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The Latest Research in Software Engineering and Cybersecurity

The process of designing and analyzing software architectures is complex. Architectural design is a minimally constrained search through a vast multi-dimensional space of possibilities. The end result is that architects are seldom confident that they have done the job optimally, or even satisfactorily. Over the past two decades, practitioners and researchers have used architectural patterns to expedite sound software design. Architectural patterns are prepackaged chunks of design that provide proven structural solutions for achieving particular software system quality attributes, such as scalability or modifiability. While use of patterns has simplified the architectural design process somewhat, key challenges remain. This blog explores these challenges and our solutions for achieving system security qualities through use of patterns.

Many types of software systems, including big data applications, lend them themselves to highly incremental and iterative development approaches. In essence, system requirements are addressed in small batches, enabling the delivery of functional releases of the system at the end of every increment, typically once a month. The advantages of this approach are many and varied. Perhaps foremost is the fact that it constantly forces the validation of requirements and designs before too much progress is made in inappropriate directions. Ambiguity and change in requirements, as well as uncertainty in design approaches, can be rapidly explored through working software systems, not simply models and documents. Necessary modifications can be carried out efficiently and cost-effectively through refactoring before code becomes too 'baked' and complex to easily change. This posting, the second in a series addressing the software engineering challenges of big data, explores how the nature of building highly scalable, long-lived big data applications influences iterative and incremental design approaches.

Software used in safety-critical systems--such as automotive, avionics, and healthcare applications, where failures could result in serious harm or loss of life--must perform as prescribed. How can software developers and programmers offer assurance that the system will perform as needed and with what level of confidence? In the first post in this series, I introduced the concept of the assurance case as a means to justify safety, security, or reliability claims by relating evidence to the claim via an argument. In this post I will discuss Baconian probability and eliminative induction, which are concepts we use to explore properties of confidence that the assurance case adequately justifies its claim about the subject system.

As part of our mission to advance the practice of software engineering and cybersecurity through research and technology transition, our work focuses on ensuring that software-reliant systems are developed and operated with predictable and improved quality, schedule, and cost. To achieve this mission, the SEI conducts research and development activities involving the Department of Defense (DoD), federal agencies, industry, and academia. As we look back on 2013, this blog posting highlights our many R&D accomplishments during the past year.

Hacking the CERT FOE

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Occasionally this blog will highlight different posts from the SEI blogosphere. Today we are highlighting a recent post by Will Dormann, a senior member of the technical staff in the SEI's CERT Division, from the CERT/CC Blog. In this post, Dormann describes how to modify the CERT Failure Observation Engine (FOE),when he encounters apps that "don't play well" with the FOE. The FOE is a software testing tool that finds defects in applications running on the Windows platform.

As the pace of software delivery increases, organizations need guidance on how to deliver high-quality software rapidly, while simultaneously meeting demands related to time-to-market, cost, productivity, and quality. In practice, demands for adding new features or fixing defects often take priority. However, when software developers are guided solely by project management measures, such as progress on requirements and defect counts, they ignore the impact of architectural dependencies, which can impede the progress of a project if not properly managed. In previous posts on this blog, my colleague Ipek Ozkaya and I have focused on architectural technical debt, which refers to the rework and degraded quality resulting from overly hasty delivery of software capabilities to users. This blog post describes a first step towards an approach we developed that aims to use qualitative architectural measures to better inform quantitative code quality metrics.

Safety-critical avionics, aerospace, medical, and automotive systems are becoming increasingly reliant on software. Malfunctions in these systems can have significant consequences including mission failure and loss of life. So, they must be designed, verified, and validated carefully to ensure that they comply with system specifications and requirements and are error free. In the automotive domain, for example, cars contain many electronic control units (ECU)--today's standard vehicle can contain up to 30 ECUs--that communicate to control systems such as airbag deployment, anti-lock brakes, and power steering.

Government agencies, including the departments of Defense, Veteran Affairs, and Treasury, are being asked by their government program office to adopt Agile methods. These are organizations that have traditionally utilized a "waterfall" life cycle model (as epitomized by the engineering "V" charts). Programming teams in these organizations are accustomed to being managed via a series of document-centric technical reviews that focus on the evolution of the artifacts that describe the requirements and design of the system rather than its evolving implementation, as is more common with Agile methods. Due to these changes, many struggle to adopt Agile practices. For example, acquisition staff often wonder how to fit Agile measurement practices into their progress tracking systems.