The Software Assurance Forum for Excellence in Code (SAFECode) has a new executive director with today's appointment of Steve Lipner, former chairman of the organization and former partner director of software security at Microsoft.
SAFECode was founded in 2007 by tech companies including Microsoft, Symantec, SAP AG, Juniper Networks, and EMC, with the goal of identifying and sharing best practices for building more secure hardware, software, and services.
Lipner is assuming leadership of the nonprofit after four decades in software security assurance. During his time at Microsoft, he led corporate supply chain security strategies and policies for government evaluation of Microsoft's security portfolio. He's known as the "father of SDL" at Microsoft.
"I was responsible for getting the security development lifecycle [SDL] created and accepted as a mandatory practice across the company," he explains, noting this was his largest contribution to the company.
"It basically changed what we did for customers in terms of enabling them to look to us and say they understood we were committed to security, and they were seeing the effects of that," he continues. "That was a significant change for customer security and as far as I'm concerned, it's the biggest impact I had in my career."
In his new role, Lipner will help companies develop open frameworks for evaluating software security and deliver free in-house training. While there has been progress made in establishing software security best practices, more needs to be done so all businesses adopt them.
"One of the things I learned in 2016 is that although we have a lot of effective practices for software security, they are still not universally applied," he says. "It's important for organizations to apply secure development practices consistently and broadly."
Lipner cites SAFECode's Fundamental Practices for Secure Software Development an early effort to share best practices. The document discusses topics like safe cryptography practices and the importance of threat modeling and analysis. New information is added as new technologies become important over time; the most recent update was issued in 2014.
This type of effort is critical at a time when most organizations can anticipate they'll be affected by a security breach.
In 1999-2000, when Lipner started at Microsoft, vulnerabilities were being discovered and reported but not routinely exploited. A few years later, there was less reporting of vulnerabilities and more malicious exploit code, which has contributed to a rise in attacks.
As cybercrime continued to grow, businesses adopted more secure software development practices. However, adoption has not been universal. Most people are unaware the software they're writing is security critical until an attack takes place.
"Perfection is hard, but you can certainly raise the bar and make attackers look somewhere else," Lipner notes. In 2017, he anticipates a mix of old and new security threats from the Internet of Things, phishing, and website attacks via SQL injection, a topic addressed in the aforementioned best practices document.
"There are organizations targeted by sophisticated attacks, but a lot are targeted by things it's possible to mitigate with best practices and paying attention," he explains.
For example, businesses must not only build secure software, but deploy it as well, to fully protect their data from attackers. If they don't adhere to administrative basics and set access control rights and manage user privilege, their oversight can have bad consequences.
Lipner officially begins his new position on Dec. 1. Current executive director Howard Schmidt, who led SAFECode for three years, will transition into a new role as executive director emeritus.
"What I want to do is what I can to help SAFECode do a more effective job at developing and sharing secure practices appropriate to the evolving security environment and technologies, and share those with the community," he says of his goals.