internal system information.
  • Displays specific database or server errors to users.
  • Is a default message without proper customization.

How to Prevent or Fix This Mistake

  • Provide generic and user-friendly error messages to users but don’t expose technical details. This way, attackers receive minimal information about the system’s inner workings.
  • Ensure that error logs contain only the necessary information for debugging purposes and restrict access to the logs.
  • Implement error codes displayed to users and have detailed error messages logged internally. This way, users see user-friendly error codes while developers can access more information for debugging.
  • Always validate and sanitize user-generated input to prevent injection attacks that might manipulate error messages.

#10: Using Outdated/Legacy Software Components

Using outdated or legacy software components in your code is one of the common programming errors that lead to vulnerabilities. Legacy software often lacks crucial security updates and patches, rendering it more susceptible to known threats and attacks. This can result in various security issues, such as weaker encryption and authentication, the absence of support, and compatibility problems.

How to Check for This Mistake

  • Review your codebase, dependencies, and third-party libraries for outdated components with long update gaps.
  • Use dependency scanning tools to identify outdated versions and associated vulnerabilities.
  • Compare component versions, especially major updates, for security enhancements.

How to Prevent or Fix This Mistake

  • Update outdated components when possible, considering compatibility and potential breaking changes.
  • If updates aren’t feasible, consider secure alternatives or refactor code to remove dependencies.
  • Establish a routine for component updates and maintenance through policies or automation.

Consider Langate as Your Software Development Partner

In the face of growing cyber threats and increasingly sophisticated attacks, error-free software development is no longer a choice but an imperative. This is where Langate comes in, creating software applications that leave no room for errors.

Our approach begins with a comprehensive assessment of your requirements. We then create a detailed roadmap that covers everything from security to performance and even the intricacies of programming, where every line of code is written to perfection. This ensures that your software is resilient against existing threats and future-proof against emerging challenges.

We recently optimized a client’s reputation management platform in the healthcare industry, enhancing security, boosting performance, and integrating new cutting-edge features. The result was an even better platform, improved user experience, and a very happy client.
Whether you’re looking to build an application from the ground up or you’re in the market for software modernization services, you too can harness Langate’s expertise and safeguard your software against the different types of errors in cyber security. Choose Langate for software development that can meet the high demands of today’s digital landscape.

Final Thoughts

As a CTO, CEO, product owner, or IT leader, the need to recognize these common cyber security coding errors in software development and take proactive steps to ensure they are addressed cannot be overstated. Hopefully, the ideas and strategies covered in this guide will provide a good starting point.

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