Performing a Code Review in Java

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Performing a Code Review
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Code review results can take a number of forms: bugs entered into the bug database, a formal report suitable for consumption by both programmers and management, entries into a software security tracking system, or an informal task list for programmers No matter what the form is, make sure the results have a permanent home so that they ll be useful during the next code review Feedback about each issue should include a detailed explanation of the problem, an estimate of the risk it brings, and references to relevant portions of the security policy and risk assessment documents This permanent collection of review results is good for another purpose, too: input for security training You can use review results to focus training on real problems and topics that are most relevant to your code 4 Make Fixes Two factors control the way programmers respond to the feedback from a security review: Does security matter to them If getting security right is a prerequisite for releasing their code, it matters Anything less is shaky ground because it competes with adding new functionality, xing bugs, and making the release date Do they understand the feedback Understanding security issues requires security training It also requires the feedback to be written in an intelligible manner Results stemming from code review are not concrete the way a failing test case is, so they require a more complete explanation of the risk involved If security review happens early enough in the development lifecycle, there will be time to respond to the feedback from the security review Is there a large clump of issues around a particular module or a particular feature It might be time to step back and look for design alternatives that could alleviate the problem Alternatively, you might nd that the best and most lasting x comes in the form of additional security training When programmers have xed the problems identi ed by the review, the xes must be veri ed The form that veri cation takes depends on the nature of the changes If the risks involved are not small and the changes are nontrivial, return to the review phase and take another look at the code The back edge from step 4 to step 3 in Figure 31 represents this work
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3 Static Analysis as Part of the Code Review Process
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Steer Clear of the Exploitability Trap Security review should not be about creating ashy exploits, but all too often, review teams get pulled down into exploit development To understand why, consider the three possible verdicts that a piece of code might receive during a security review: Obviously exploitable Ambiguous Obviously secure
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No clear dividing line exists between these cases; they form a spectrum The endpoints on the spectrum are less trouble than the middle; obviously exploitable code needs to be xed, and obviously secure code can be left alone The middle case, ambiguous code, is the dif cult one Code might be ambiguous because its logic is hard to follow, because it s dif cult to determine the cases in which the code will be called, or because it s hard to see how an attacker might be able to take advantage of the problem The danger lies in the way reviewers treat the ambiguous code If the onus is on the reviewer to prove that a piece of code is exploitable before it will be xed, the reviewer will eventually make a mistake and overlook an exploitable bug When a programmer says, I won t x that unless you can prove it s exploitable, you re looking at the exploitability trap (For more ways programmers try to squirm out of making security xes, see the sidebar Five Lame Excuses for Not Fixing Bad Code ) The exploitability trap is dangerous for two reasons First, developing exploits is time consuming The time you put into developing an exploit would almost always be better spent looking for more problems Second, developing exploits is a skill unto itself What happens if you can t develop an exploit Does it mean the defect is not exploitable, or that you simply don t know the right set of tricks for exploiting it Don t fall into the exploitability trap: Get the bugs xed! If a piece of code isn t obviously secure, make it obviously secure Sometimes this approach leads to a redundant safety check Sometimes it leads to a comment that provides a veri able way to determine that the code is okay And sometimes it plugs an exploitable hole Programmers aren t always wild about the idea of changing a piece of code when no error can be demonstrated because any change brings with it the possibility of introducing a new bug But the alternative shipping vulnerabilities is even less attractive Beyond the risk that an overlooked bug might eventually lead to a new exploit is the possibility that the bug might not even need to be exploitable
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