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20 March 2024 - 6 minutes

Software Code Audit — Processes Breakdown, Tools, and Statistics

Demystifying Software Code Audits: Processes, Tools, and Key Statistics

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As software continues to power more of our digital lives, the quality and security of code have never been more important. Software code audits are a critical process for evaluating the integrity of codebases, yet few outside engineering circles understand their function or value. 

This article will provide an in-depth overview of software code audits, outlining the step-by-step audit process, highlighting essential tools auditors use, and providing vital statistics that quantify the impact audits have on software quality assurance. 

After reading, you'll have a comprehensive understanding of this vital backstage process that ensures the software we rely on is safe, efficient, and effective behind the scenes.

The Software Code Audit Process

Phase 1: Planning and Preparation

The planning and pre-audit phases include scope, objectives, budget, timeline, methodology, and the team for the software code audit. This involves the identification of the codebases, applications, platforms, and programming languages in scope together with the purpose of the audit, which could be security, compliance, performance, or quality assurance. 

Brooke Webber, Head of Marketing at Ninja Patches, adds, "Resources are allocated, roles and responsibilities are assigned, and a detailed project plan is developed, which outlines the tasks, schedule, tools, and tests to be conducted in later phases. Any pre-analyses such as code scans or metrics gathering on size, complexity, and documented versus technical debt are also conducted."

Phase 2: Execution

Jim Pendergast, Senior Vice President at altLINE Sobanco, explains, "In the implementation phase, auditors investigate the code in line with the methodology stipulated in the planning phase. 

Utilizing manual code reviews and static/dynamic analysis tools, the team evaluates coding patterns, architecture, documentation, logging, exception handling, dependencies, licenses, vulnerabilities, etc., against best practices, internal/external policies, and industry standards. Failures, gaps, and inconsistencies identified are recorded and risk-ranked. 

Traceability analysis evaluates completeness in comparison with the stated functional and non-functional requirements. Statistical modeling, simulations, and penetration testing are also carried out here. The review findings are noted in accordance with the audit program."

Phase 3: Evaluation and feedback

"During the reporting phase, auditors consolidate their findings and write an audit report. This consists of an executive summary, full descriptions of non-compliances ranked in severity/priority order, positive findings, defect statistics detected, remediation recommendations, the timeline for fixing problems, and a conclusion on the software's overall quality and compliance maturity. 

The draft findings are shared with stakeholders, including application developers and owners, who verify the findings and offer their input. Updates are included, and the final audit report is presented to stakeholders in addition to presenting the main findings." - Andrew Pierce, CEO at LLC Attorney.

Phase 4: Monitoring and control

Jesse Hanson, Content Manager at Online Solitaire & World of Card Games, breaks it down, "The stakeholders develop action plans, assign accountabilities, and monitor the progress of remediation efforts during the follow-up phase using the final report as input. Priority-wise, code refinements, policy updates, and process changes are carried out to satisfy the audit findings and improve quality/compliance. 

Auditors may re-evaluate implementations to close audit findings or give directions. The gleanings are introduced to improve development, testing, and release processes and define the framework for further audits. This guarantees ongoing compliance with the dynamic best practices and internal/external compliance requirements."

Tools for Software Code Audits

1. Static analysis tools

Volodymyr Shchegel, VP of Engineering at Clario, explains, "Static analysis tools examine code and do not execute programs compiled from the code. They handle code and search for patterns pointing to possible vulnerabilities. Typical functionalities of static analysis tools include data flow analysis to detect possible control flow issues, automatic code reviews against best practices, code smell detection, dead code detection, code complexity, and maintainability metrics."

SonarQube, SpotBugs, PMD, Checkstyle, and Lint are some of the popular open-source static analysis tools. Commercial alternatives, such as Veracode Static Analysis, Coverity, and Klocwork, offer additional features, such as semantics and taint analysis. 

Static analysis is characterized by delivering fast feedback that can be done on large codebases without the need to run the code. Limitations comprise false positives, challenges in analyzing the highly dynamic code, and failure to detect some logical vulnerabilities.

2. Dynamic analysis tools

Dynamic analysis tools run the code and analyze the runtime behavior and output to find possible defects. The forms in which they come include web application scanners, interactive application security testing tools, fuzzers, and instrumentation frameworks. 

Dynamic analysis tools model the attacks on the running software to identify problems such as SQL injection, cross-site scripting, insecure deserialization, authorization bypass issues, and buffer overflows. They can also see code paths and data flows, which are hard for static analysis to understand. 

However, the drawback of dynamic analysis is that its speed is sluggish, covers only executed code paths, and copes with complex program states and other such environments. Open source tools that are used include, but are not limited to, OWASP Zed Attack Proxy and w3af, while commercial options are Burp Suite, Contrast Security, Veracode Dynamic Analysis, and ImmuniWeb.

Tom Golubovich, Head of Marketing & Media Relations at Ninja Transfers mentions: “Think of dynamic analysis tools as our helpers in making sure software is safe. They're great at finding certain types of problems by acting like hackers. But just using these tools isn't enough. We have to understand what they tell us and know they can't catch everything. It's like putting together a big puzzle – they give us some of the pieces, but we need to figure out the rest.'”

3. Manual review aids

Manual code review aids provide direction to the human-based code review process for security defects. They are in the form of checklists, review guidelines, security coding guidelines, and code review reading techniques. 

Puneet Gogia, Founder at Excel Champs, adds, "The topics include input validation, output encoding, error handling, logging, authentication and authorization checks, encryption, race conditions, business logic flaws, and common vulnerability patterns for the programming language. The manual review complements automated analysis with human consideration and background."

However, the problem with this approach is that it does not scale well to large codebases and is dependent on the knowledge and experience of the reviewers. The most common methodologies are Microsoft SDL, OWASP Code Review Guide, SEI Cert Coding Standards, and different Secure Coding Checklists for particular languages.

Statistics and Insights from Software Code Audits

High False Positive Rates

A major issue in the code audit process is the large number of false positives in vulnerability alerts. A majority of the respondents claimed that over 25% of their alerts were false positives in over 60% of the cases. This illustrates the difficulty in identifying live vulnerabilities and the requirement for powerful analysis tools.

Prevalent Ignored Vulnerabilities

A study shows that legacy programming languages, including Java and JavaScript, make up a lot of undetected vulnerabilities. This highlights the problem of outdated code not being updated to fix known vulnerabilities.

Risks from Delayed Patching

Figures reveal that 80% of organizations that suffered breaches or audit failures could have avoided them through patching head services. Nevertheless, almost fifty percent took more than 10 days to patch, illustrating the challenges of wide deployment of updates.

Evolving Cyber Threats

The core trends reveal that manufacturing suffered more in 65% of the ransomware attacks in one year. Additionally, 58% of attacks commencing from state-sponsored were Russian-based. This depicts the varied and evolving cyber threats companies encounter.

Software code audits are essential to software development and support life cycles. Continuous code review for security weaknesses, performance problems, standards compliance, and general quality keeps the software in line with business and user needs.

Kickstarting a career in technology helps you work with the latest systems and you will be able to take part in developing the software that runs our world. If you are looking to get into the dynamic industry and develop both coding and analytical skills, look for training courses to prepare you for the right job. 

The programming, collaboration, and problem-solving skills are offered by Ironhack's Intensive Web Development Bootcamp for beginners who want to start tech careers. Start auditing and developing the future of software today by joining an immersive bootcamp experience with Ironhack.

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