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In-Depth Guide to Source Code Security in 2024

Updated on May 2
5 min read
Written by
Cem Dilmegani
Cem Dilmegani
Cem Dilmegani

Cem is the principal analyst at AIMultiple since 2017. AIMultiple informs hundreds of thousands of businesses (as per Similarweb) including 60% of Fortune 500 every month.

Cem's work focuses on how enterprises can leverage new technologies in AI, automation, cybersecurity(including network security, application security), data collection including web data collection and process intelligence.

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Researched by
Buse Saatçi
Buse Saatçi
Buse Saatçi
Buse is an industry analyst at AIMultiple. Her area of interest is cybersecurity, with a focus on endpoint security.

She worked as sales support for a production company.

She studied computer science at TU Berlin and graduated from Bogazici University with a bachelor's degree in philosophy.
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In-Depth Guide to Source Code Security in 2024In-Depth Guide to Source Code Security in 2024

Victims of cyberattacks doubled in 2023 compared to 2022. While increased reliance on cloud storage and the diversification of ransomware attacks make it easy to launch successful attacks, the heavy price paid in compensation for data breaches incentivizes attackers.1 Unattended security vulnerabilities ease the work of cybercriminals, and security measures against ransomware attacks are heavily recommended.

As per the security measures that have been taken to tackle cybercrime, like data loss prevention solutions, source code protection has been used by technology companies that produce software as well as by other industries that use coding for tasks like configuration and management. This article lays out the best practices, challenges, and solutions for source code security.

Why is the security of source code important?

Source code itself is an intellectual property, but in most cases, source codes may involve excluded data as an input, such as passwords or user information that can be counted as sensitive data. An unsecured source is likely to be accessed by unauthorized users. The dissemination of confidential information gives rise to legal issues that damage the reputation of the involved company and force it to make large compensatory payments. Source code security is important for the reasons listed below.

  • Protecting intellectual property: Source code represents the core of a software application. It embodies the unique algorithms, methodologies, and innovations developed by a company or individual. Securing the source code helps prevent unauthorized access, use, or theft of this intellectual property.
  • Preventing unauthorized access and modification: Unauthorized access to source code can lead to various security risks, such as introducing vulnerabilities, inserting malicious code, or stealing sensitive data. Securing the source code ensures that only authorized personnel can access and modify it, reducing the likelihood of such risks.
  • Maintaining trust and reputation: Customers, partners, and stakeholders expect software providers to safeguard their data and maintain the integrity of their applications. Breaches or leaks of source code can erode trust and damage a company’s reputation, potentially leading to the loss of customers and business opportunities.
  • Compliance requirements: Many industries have specific regulatory requirements governing the protection of sensitive information, including source code. Adhering to these regulations not only helps avoid legal penalties but also demonstrates a commitment to data security and privacy. 
  • Preventing code tampering and counterfeiting: Securing source code helps prevent unauthorized modifications or tampering, ensuring that the software functions as intended and has not been compromised. This is particularly important for critical systems, such as those used in finance, healthcare, or infrastructure.
  • Supporting collaboration and development processes: Secure source code management facilitates collaboration among developers, enabling them to work together efficiently while maintaining control over access rights and version control. This fosters productivity and ensures that changes are properly tracked and documented.

How do you ensure the security of your source code?

Securing source code involves implementing a combination of technical, procedural, and organizational measures to protect it from unauthorized access, use, modification, or distribution. The most important elements to implement when securing source code are listed below.

1. Implement a source code security policy

Policy setup prevents reverse engineering and code tampering by ensuring secure access regulation. 2

2. Use automated code scanning

Employ automation tools to scan your codes for vulnerabilities. Remote management and monitoring software offer IT automation tools that offer automated scanning features. For more: remote management software

3. Management of access control

Limit access to source code repositories to authorized individuals or teams. Implement strong authentication mechanisms, such as two-factor authentication (2FA) or biometric authentication, to control access to source code repositories. Use role-based access control (RBAC) to ensure that individuals have appropriate permissions based on their roles and responsibilities.

Regularly review and update access permissions to revoke access for individuals who no longer require it.

4. Implementation of secure development practices

Follow secure coding guidelines and best practices to write code that is resistant to common security vulnerabilities, such as injection attacks, buffer overflows, and cross-site scripting (XSS). Use secure development frameworks and libraries to reduce the risk of introducing vulnerabilities. Conduct regular code reviews and security assessments to identify and address security issues in the source code.

5. Code signing

Digitally sign the source code using code signing certificates to verify its authenticity and integrity. Use code signing to ensure that only trusted and verified code is executed on users’ systems, preventing tampering or unauthorized modifications.

Establish legal agreements, such as non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) and employment contracts, to protect the confidentiality and ownership of source code.

Enforce intellectual property rights through copyright, trademark, and patent protections, and pursue legal action against individuals or entities that violate these rights.

7. Secure your endpoint devices

In order to avoid user access through unauthorized endpoints and authorized access through insecure endpoints, endpoint security and endpoint management should be utilized. For more: endpoint security and endpoint management

8. Encryption

Encrypt source code repositories, both at rest and in transit, using strong encryption algorithms. For more on endpoint encryption

Implement encryption for communication channels used to access and transfer source code, such as Secure Shell (SSH) or Transport Layer Security (TLS/SSL).

9. Implement patches and fixes

Patch management ensures that IT assets, including hardware and software, are up-to-date and function correctly. Automated patches are found to be included in unified endpoint management software.

10. Obfuscation

Apply code obfuscation techniques to make the source code more difficult to understand and reverse-engineer. Use obfuscation tools to rename variables, functions, and classes, as well as to insert meaningless code constructs, without changing the functionality of the code. Some endpoint security software offers data obfuscation tools. For more: endpoint protection software

11. Training

Provide security awareness training to developers and other employees to educate them about security risks and best practices for protecting source code.

Encourage employees to report any suspicious activity or security incidents related to source code.

Twitter’s leak in January 2023

Last year, a data breach on Twitter took place that involved hundreds of thousands of lines of code, including sensitive information such as API keys and certificates. A user named FreeSpeachEnthuasiast published source code belonging to Twitter on GitHub and made what was once assumed to be private public.3

In order to prevent such hazardous incidents, the described measures are strongly recommended to be followed.

Source: GitGuardian.4

Graph 1: Distribution of codebases containing vulnerable components worldwide in 20215

The below graph shows the distribution of codebases that contain sensitive information.

Source: Statista.6

3 challenges and best practices for source code security

Challenges and best practices for source code security are essential to safeguarding software systems from vulnerabilities and malicious attacks. Here are three challenges along with corresponding best practices:

Challenges

  1. Vulnerability exploitation: Sophisticated attackers constantly seek out vulnerabilities within source code to exploit, compromising the security of the entire system.
  2. Code complexity: As software projects grow in size and complexity, it becomes increasingly challenging to maintain a clear understanding of all the code components, leading to potential security oversights.
  3. Third-party dependencies: Integrating third-party libraries or components introduces potential security risks, as these dependencies may contain vulnerabilities that can be exploited by attackers.

Best practices

  1. Regular code audits and reviews: Conduct regular code audits and reviews to identify and mitigate vulnerabilities. Employ automated tools alongside manual review processes to thoroughly analyze the source code for security flaws. Establishing a culture of peer review can help catch issues early in the development lifecycle.
  2. Implement secure coding standards: Enforce secure coding standards throughout the development process. Utilize industry-standard secure coding guidelines such as Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) for web applications or Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) secure coding standards for general software development. Training developers on secure coding practices is crucial to ensuring code integrity and resilience against potential attacks.
  3. Dependency management and patching: Implement robust dependency management practices to monitor and update third party libraries regularly. Utilize dependency scanning tools to identify and mitigate vulnerabilities in external dependencies. Maintain an up-to-date inventory of all dependencies and establish procedures for promptly applying security patches when new vulnerabilities are discovered.

Further reading

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External resources

Access Cem's 2 decades of B2B tech experience as a tech consultant, enterprise leader, startup entrepreneur & industry analyst. Leverage insights informing top Fortune 500 every month.
Cem Dilmegani
Principal Analyst
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Cem Dilmegani
Principal Analyst

Cem is the principal analyst at AIMultiple since 2017. AIMultiple informs hundreds of thousands of businesses (as per Similarweb) including 60% of Fortune 500 every month.

Cem's work focuses on how enterprises can leverage new technologies in AI, automation, cybersecurity(including network security, application security), data collection including web data collection and process intelligence.

Cem's work has been cited by leading global publications including Business Insider, Forbes, Washington Post, global firms like Deloitte, HPE, NGOs like World Economic Forum and supranational organizations like European Commission. You can see more reputable companies and media that referenced AIMultiple.

Cem's hands-on enterprise software experience contributes to the insights that he generates. He oversees AIMultiple benchmarks in dynamic application security testing (DAST), data loss prevention (DLP), email marketing and web data collection. Other AIMultiple industry analysts and tech team support Cem in designing, running and evaluating benchmarks.

Throughout his career, Cem served as a tech consultant, tech buyer and tech entrepreneur. He advised enterprises on their technology decisions at McKinsey & Company and Altman Solon for more than a decade. He also published a McKinsey report on digitalization.

He led technology strategy and procurement of a telco while reporting to the CEO. He has also led commercial growth of deep tech company Hypatos that reached a 7 digit annual recurring revenue and a 9 digit valuation from 0 within 2 years. Cem's work in Hypatos was covered by leading technology publications like TechCrunch and Business Insider.

Cem regularly speaks at international technology conferences. He graduated from Bogazici University as a computer engineer and holds an MBA from Columbia Business School.

Sources:

AIMultiple.com Traffic Analytics, Ranking & Audience, Similarweb.
Why Microsoft, IBM, and Google Are Ramping up Efforts on AI Ethics, Business Insider.
Microsoft invests $1 billion in OpenAI to pursue artificial intelligence that’s smarter than we are, Washington Post.
Data management barriers to AI success, Deloitte.
Empowering AI Leadership: AI C-Suite Toolkit, World Economic Forum.
Science, Research and Innovation Performance of the EU, European Commission.
Public-sector digitization: The trillion-dollar challenge, McKinsey & Company.
Hypatos gets $11.8M for a deep learning approach to document processing, TechCrunch.
We got an exclusive look at the pitch deck AI startup Hypatos used to raise $11 million, Business Insider.

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