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Source Code Security Best Practices to Protect Against Theft

by Chris Brook on Monday January 22, 2024

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In many ways, source code is the backbone of the internet. Today's blog looks at source code security best practices that organizations need to follow, like using encryption and code analysis, to ensure its protected from theft and improper handling by employees.

When it comes to digital technology, source code represents the inner sanctum where the “secret sauce” is created. Source code is the foundation upon which all things digital are built, the center of gravity driving software applications, tools, and processes.
 

Moreover, source code is intellectual property (IP). So, in accordance with enforcing their property rights, organizations must ensure it is protected through adequate source code security measures. 

What Is Source Code Security?

Source code security refers to the measures and practices to ensure that the original source code of software or a program is not exposed to unauthorized access, manipulation, or theft. This includes protection from external threats such as hackers and internal threats like improper handling of sensitive code by employees. 
 

Ensuring source code security is vital for preventing data breaches, maintaining intellectual property rights, and preserving the integrity of software products and applications. Strategies for securing source code typically involve strong access control, regular audits, secure code repositories, implementing encryption, and using code analysis tools to identify and address vulnerabilities. 

Why Does the Source Code Need Foolproof Security?

Source code needs foolproof security because it holds software applications' critical architecture, features, and secrets. 

The Risk of Intellectual Property Loss

The source code represents a crucial aspect of a company's intellectual property. It typically represents years of investment in significant research and software development. Its exposure could result in financial loss and reduced competitive advantage.
 

Therefore, protecting your source code through legal means such as patents and copyrights is imperative. This doesn't physically protect the code but allows for legal recourse should your code be stolen.

Protecting Confidential Information 

Besides proprietary information and business processes, source code often contains sensitive information such as API credentials, encryption keys, or database passwords. Unauthorized access can lead to data breaches or malicious attacks on the business infrastructure.

Software Vulnerabilities 

While source code determines the software's behavior, vulnerabilities can be used to undermine its objectives. For instance, attackers can identify and exploit vulnerabilities to insert malware, steal data, or launch attacks if they access the code.

Source Code Represents a High-Value Target

Given the value of information within, source code is often a high-value target for cybercriminals. A breach could result in financial loss, legal consequences, damage to reputation, and loss of trust among clients or customers.

Maintaining Regulatory Compliance 

Companies in regulated industries may face compliance requirements to secure source code. Non-compliance can lead to penalties, sanctions, and reputational damage. 

The Best Practices for Source Code Security

To maintain the security and integrity of source code, organizations should strive to implement the following:

  • Source Code Security Policies: Companies should develop a comprehensive policy that includes maintaining secure coding practices, threat modeling, and incident response procedures. This policy should be regularly updated as technology and threats evolve.
  • Access Control: Implementing strict access controls prevents unauthorized individuals from accessing or illegally altering the source code. It usually involves techniques like multi-factor authentication and least-privilege user access, which ensures employees can only access what they need to do their jobs.
  • Encryption: Encryption is the usual go-to strategy for protecting data, but it isn’t feasible with source code. This is because source code must be read by humans or the machines executing its instructions. Furthermore, it is invariably converted to byte or binary code for machine execution. 
    However, encryption might be used when storing and transferring any data associated with your source code. This will ensure that even if data is intercepted, it would be obfuscated and meaningless to the hacker.
  • Incident Response Plan: Have a clear plan for responding to security incidents, including identifying the breach, containing the damage, eradicating the threat, and recovering.
  • NDA and Legal Agreements: Use Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) and other legal documents to ensure all employees and contractors understand the need for confidentiality.
  • Off-Site Backups: Have secure, off-site backups of your source code to protect against physical theft.
  • Use Secure Code Repository: Use version control systems like Git and repository hosting services like GitHub or Bitbucket, which have robust security measures built-in, including code encryption and secure access controls.
  • Secure Endpoint Devices: Endpoint devices like computers and mobile devices that developers use to interact with your source code can be a security vulnerability. Ensure these devices are secure by updating them, using reliable security programs, and educating users on safe practices.
  • Regularly Conduct Security Audits: Regular source code reviews and audits help to detect and remove source code vulnerabilities. So, schedule security audits to identify vulnerabilities and gaps in policies and systems. Use Static Application Security Testing (SAST) and Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) tools to detect vulnerabilities in the source code.
  • Implement Continuous Monitoring: Implement monitoring systems that provide real-time alerts about potential suspicious activities. Regular access and activity logs review can help identify any unauthorized access or irregularities.
  • Use of Development Security Operations (DevSecOps) practices: This includes integrating security measures into the DevOps lifecycle. DevSecOps practices facilitate the early detection of potential issues, which reduces the risk and cost of dealing with security breaches.
     

Remember, protecting your source code requires a multi-layered approach with consistent monitoring.

What Are Source Code Security Analyzers?

One of the tools tailored-made for source code security is the source code security analyzer.
 

Source Code Security Analyzers, or Static Application Security Testing (SAST) tools, are designed to analyze source code or their compiled versions to help identify security flaws. They allow developers to find and mitigate vulnerabilities, especially in the initial stages of development, making their applications more secure. 
 

These tools also check code against rules or security standards to identify vulnerabilities such as SQL injections, buffer overflows, weak encryption algorithms, security misconfigurations, etc.


Some examples of source code security analyzers include Fortify Static Code Analyzer, Veracode, Checkmarx, SonarQube, and others. These tools are typically designed to be integrated with popular IDEs and continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipelines. 
 

This integration aims to enhance developer workflow while automating the detection and reporting of security flaws in the codebase.
 

In addition to SAST tools, Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) tools can be used in tandem for a comprehensive vulnerability analysis. Unlike SAST tools which analyze source code, DAST tools test the running application, simulating attacks on an application and analyzing its behavior and responses. 
 

It's important to note that while these tools are powerful and useful in securing source code, they are not a complete security solution on their own. A comprehensive security approach should also include regular code reviews, penetration testing, and adherence to best coding practices.

Learn How Digital Guardian Can Protect Your Source Code

Remember, source code security is not a one-time effort but requires continuous monitoring and updating. Also worth keeping in mind: Source code isn’t a physical or tangible asset in the traditional sense, requiring a multilayered approach for its protection. 
 

That's why Digital Guardian maintains a complement of security features such as IP protection, secure collaboration, zero trust file transfer, data loss prevention, and data governance to ensure your source code enjoys top-notch protection.

Schedule a demo with us today to learn more about our approach to source code protection.

Tags:  Data Protection

Chris Brook

Chris Brook

Chris Brook is the editor of Digital Guardian’s Data Insider blog. He is a cybersecurity writer with nearly 15 years of experience reporting and writing about information security, attending infosec conferences like Black Hat and RSA, and interviewing hackers and security researchers. Prior to joining Digital Guardian–acquired by Fortra in 2021–he helped launch Threatpost, an independent news site that was a leading source of information about IT and business security for hundreds of thousands of professionals worldwide.

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