Best practices maintaining a secure development environment

Mark Maney
Head of Customer Success
January 11, 2023
Mark Maney is an accomplished customer success leader with ties to both civil and computer engineering and has overseen the product lifecycle in product management, development, implementation, and consulting roles. Outside of work, Mark can be found golfing, tinkering, or spending time with his wife, daughter, and energetic Basenji mix.


There are several best practices that organizations can follow to secure their development ecosystem and protect against data breaches. These include following the tech industry’s security standards, using strong authentication controls, applying access controls, protecting databases, performing penetration testing, and implementing continuous security monitoring.


According to recent statistics, about 70% of business leaders around the world believe that cybersecurity risks are increasing. Due to advancements in artificial intelligence and machine learning, sophisticated cyberattacks have become even easier to carry out for hackers and cybercriminals.These attacks can be particularly harmful to software development firms, as they often have access to sensitive data and intellectual property. So, if you run a software development organization, it’s important to implement robust security measures to protect against these threats.

Not only do you need to pay attention to your development environment, but you’ll also need to secure the hardware and networks used in your organization. This will help you create a multi-layer and holistic security system to deal with all types of cyberattacks.

In this article, we will briefly discuss some of the best practices to help you secure your development ecosystem effectively.

Establishing a secure software development ecosystem: best practices to follow

If you’re running a software development firm, consider using the following tips to create a fully secure development ecosystem. It’ll help you and your employees focus on their daily jobs instead of worrying about cyberattacks and data breaches.

Follow security standard best practices to create secure coding guidelines

You should have secure coding guidelines in place, that include at minimum, the tech industry's security standards, for each development project. These guidelines will help your development team(s) follow best practices and prevent vulnerabilities in their software.

By implementing these guidelines and regularly reviewing and updating them, organizations can create a secure coding environment. Here’s a list of popular tech industry standards that you can follow.

OWASP Secure Coding Practices

The OWASP (Open Web Application Security Project) maintains a set of guidelines for secure coding practices, including best practices for input validation, authentication, and data protection.

These guidelines cover a range of programming languages and technologies and are designed to provide a secure development environment.

SANS Secure Coding

The SANS Institute maintains a set of secure coding guidelines that provide recommendations for secure coding practices, including how to prevent common vulnerabilities such as buffer overflows and SQL injection attacks.

NIST Cybersecurity Framework

The NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) Cybersecurity Framework provides a set of standards and best practices for securing systems and data. The framework is designed to be flexible and adaptable and includes recommendations for risk assessment, incident response, and data protection.

In addition to following these standards, it is also important to regularly review and update your secure coding guidelines to ensure that they remain effective and relevant.

You can also consider implementing a secure development process, such as the OWASP SDL (Secure Development Lifecycle), to ensure that security is built into your applications from the start.

Choose the right tools to secure your development ecosystem

Other than considering functionality, compatibility, integration capability, and ease of use, you should also consider security while choosing tools for your development team. Choosing the right SCM (Source Code Management) tool, for example, is critical to ensure proper development controls and policy adherence. SCA (Software Composition Analysis), and SBOM (Software Bill Of Materials) tools can be used to analyze open-source and third-party libraries, as well as closed-source libraries, to identify any potential vulnerabilities or licensing issues.

Some SCA solutions also support policy development and management, as well as the tracking of individual risks to manage vulnerability backlogs.

This list is far from all-inclusive, and many additional security tools are critical to harden your development ecosystem. Here are some tips that you should follow while and after selecting development tools.

Research and compare different tools

When choosing tools for your developers, it is important to conduct research and compare different options to determine which ones are the best fit for your organization and projects. Consider the functionality, integration, ease of use, security, and cost of each tool.

Seek input from your developers

Most security tools will in some way impact the workflow of your developers, so it is important to seek their input and get their feedback as solutions are being evaluated and integrated. This can help ensure that the tools you choose are effective and do not hamper development velocity. 

Keep everything up to date

Once you have chosen your tools, it is important to keep them up to date with the latest security patches and updates. This helps to ensure that any known vulnerabilities are addressed and that your tools are as secure as possible. To ensure that software tools are up-to-date with the latest security patches and updates:

  • Enable automatic updates for the software tools.
  • Regularly check for and install updates manually.
  • Subscribe to software vendors' security advisory or update notification services.
  • Use a centralized patch management system to manage and deploy updates across multiple systems.
  • Conduct regular vulnerability scans to identify outdated software.

By following these steps, you can minimize the risk of security threats and ensure that your software tools are secure and protected.

Monitor for security issues

Regularly monitor your tools and libraries for security issues and take action to address any vulnerabilities that are discovered. This may include deploying security patches or updates or implementing additional security measures.

Secure your endpoints

Endpoint security is crucial for protecting your network and preventing data breaches. With the increase in the size of the mobile workforce and the use of personal devices and portable storage media, it can be challenging to maintain visibility into endpoint activity.

To reduce the risk of malware activity or data exfiltration, many organizations choose to restrict the use of externally-attached devices. If your organization is a cloud consumer, it is important to understand the shared responsibility model, which outlines who is responsible for securing what and how.

Cloud providers often offer EDR (Endpoint Detection and Response) features and powerful real-time notifications to make administrative work easy.

Plus, they also offer many other useful functions, such as encryption mechanisms, DLP (Data Loss Prevention), application controls, risk assessments, and asset discovery. You can use these features to secure your endpoints by improving your operational safety.

Analyze and reduce your development environment attack surface

Analyzing and reducing your attack surface is an important step in protecting your development ecosystem and preventing cyberattacks. Your attack surface consists of all the systems, functions, network resources, and user interfaces that could potentially be exploited by attackers.

In order to reduce your attack surface, it is important to regularly review and remove any inactive user accounts, roles, and privileges that are no longer needed. Forgotten user accounts with administrative privileges can be particularly vulnerable to exploitation.

Conducting vulnerability assessments and using attack surface management software can help you identify your organization's most critical assets and potential targets.

When selecting devices and environments for your development environment, it is important to consider the security controls they provide. The NCSC (National Cyber Security Centre) end-user device guidance can provide helpful recommendations for securing your development environment.

Separate business and development environments

Another way to improve your development ecosystem security is to separate business and development functions. When an attacker gains access to the development environment, they may try to move on to other parts of the organization to further exploit the attack.

By separating the development environment from other functions, it becomes harder for the attacker to move on and access sensitive information. This separation can be achieved through a variety of methods, such as using physically separate devices or creating a virtual environment for development activities.

Deploy strong authentication

Deploying strong authentication controls is an important step in securing your development ecosystem. You shouldn’t only rely on creating strong password techniques as they can be stolen. According to statistics, 20% of all data breaches start with stolen passwords and usernames.

Therefore, you should utilize the power of MFA (Multi-Factor Authentication) to secure your devices and tools in order to minimize the risk of unauthorized code changes.

It is also important to carefully handle and store credentials that provide your employees with access to critical systems. Revoking any credentials that may have been compromised or are no longer needed can help reduce the risk of unauthorized access.

Implement access control

When securing your development environment, it is important to carefully consider and plan for access control measures that determine who has access to which data and features. To make this process easier, it is recommended to implement developer access controls in your central management library located on the server side.

It’ll make it easier to audit and update the rules as needed. It is also important to only use trusted data that has been properly validated on the server side to make access control decisions.

A best practice is to implement a "deny by default" approach, where all functions check to ensure that the user is authorized before proceeding.

Adopt zero trust approach

Adopting a zero-trust approach involves implementing security measures that require every request to be fully authenticated and vetted before access is granted, regardless of whether it comes from inside or outside the organization's network.

This can be particularly important when working with code repositories in the cloud, as traditional security measures, such as firewalls, anti-malware/virus solutions, and VPNs suited for your operating system, may not be sufficient to protect against threats.

To adopt a zero-trust approach, you should implement strong authentication controls, such as multi-factor authentication, and use the least privilege access model to grant access to critical assets only to those who need it.

Protect your databases

SQL injection attacks are considered to be one of the deadliest web application security risks. These attacks involve inserting malicious SQL code into dynamic SQL statements, which can easily be discovered and exploited by attackers using tools like SQL Ninja or SQLMap.

To protect your database from SQL injection attacks, it is important to parameterize your SQL statements, which clearly indicates to the SQL interpreter which parts of the statement are data and which parts are commands.

OWASP provides a cheat sheet that explains how to parameterize queries properly in different programming languages. Another important measure is to encode data before using it in order to prevent any malicious code from being executed.

Perform penetration testing

Penetration testing, also known as pen testing, is a method of evaluating the security of a system or network by simulating an attack on it. The goal of penetration testing is to identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses in the system that an attacker could potentially exploit.

CSM (Continuous Security Monitoring)

Continuous security monitoring is a cybersecurity approach that involves ongoing monitoring and analysis of an organization's security posture in real time. The goal of CSM is to detect and respond to potential security threats as they begin to take place, rather than after a breach has already occurred.

This can involve monitoring network traffic, system logs, and other indicators of potential security issues, and using automated tools and processes to identify and respond to potential threats.

CSM is an important component of an organization's overall cybersecurity strategy. It allows you to proactively identify and address security issues, before they can cause significant damage, to maintain your organization’s security posture.

Educate your developers/employees

It's no secret that humans are the weakest link in cybersecurity. According to recent statistics, employee carelessness or negligence accounts for 48% of cybersecurity incidents. To prevent this, it’s important to educate your developers (as well as other employees) on the importance of security and the specific measures that should be taken to protect sensitive data.

This may include training on common cyberattacks, and topics such as secure coding practices, data handling, and threat awareness.

Additionally, it’s also essential to monitor your developers' actions to ensure that they are following best practices and not inadvertently exposing the organization to risk. You can implement tools that track user activity and alert on any unusual or potentially malicious behavior for this purpose.

Final words

In conclusion, you need to adopt a multifaceted approach to securing your development ecosystem. A single solution or control is often not enough to protect against all potential threats. Instead, a combination of different controls and strategies is needed to provide comprehensive security.

Ultimately, the key to securing your development ecosystem is to be proactive and continuously monitor your systems and processes to ensure that they are secure.

By following the practices discussed in this guide, you can effectively safeguard your development environment and protect your organization's sensitive information and data.


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