Friday, May 8, 2009

OWASP SAMM Organizational Assessment

I recently completed a lightweight organizational assessment of our software security assurance program, using the OWASP SAMM assessment worksheets. This is the text of a message that I posted to the SAMM mailing list, summarizing my findings on working with the assessment model:

Completing the assessment was straightforward. I didn’t have problems understanding what was being asked or why; although there were a few questions for some Level 3 practices that were targeted to enterprise-level concerns (costing, central control, some of the auditing requirements, metrics) that I did not go into much, working from a small company perspective. Ok, I did have to look up "Likert" to verify what the metric ">3.0 Likert on usefulness of code review activities..." was measuring in CR1.

The assessment guided me in a structured way through a review of our application security assurance program, what we are doing well, where we need to invest more. Going through the assessment was also a good way to improve my understanding of the SAMM model, the practice areas and maturity ladder.

The findings from the assessment were generally in line with what we had already identified through our ad hoc internal analysis and our existing roadmap, at least in the areas of Construction and Verification practices.

I like that SAMM considers more than Construction and Verification, that it also addresses Governance (including training) in a simple and practical way (at least for level 1 and 2), as well as Deployment practices (vulnerability management, environment hardening, operational enablement), so I was able to take into account at least some of the requirements of operations without having to put on a different hat (ITIL, Visible Ops, SANS, and so on.). This should help teams work on the boundaries where software assurance ends and secure infrastructure management and operations begins, rather than throwing the problem over the fence to operations / your customer to take care of.

I also like that Vulnerability Management is considered an important part of the software assurance model. It makes sense to me that a consistent mechanism should be put into place for handling security risks, vulnerabilities and incidents, including incident management and root cause analysis, within the software development / project team structure; aligning this with what is done for secure deployment and operations of the system, and within the larger context of business risk management.

Using the assessment as a planning tool was also simple: building the assessment score card from the worksheets; identifying gaps and areas for development, and then referring to the roadmaps for examples, ideas where to prioritize effort. The sample roadmaps provided good coverage, at least for my purposes (building software for financial services customers). There are some good guidelines on handling outsourced scenarios in the roadmaps. It would be helpful if there were also guidelines on how to apply SAMM to agile development, for teams that follow lighter-weight methods and practices, maybe as part of the ISV roadmap. The case study example was also helpful.

The next challenge is hunting down resources from all of the good stuff available from OWASP to support improvement activities. I am happy to see that work has started to make this easier. I can see that there will be some interesting challenges in this. For example, Threat Assessment: SAMM TA1 recommends attack trees as a less formal alternative to STRIDE, Trike, etc., and provides a brief description of attack trees. Now I can google “attack trees” and find some helpful information out there in the wide world. But there is not much available in OWASP itself on attack trees, except for a note from some poor guy unsuccessfully searching for information on attack trees in CLASP at one time, and a thread in 2007 where Dinis Cruz said that Microsoft gave up on using attack trees in threat modelling because of complexity and difficulty reading them. Whoa pardner, this isn’t what I was hoping to find :-(

One of the keys to me, as a software development guy, not a security expert, is that I need clear and actionable guidance where possible. I have a lot of work to do. I really don’t want to get in the middle of the semantic war around Microsoft’s definition of Threat Modelling vs what other security experts define as Threat Modelling. And then there’s Attack Models and Architectural Risk Analysis (which don’t show up in SAMM, as far as I can see – indexing SAMM would help! - but of course are key to BSIMM).

Mapping resources from OWASP to SAMM practices in a consistent way will make a hard job, building secure software, much easier.

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