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Veracode Research Reveals Steps to Reduce Introduction and Accumulation of Security Flaws as Apps Grow and Age

BURLINGTON, Mass. — Veracode, a leading global provider of modern application security testing solutions, today revealed data that could save organizations time and money by helping developers minimize the introduction and accumulation of security flaws in their software. The Veracode State of Software Security 2023 report found that flaw build-up over time is such that nearly 32 percent of applications are found to have flaws at the first scan and by the time they have been in production for five years, nearly 70 percent contain at least one security flaw. Veracode has been publishing its annual report since 2010, summarizing the key discoveries from its diverse customer base.

With the cost of a data breach averaging $4.35 million*, teams should prioritize remediation early in the software development life cycle to minimize risk caused by flaw accumulation. Chris Eng, Chief Research Officer at Veracode, said, “As with all our studies, we set out to provide insights that developers can put into action right away. From this year’s findings, two important considerations emerged: how to lower the chance of flaws being introduced in the first place, and how to reduce the number of those flaws that are introduced. Aside from technical access controls, secure coding practices are all the more crucial for cybersecurity in 2023 and beyond.”

No Direct Correlation Between App Growth and Flaw Introduction

After the initial scan, apps quickly enter a ‘honeymoon period’ of stability, and nearly 80 percent do not take on any new flaws at all for the first 1.5 years. After this point, however, the number of new flaws introduced begins to climb again to approximately 35 percent at the five-year mark.

The study found that developer training, use of multiple scan types, including scanning via API, and scan frequency are influential factors in reducing the probability of flaw introduction, suggesting teams should make them key components of their software security programs. For example, skipping months between scans correlates with an increased chance that flaws will be found when a scan is eventually run. Furthermore, top flaws in apps vary by testing type, highlighting the importance of using multiple scan types to ensure hard-to-identify flaws aren’t missed.

The Fragility of Open Source

With heightened focus on the Software Bill of Materials over the past year, Veracode’s research team also examined 30,000 open-source repositories publicly hosted on GitHub. Interestingly, 10 percent of repositories hadn’t had a commit—a change to the source code—for almost six years. Eng said, “Using a software composition analysis (SCA) solution that leverages multiple sources for flaws, beyond the National Vulnerability Database, will give advance warning to teams once a vulnerability is disclosed and enable them to implement safeguards more quickly, hopefully before exploitation begins. Setting organizational policies around vulnerability detection and management is also recommended, as well as considering ways to reduce third-party dependencies.”

An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure: Steps to Success

Veracode’s research reveals key steps that security and development teams should take:

  • Tackle technical or security debt as early and quickly as possible. The remediation curve must fall earlier and faster because an application will have accumulated flaws by the time it is two years old. Whether through increasing complexity from years of steady growth or diminishing focus on application development, this trend continues upwards, meaning there is a 90 percent chance an application will contain at least one flaw by the 10-year mark. Scanning frequently using a variety of tools helps to find and fix flaws that may have been introduced or built up over time.
  • Prioritize automation and developer security training to provide understanding of which vulnerabilities are most likely to be introduced, as well as techniques to avoid introducing flaws altogether. Overall, the data shows a 27 percent chance that new flaws will be introduced in an application in any given month. Organizations that scan via API reduce this probability to 25 percent. Those that complete 10 Security Labs—a training platform offering hands-on vulnerability detection and remediation experience—also reduce the probability of flaws being introduced by 1.8 percent in any given month.
  • Establish an application lifecycle management protocol that incorporates change management, resource allocation, and organizational controls. Investigate what the supportability and quality control phases look like in your organization. Initial discussions could lead to planned obsolescence for some applications and a review of the processes and quality control measures involved in continuous product engineering.

Jay Jacobs, Co-founder and Data Scientist at The Cyentia Institute, with whom Veracode produced the report, closed, “With Veracode’s State of Software Report, it’s fascinating to examine flaw accumulation and behavior by drawing upon nearly two decades of data. The breadth and depth of the data enables us to not just identify best practices, but also some of the more subtle factors that need to be addressed early in the development process to minimize risk later down the line.”

The Veracode State of Software Security 2023 study analyzed more than three quarters of a million applications across commercial software suppliers, software outsourcers, and open-source projects.

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