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DHS-Funded 'SWAMP' Helps Scour Code For Bugs

Cloud-based platform offering free secure coding tools for developers in government, enterprises, academia, gaining commercial attention as well.

A US Department of Homeland Security-funded online portal that provides government agencies, enterprises, higher education, and independent developers a free platform for testing their code for security holes and vulnerabilities has quietly begun attracting commercial application security providers.

The so-called SWAMP (Software Assurance Marketplace) portal, which was developed under a $23.5 million DHS Science & Technology Directorate project aimed at helping developers more easily test their code for bugs that could be exploited by black-hat hackers, currently offers for free five open-source software assurance testing tools, as well as a cloud-based platform for running the software security scans and tests and aggregating the results. The static analysis testing tools are used to scour source code for bugs.

SWAMP, which is operated by security and software assurance experts from the University of Illinois-Champaign/Urbana, the University of Indiana, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the Morgridge Institute for Research in Madison, plans to open its doors to commercial software security services on the site so users can have an integrated platform for handling their secure coding tests.  

"There are several commercial providers who would like to participate in SWAMP," says Miron Livny, director and CTO of SWAMP. "Users could use SWAMP for [these services] if they reached a licensing agreement with the provider."

Veracode could be one of the first such commercial firms to join SWAMP. Chris Wysopal, CTO and co-founder of Veracode, says his company hopes to participate by offering its technology as an option for SWAMP users. While SWAMP offers static code analysis tools, Veracode could also provide its binary analysis service to its existing customers via the SWAMP portal, he says, as well as to new customers there.

"We don't see SWAMP as competitive, because it is really a marketplace where government agencies can be exposed to software assurance technologies to learn and select the best approaches for their needs," Wysopal tells us. "Veracode wants to participate as a technology available to SWAMP users so government agencies can see the strengths of our binary-analysis approach, which is different than the other technologies, which are source-code analysis-based."

SWAMP provides static analysis testing, which tests code without executing it. The goal of SWAMP is to provide a framework for developers to bring all of their various software assurance tools into one place, its organizers say. "The long-term vision is a network of software assurance facilities," says Livny, who is also a professor of computer sciences with the University of Wisconsin-Madison, chief technology officer with the Morgridge Institute, and director of the Center for High Throughput Computing.

"We are working on adding binary tools" in addition to the existing menu of static analysis tools on SWAMP, he says. SWAMP -- which first went live in February in a quiet launch -- last week unveiled a new, friendlier user interface.

Software vendors increasingly are under pressure to train developers to bake security into their code so that programs are less prone to security vulnerabilities that in turn are used to exploit victims. But smaller and more financially strapped organizations haven't always had the resources or know-how to test their software properly.

SWAMP hopes to bridge that gap."Can we make software assurance more effective and reduce the cost? That's our goal," says Livny.

SWAMP currently offers FindBugs, which finds Java bugs; PMD, which detects common programming flaws in Java, JavaScript, XML, and XSL applications; Cppcheck, which scans for bugs in the C and C++ languages; Clang Static Analyzer, which detects bugs in C, C++, and Objective-C programs; and GCC, a compiler for checking C and C++ code syntax.

There also are some 400 open-source software testing packages on SWAMP for secure coding tool developers to use in their tools. The portal offers a testing laboratory for tool developers, using the National Institute of Technology's Juliet Test Suite, which provides public domain software programs containing known vulnerabilities.

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