Using Secure Code Review to Protect Your App From Cyberattacks

Cyberattacks have always been a problem. But with each passing day, the problem gets a little bigger.

Organizations are losing millions of dollars per year due to cyberattacks. One research company predicts that cybercrime damage will reach $10.5 trillion globally by 2025.

It’s no wonder that cybersecurity measures are becoming a bigger and bigger part of how companies are building their apps in the first place — not just as an afterthought.

Secure code review is one tool that you can add to your arsenal of business protection. Let’s take a look at how it works and how it pays off big time for businesses.

What is secure code review?

Secure code review is the process of carefully examining an app’s source code to look for any potential issues that might affect security. This process can start along with the first line of code so that issues can be fixed during the development phase instead of being patched after launch.

Secure code review can happen in 2 main forms: manual and automatic. In an ideal scenario, both tools are used to maximize efficiency and make sure no stone is unturned. Let’s look a bit closer at each.

Manual code review

Manual code review is done by humans, examining code line-by-line. This process is typically done by one or more developers who didn’t initially write the code carefully looking at the codebase, making sure the code is accurate, maintainable, and readable, while following security best practices. This process is called peer review.

Here are some top strengths of manual code review:

  • Deep understanding: Human reviewers can delve deeper into the code logic, understand its context, and identify subtle vulnerabilities that automated tools might miss.
  • Creative problem-solving: Reviewers can brainstorm and propose creative solutions to security issues, going beyond the pre-defined checks of automated tools.
  • Improved code quality: The review process often leads to improvements in code structure, readability, and maintainability, benefitting overall software quality.

Automatic code review

Automatic code review uses technology to do the reviewing. This process uses specialized tools like static application security testing (SAST) tools, software composition analysis (SCA) tools, and web application security scanner (WAST) tools.

Here are a few of the top strengths of automatic code review:

  • Speed and efficiency: Automated tools can scan large codebases quickly and consistently, which reduces overall review time.
  • Objectivity: Tools follow predefined rules and patterns, eliminating human biases and inconsistencies.
  • Scalability: The ability to handle large codebases quickly makes it easier and more cost-efficient to scale.

Benefits of secure code review

Here are just a few of the many benefits secure code review can bring to an organization.

Frees up time and resources

One of the main advantages of secure code review is its ability to find vulnerabilities before the application gets to production. Instead of relying on time-consuming and resource-intensive patches after launch, developers can catch potential security issues before they ever have the chance to become a threat. This not only saves time and resources, but also reduces the likelihood that any vulnerabilities will make their way into the final product.

Reduces long-term risks

Cybercriminals are continually evolving their tactics, looking for new vulnerabilities to take advantage of. When secure code review is standard practice, developers create a long-standing defense against these threats, making it harder for attackers to find and exploit weaknesses. This reduction in risk extends beyond data protection — it’s safeguarding an organization’s reputation and user trust.

Facilitates education and knowledge sharing

At its best, secure code review is a collaborative effort involving multiple members of a development team (and occasionally third-party security experts who are brought in for fresh perspectives). By working together and exchanging findings, the organization is cultivating a bigger knowledge base and learning as they go. They’re gaining insights into new developments in the industry, new tools and strategies, and new ways to keep their organization safe.

What does secure code review look at?

An ideal secure code review is robust and comprehensive, looking at every possible issue, vulnerability, and potential point of entry by an attacker. Here’s a list of several points commonly checked during a secure code review. Keep in mind that this isn’t a complete list, and review strategies depend heavily on the type, nature, function, and scope of the app.

Input validation: Making sure user inputs are properly validated to prevent common attacks like SQL injection, LDAP injection, cross-site scripting (XSS), and command injection (just to name a few).

Authentication and authorization: Verifying that authentication mechanisms are robust and hard to bypass, as well as making sure users have the right access levels.

Data encryption: Confirming that sensitive data is appropriately encrypted during storage and transmission.

Session management: Examining how sessions are handled to prevent session hijacking.

Error handling: Identifying how errors and exceptions are handled in the code to prevent any gaps or sensitive information from being exposed.

API security: Checking APIs (application program interfaces) to make sure they are secured against common vulnerabilities and follow best practices.

Business logic flaws: Identifying any vulnerabilities created by the app’s business logic that could be exploited for unauthorized access or manipulation.

File handling: Examining how files are handled to prevent security issues related to file uploads, downloads, and storage.

Memory management: Scanning for vulnerabilities related to memory leaks, buffer overflows, and other memory-related issues.

Catch it at the source

Every day, technology becomes more sophisticated and complex. Which means that every day, cybercriminals are figuring out new ways to find and exploit software vulnerabilities. The tools and strategies that worked yesterday might not work tomorrow, so we need to constantly be on guard.

We need to put our best foot forward to relentlessly monitor application security from every possible angle. And we need to incorporate security into every step of the process. Secure code review is just the beginning of what should ideally be a culture for your organization. The costs of prioritizing security measures, and implementing them early and often, are small compared to the lasting benefits of “bulletproof” apps.


Darren Clark

Dazlab Founder

“I started Dazlab because there’s a huge knowledge deficit between people who want software built and those that build the software. I watched again and again as non-tech product owners with great ideas overpaid for complicated solutions to simple problems, or underpaid only to end up with crummy products with little chance of lasting. Tech doesn’t have to be that way. If I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it well or what’s the point?. Even now, 20 years later I’m still heavily involved in the onboarding process with every one of my clients.”

Darren Clark

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