Archive: 2014-05

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently reported that acquisition program costs typically run 26 percent over budget, with development costs exceeding initial estimates by 40 percent. Moreover, many programs fail to deliver capabilities when promised, experiencing a 21-month delay on average. The report attributes the "optimistic assumptions about system requirements, technology, and design maturity [that] play a large part in these failures" to a lack of disciplined systems engineering analysis early in the program. What acquisition managers do not always realize is the importance of focusing on software engineering during the early systems engineeringeffort. Improving on this collaboration is difficult partly because both disciplines appear in a variety of roles and practices. This post, the first in a series, addresses the interaction between systems and software engineering by identifying the similarities and differences between the two disciplines and describing the benefits both could realize through a more collaborative approach.

The Heartbleed bug, a serious vulnerability in the Open SSL crytographic software library, enables attackers to steal information that, under normal conditions, is protected by the Secure Socket Layer/Transport Layer Security(SSL/TLS) encryption used to secure the internet. Heartbleed and its aftermath left many questions in its wake:

  • Would the vulnerability have been detected by static analysis tools?
  • If the vulnerability has been in the wild for two years, why did it take so long to bring this to public knowledge now?
  • Who is ultimately responsible for open-source code reviews and testing?
  • Is there anything we can do to work around Heartbleed to provide security for banking and email web browser applications?

Software developers produce more than 100 billion lines of code for commercial systems each year. Even with automated testing tools, errors still occur at a rate of one error for every 10,000 lines of code. While many coding standards address code style issues (i.e., style guides), CERT secure coding standards focus on identifying unsafe, unreliable, and insecure coding practices, such as those that resulted in the Heartbleed vulnerability. For more than 10 years, the CERT Secure Coding Initiative at the Carnegie Mellon University Software Engineering Institutehas been working to develop guidance--most recently, The CERT C Secure Coding Standard: Second Edition--for developers and programmers through the development of coding standards by security researchers, language experts, and software developers using a wiki-based community process. This blog post explores the importance of a well-documented and enforceable coding standard in helping programmers circumvent pitfalls and avoid vulnerabilities.