Visible to the public Building Secure and Resilient Software from the Start

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Building Secure and Resilient Software

 from the Start

NC State Lablet addresses soft underbelly of software, resilience and measurement.

The hard problems of resilience and predictive metrics are being addressed by the team of knowledgeable and experienced researchers at the NC State University Science of Security Lablet. The two Principal Investigators (PI), Laurie Williams and Mladen Vouk have worked extensively in industry, as well as academe. Their experience brings a practical dimension to solving software-related hard problems, and their management skills have generated a well-organized and implemented research agenda.

Their general approach to software security is to build secure software from the start, to build in rather than bolt on, security. They seek to prevent security vulnerabilities in software systems. A security vulnerability is an instance of a fault in a program that violates an implicit or explicit security policy.

Using empirical analysis, they have determined security vulnerabilities can be introduced into a system because the code is too complex, changed too often, or not changed appropriately. These potential causes, both technical and behavioral, are then captured in their software metrics. They then examine whether statistical correlations between software metrics and security vulnerabilities exist in a given system. One NCSU study found that source code files changed by nine developers or more were 16 times more likely to have at least one post-release security vulnerability—many hands make, not light work, but poor work from a security perspective. From such analyses, predictive models and useful statistical associations to guide the development of secure software can be developed and disseminated.

Resilience of software to attacks is an open problem. According to NCSU researchers, two questions arise. First, if highly attack-resilient components and appropriate attack sensors are developed, will it become possible to compose a resilient system from these component parts? If so, how does that system scale and age? Finding the answers to these questions requires rigorous analysis and testing. Resilience, they say, depends on the science as well as the engineering behind the approach used. For example, a very simple and effective defensive strategy is to force attackers to operate under a “normal” operational profile of an application by building a dynamic application firewall in, so that it does not respond to “odd” or out of norm inputs. While not fool-proof, a normal operational profile appears to be less vulnerable, and such a device may be quite resistant to zero-day attacks.

The research has generated tangible results. Three recent papers have been written as a result of this research. "On Coverage-Based Attack Profiles," by Anthony Rivers, Mladen Vouk, and Laurie Williams; "A Survey of Common Security Vulnerabilities and Corresponding Countermeasures for SaaS," by Donhoon Kim, Vouk, and Williams; and “Diversity-based Detection of Security Anomalies,” by Roopak Venkatakrishnan and Vouk. (The last was presented at the Symposium and Bootcamp on the Science of Security, HOT SoS 2014.)

Bibliographical citations and more detailed descriptions of the research follow.

Rivers, A.T.; Vouk, M.A.; Williams, L.A.; "On Coverage-Based Attack Profiles"; Software Security and Reliability-Companion (SERE-C), 2014 IEEE Eighth International Conference on, vol., no., pp.  5, 6, June 30 2014-July 2 2014. doi:10.1109/SERE-C.2014.15

Abstract: Automated cyber attacks tend to be schedule and resource limited. The primary progress metric is often "coverage" of pre-determined "known" vulnerabilities that may not have been patched, along with possible zero-day exploits (if such exist). We present and discuss a hypergeometric process model that describes such attack patterns. We used web request signatures from the logs of a production web server to assess the applicability of the model.

Keywords: Internet; security of data; Web request signatures; attack patterns; coverage-based attack profiles; cyber attacks; hypergeometric process model; production Web server; zero-day exploits; Computational modeling; Equations; IP networks; Mathematical model; Software; Software reliability; Testing; attack; coverage; models; profile; security



Kim, Donghoon; Vouk, Mladen A.; "A Survey of Common Security Vulnerabilities and Corresponding Countermeasures for SaaS"; Globecom Workshops, 2014, vol., no., pp. 59, 63, 8-12 Dec. 2014. doi:10.1109/GLOCOMW.2014.7063386

Abstract: Software as a Service (SaaS) is the most prevalent service delivery mode for cloud systems. This paper surveys common security vulnerabilities and corresponding countermeasures for SaaS. It is primarily focused on the work published in the last five years. We observe current SaaS security trends and a lack of sufficiently broad and robust countermeasures in some of the SaaS security area such as Identity and Access management due to the growth of SaaS applications.

Keywords: Authentication; Cloud computing; Google; Software as a service; XML



Roopak Venkatakrishnan, Mladen A. Vouk; "Diversity-based Detection of Security Anomalies"; HotSoS '14 Proceedings of the 2014 Symposium and Bootcamp on the Science of Security, April 2014, Article No. 29. doi:10.1145/2600176.2600205

Abstract: Detecting and preventing attacks before they compromise a system can be done using acceptance testing, redundancy based mechanisms, and using external consistency checking such external monitoring and watchdog processes. Diversity-based adjudication, is a step towards an oracle that uses knowable behavior of a healthy system. That approach, under best circumstances, is able to detect even zero-day attacks. In this approach we use functionally equivalent but in some way diverse components and we compare their output vectors and reactions for a given input vector. This paper discusses practical relevance of this approach in the context of recent web-service attacks.

Keywords: attack detection, diversity, redundancy in security, web services


Dr. WilliamsDr. Laurie Williams is the Acting Department Head of Computer Science, a Professor in the Department and co-director of the NCSU Science of Security Lablet. Her research focuses on software security in healthcare IT, agile software development, software reliability, and software testing and analysis.  She has published extensively on these topics and on electronic commerce, information and knowledge management, as well as cyber security and software engineering and programming languages.


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(ID#: 15-5940)


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