Developing software while preserving its embedded security can feel like an impossible task. As you update your product, you’re potentially adding new vulnerabilities. So as part of the risk management process in software engineering, you need to work with cybersecurity professionals throughout the software development life cycle (SDLC) to create a mature security profile.

What Is Risk Management in Software Engineering?

Traditional risk management refers to identifying and preventing any risks faced by a company that could cause financial losses. In software engineering, risk management refers to any threats that could cause a project to fail before its completion.

A risk management plan, therefore, looks at the process of software development and the wide variety of risks that can occur before the software project is ready for its intended function. The details of the application will change frequently throughout the development process, and any issues that could threaten the outcome of the project should be cataloged as risks.

What Is the Purpose of Risk Management in Software Engineering?

New programs are untested and uncharted, which means they’re vulnerable to risk throughout the development process. At any given point hackers could access your work in progress, perhaps to steal your intellectual property or collect information for future attacks; or the project itself may suffer from insufficient funding or a lack of staff.

So it’s not enough to examine risks for the finished product. You must look carefully at what risks exist for the entire development period, start to finish.

What Are the Five Risk Management Processes? How Can They Be Applied to Software Engineering?

  1. Identify. A new software project can move in so many directions before completion that identifying every type of risk may seem daunting. It’s still crucial that you probe for all possible risks, and that you continue to look for new risk factors as the project moves forward.
  2. Analyze. Examine the likelihood of the identified risks, as well as the source of the risk and the level of loss that would be inflicted if the threat should occur. Be prepared for your initial analysis to change over time, as the development process will eliminate some threats while creating others.
  3. Evaluate. Here you determine what tactics can best minimize or eliminate each risk based on your previous analysis. This process will allow you to create a risk management strategy that can be adapted as your software development project moves forward.
  4. Treat. Once you’ve decided what preventative measures will work best for your project, put them into action. Like all of the steps in this process, the treatment step will shift and change as your project changes and encounters new risks.
  5. Monitor. A key part of software risk management is to monitor the potential risk throughout the lifecycle of the project. Your project manager should be involved in every step of the decision-making process and should be kept apprised of any new potential risks that may arise.

What’s the Difference Between Risk Management and Risk Mitigation in SDLC?

Risk mitigation is a part of risk management, and is one of several strategies you can use to prevent damage from risk. Mitigation specifically refers to reducing the effects of a risk once it has occurred. Mitigation recognizes that some risk is inevitable and seeks to prepare rather than prevent.

Risk mitigation in software development parallels the process used by traditional businesses. As outlined by the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP), the Software Assurance Maturity Model (SAMM) focuses on assessing, formulating, and implements a software security strategy that integrates into the SDLC. Regardless of development methodology, you can follow a risk management process that allows you to protect your software throughout each stage of development.

How Does SAMM Approach Risk Mitigation?

OWASP embeds risk mitigation and response throughout the development cycle. Functionally, each group within the organization retains responsibility at different points in time. OWASP does this by breaking down software development into four basic business functions, each of which divides into three practices:

  1. The Governance Function

    Governance, as defined by OWASP, focuses on business outcomes and deliverables such as strategy, metrics, policy, compliance, education, and guidance.

    The Strategy & Metrics (SM) Practice

    The SM Practice creates measurable security goals to mitigate the business risks inherent in data events.

    The Policy and Compliance (PC) Practice

    The PC Practice establishes written standards that meet legal and regulatory requirements, including audits that provide the necessary assurance.

    The Education & Guidance (EG) Practice

    The EG Practice increases workforce access to information so that they can identify and mitigate security risks more effectively.

  2. The Construction Function

    Construction focuses on defining goals and creating software within projects. As such, you need to include the project management team as part of these steps.

    The Threat Assessment (TA) Practice

    As part of the TA Practice, you focus on risk identification and risk analysis. Not only will you look at the impact an attack may have, but you also look at the probability of occurrence.

    The Security Requirements (SR) Practice

    Initially, the SR Practice analyzes high-level security requirements based on how an organization intends to use the software. From here, it reviews new risks and how to mitigate them as the software matures. So you need to consider interactions with suppliers and adhere to audit standards as required in Service Level Agreements (SLAs).

    The Security Architecture (SA) Practice

    Rather than waiting to secure your software upon completion, the SA Practice builds in security by default. You want project teams to focus on explicitly designing software with security functionality in mind.

  3. The Verification Function

    Verification relates to continuously testing, reviewing, and evaluating software for new risks.

    The Design Review (DR) Practice

    The DR Practice assesses design and architecture to detect and address issues early in the process. The goal of DR is to locate security issues before they become costly.

    The Implementation Review (IR) Practice

    During the IR Practice, you review source code and configurations for security vulnerabilities. While in the early stages of development, an organization can use simple checklists. Mature software development companies often use automation to provide greater coverage.

    The Security Testing (ST) Practice

    The ST Practice focuses on reviewing security in the runtime environment, functionally looking at it as it will work after deployment. As such, this can include traditional penetration testing for high-level test cases or review for other misconfigurations.

  4. The Operations Function

    The Operations function relates to all activities that are part of the software’s release, such as shipping, deployment, hosting, and operation in the runtime environment.

    The Issue Management (IM) Practice

    The IM Practice creates processes for handling issues reports and operational incidents by assigning roles, organizing a formal incident response process, and tracking issues. Additionally, it requires communication between all stakeholders.

    The Environment Hardening (EH) Practice

    To protect the application, the HR Practice focuses on assuring that the underlying infrastructure maintains the software’s security posture rather than undermining it. To assure manageable deployment of security patches, you need to keep the development team’s information and find ways to review the operating environment.

    The Operations Enablement (OE) Practice

    The OE practice focuses on risk monitoring to assure that your project teams communicate risks to users and operators. As part of OE, you need to create documentation with details that users and operators need, and share those with each release.

Why Embedding Security Within Software Development Matters

As more companies seek to use Software-as-a-Service platforms to enable their businesses, they also recognize that vendors are one of the most significant data breach risks. Moreover, with the glut of SaaS platforms on the market, a SaaS vendor can stand above the competition if it makes security a primary differentiator.

Most SaaS platforms recognize this, and many may say they’re secure — but the vendor data environments remain murky. So you need a project manager who focuses on project risk management and mitigation to assure that you’re genuinely securing your product.

How ZenGRC Enables Risk Management During SDLC

The OWASP SAMM requires documentation from myriad stakeholders throughout the development cycle. This amount of data can’t be held on a shared drive or tracked in a spreadsheet. If you want scalability, you need an automated process for tracking and documenting your security reviews.

ZenGRC allows you to prioritize tasks so that everyone knows what to do and when to do it. With our workflow tagging, you can assign tasks to the individuals in your organization responsible for the activities involved in risk assessment, risk analysis, and risk mitigation. Finally, with our audit trail capabilities, you can document remediation activities to prove that you maintained data confidentiality, integrity, and availability as required by law.

For more information about how ZenGRC can streamline your GRC process, contact us for a demo today.