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Financial Services Industry Employs Microsoft SDL In New Secure Software Model

Meanwhile, Microsoft releases new data showing major drop in bugs and exploitable vulnerabilities in its software during the past year-and-a-half
Microsoft's Security Development Lifecycle (SDL) process for writing secure applications got a big nod today from the financial services industry, which publicly rolled out its new development framework that incorporates key elements of Microsoft's approach and tools.

BITS, the technology division of The Financial Services Roundtable and the Financial Services Information Sharing and Analysis Center (FS-ISAC), issued its BITS Software Assurance Framework (PDF), a blueprint for financial services firms to write more secure internal and customer-facing applications.

Paul Smocer, president of BITS, says the framework is more of a road map for the secure development process than a detailed prescriptive process, and while it was written with the financial services industry in mind, it's widely applicable for other industries. Smocer says Microsoft, a member of BITS, was heavily involved in the development of the BITS Software Assurance Framework.

"This is the first public framework [incorporating SDL]," says Steve Lipner, partner director of program management for Microsoft.

Meanwhile, Lipner today also released some data illustrating how SDL has made Microsoft's software more secure: Overall, the number of bugs in its products has declined. In addition, the number of exploitable vulnerabilities has dropped by 30 percent over the past 18 months when comparing the newest versions of its products to all of its supported products, he says.

In 2003, Microsoft Office had 126 exploitable -- or likely exploitable -- vulnerabilities, according to a study conducted by researchers Dan Kaminsky, Adam Cecchetti, and Mike Eddington; in 2010, there were just seven, a 94 percent drop in Office vulnerabilities.

"We've been applying this process for almost eight years. We're very confident that SDL has significantly improved the security of Microsoft software and online services," Lipner says. "We've decreased vulnerabilities and the severity and exploitability of those vulnerabilities."

Lipner says Microsoft will continue to compare the number of vulnerabilities and their exploitability. "It's a better way to represent the impact of SDL," he says. "We've been looking at the Exploitability Index ... now we're saying we're going to look at the longitudinal measure of SDL."

Meanwhile, Microsoft says its SDL tools and resources have been downloaded more than 850,000 times by people from 150 different regions worldwide. MidAmerican Energy, for example, rolled out SDL in its organization and, after about a year, had no vulnerabilities during an external audit, Lipner notes.

BITS's Smocer says Microsoft's success in writing software with fewer vulnerabilities helps the entire software ecosystem. "Their focus on developing the core software in a more secure fashion and the successes there has been very helpful to our industry and to others," he says.

Microsoft will host its first annual Security Development Conference on secure software development May 15 to 16 in Washington, D.C., Lipner says.

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