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Application Security: A Troubling Trend in Software Development

Did you do your “auth” well? This is a question that many developers may find themselves pondering. In the rapidly evolving landscape of software development, one critical component of any secure system often overlooked or not fully understood is authentication and authorization. In this article, we will explore how important proper training in authentication and authorization is, and the best practices and solutions that can help with these issues.

A concerning trend highlighted by studies, such as the one conducted by TechRepublic, reveals that many developers do not view application security as a top priority. So, what are the reasons?

1. Lack of Proper Training

One of the root causes of inadequate authentication and authorization practices in software development is the lack of comprehensive training in these areas. Traditional educational institutions as well as coding bootcamps frequently prioritize high-level security concepts, leaving the finer details of authentication and authorization untouched. Many educational programs primarily aim to equip developers with the skills needed to create functional applications that align with business requirements, often sidelining the essential aspects of security and compliance.

In the absence of appropriate training, developers may not fully grasp the significance of robust security measures or how to implement them effectively. Consequently, this inadequacy can manifest in software systems characterized by vulnerabilities, ultimately putting user data at risk of compromise.

2. Misguided Resources

Numerous online resources and open-source projects often encourage developers to craft their own authentication solutions but frequently fall short when it comes to offering guidance on implementing proper authorization. These guides may even advocate for storing user credentials in databases, sometimes endorsing weak hashing methods or, in more alarming cases, storing passwords in plain text. The significance of authorization is frequently downplayed, with certain resources prioritizing standard authentication behind paywalls, further limiting access to crucial information.

However, rolling one's own authentication necessitates a profound comprehension of security best practices and the potential vulnerabilities that can be exploited by adversaries. In the absence of this knowledge, developers may inadvertently construct insecure systems susceptible to exploitation. Furthermore, the dearth of guidance on authorization implementation leaves developers uncertain about how to effectively restrict access to resources within their applications. This uncertainty can lead to instances of unauthorized access and potentially result in data breaches. Hence, it remains imperative for developers to actively seek out comprehensive guidelines and adhere to best practices in both authentication and authorization to safeguard the security of their systems.

3. Changing Landscape

The landscape of authentication and authorization in the digital world has grown increasingly intricate due to evolving security requirements. Emerging necessities such as Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) and the move away from traditional password-based systems have redefined the playing field. Many of the older password hashing functions have become obsolete or require extensive configuration to maintain security, and yet some continue to be defaults on major systems like WordPress and Drupal. Best practices today demand MFA, although the choice of the second factor varies widely. Some established methods, like SMS OTP and email notifications, are still in use but are no longer recommended due to vulnerabilities. Meanwhile, newer and less-adopted technologies like WebAuthn are gaining traction. Moreover, innovative solutions such as passkeys represent a paradigm shift, departing from the traditional username and password model, ushering in a new era of secure digital access.

Best Practices and Solutions

Fortunately, there are now well-established standards for authentication and authorization, making life easier for developers and enhancing security across the digital landscape. OpenID Connect and OAuth 2 have emerged as the go-to standards adopted by a multitude of medium to large international companies. These standards offer mature user experiences and impeccably designed workflows that cater to a wide array of environments. With robust authentication mechanisms and streamlined authorization processes, these standards have become the backbone of modern identity management.

Moreover, while authorization approaches like Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) and Attribute-Based Access Control (ABAC) may not be universally standardized, they are widely embraced by many systems and applications. Developers have access to a plethora of both proprietary and open-source solutions with substantial user bases, mature products, and accessible documentation. Recognized names such as Auth0 and Ping Identity offer powerful tools and comprehensive documentation, making them the preferred choice for numerous prominent enterprises. Simultaneously, open-source alternatives like Keycloak and Authelia have gained popularity for their robust feature sets and well-documented capabilities. Furthermore, major frameworks such as .NET and Spring have built-in support for OpenID Connect and OAuth 2, providing developers with a wealth of options and reducing the need to reinvent the wheel when implementing authentication and authorization systems. This array of choices empowers developers to select the most suitable solution for their specific needs, saving valuable time and ensuring robust security measures.

Concluding remarks

Authentication and authorization are integral components of secure software development. While the lack of proper training and awareness has led to vulnerabilities in many applications, the landscape is evolving with new standards and solutions. Developers should prioritize security, adopt best practices, and leverage available tools and standards to protect their applications and users from potential threats. 

At ITC, as an ISO 27001:2013 certified company with extensive experience and knowledge in building secure products, we are well-equipped to help companies navigate these challenges and deliver secure solutions. With our expertise in popular tools like Azure AD, AWS Cognito, and Keycloak, we have successfully delivered products for numerous companies, including Selz, UpDiagram, ACB, FE Credit and are committed to ensuring the highest level of security for your projects.

Written by Mr. Tom Le - Principal DEV 

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