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Security's New School

Certification, training programs seek to expand the realm of the security-savvy

Certification: It's not just for security professionals anymore.

In the last two days, two organizations -- the SANS Institute and the University of Texas at San Antonio -- have unveiled new educational programs designed for people who are outside the tight-knit group of certified security pros.

In what experts call a "critical development," a coalition of major technology users and vendors organized by the SANS Institute yesterday launched the first skills assessment and certification examinations for software developers. The new certification, called the GIAC Secure Software Programmer (GSSP) program, teaches programmers how to write secure code.

The GSSP certification is designed to help reduce security flaws in applications, which have been at the heart of many exploits and vulnerabilities over the last two years. Educators believe that if they can teach developers how to avoid such flaws during programming, they may reduce security vulnerabilities across the industry.

"After reviewing more than 7,000 vulnerabilities in 2006 alone, one thing becomes crystal clear: Most of these vulnerabilities could be found very easily, using techniques that require very little expertise," says Mitre’s Steve Christey, editor of the CVE program that monitors vulnerabilities on behalf of the federal government.

"In my CVE work, I regularly interact with vendors who are surprised to hear of vulnerabilities in their products," Christey says. "This is the sorry state of software today. Most educational institutions have failed to teach the most fundamental skills in making secure products. There needs to be a revolution. Secure programming examinations will help everyone draw the line in the sand -- to say 'no more' and to set minimum expectations for the everyday developer."

Jeff Williams, chairman of the Open Web Application Security Program (OWASP), agrees. "Programmers don’t wake up one morning and think of SQL injection or cross-site request forgery on their own," he says. "Yet you can’t secure applications without understanding these attacks and others like them. SANS is doing a great service to the world by creating a way to assess programmers’ knowledge."

The GSSP program will include exams for C/C++, Java/J2EE, Perl/PHP, and .NET/ASP, all designed to measure the student's ability to identify and correct the common programming errors that lead to security vulnerabilities. The exams will be administered in August in Washington DC on a pilot basis, and then will roll out worldwide through the remainder of 2007.

Anyone can sit for the exam, which will be administered through colleges and universities three times a year. Large enterprises can administer the exam separately, and there will be a self-test that lets programmers practice for the exam, SANS says.

SANS isn't the only organization coordinating a new security training program. The University of Texas at San Antonio yesterday reported that it has received a $3.5 million grant to form the Institute for Cyber Security Research, a new institution that will help train college and graduate students in security research.

"We want to become a national leader" in security research, says UTSA president Ricardo Romo. "We also want to train young people in college who want to excel and understand how to keep computers running, how to keep them safe, how to feel secure about what you have. We call them 'cyber warriors.'"

UTSA joins several other universities, including Florida State and Indiana, which maintain their own cyber security research centers.

— Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading

Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

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