Whitepaper: Embedded Cybersecurity Through Secure Coding Standards CWE and CERT

No matter where your software runs, software security is critical. Achieve secure software using a rigorous standards-based development process.

Understand the ins and outs of CERT & CWE, plus learn how to implement a standards-based development process.

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Download the whitepaper to get the breakdown on coding standards CWE and CERT and how to build better, more secure software.

Key takeaways:
  • Purpose of CWE
  • Purpose of CERT
  • The difference between the two coding standards
  • The roles of risk and prioritization
  • How to strengthen security with static code analysis

“The main goal of the CWE initiative is to stop vulnerabilities at the source by educating software acquirers, architects, designers, and programmers on how to eliminate the most common mistakes before software is delivered.”

-CWE FAQ

  • The CWE (Common Weakness Enumeration) is a list of problems that can occur in code and lead to exploitable security issues.
  • CWE complements CVE (Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures) by describing the code that lies behind software vulnerabilities.
  • CWE has been built by many contributors from the software security community. It’s managed by Mitre and sponsored by the US Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
  • This list of over 800 types of problems that can occur in code is comprehensive, but can be overwhelming. For this reason, there is a “Top 25” version based on common issues that usually result in highly negative outcomes. It’s a simple way to get started by focusing on things that matter the most and are most likely to happen.

“We research and develop solutions for identifying and preventing security flaws during development, where it is much more cost effective than the test phase or post-deployment.”

-SEI website

  • CERT is a project of the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU).
  • They have created the CERT secure coding standards for a variety of languages, with a focus on hardening your code by avoiding coding constructs that are more susceptible to security problems.

Both standards are based on research that shows simply testing software isn’t enough. There’s no way to test security into an application, just like there’s no way to test quality into an application. You must build security into software from the beginning. Further, both standards acknowledge that many security vulnerabilities simply exploit underlying quality flaws.

In terms of the best option for you, these security projects are complementary, but each with a different focus. CWE is a list of software weaknesses while CERT develops secure coding standards for commonly used programming languages.

Think of it this way: When applied, software security incidents like breaches exploit weaknesses in software (CWE) and proper guidelines and best practices (CERT) tell you how to avoid having such weakness in your system.

For example: For software, the CVE is a unique ID that describes a known software vulnerability that can be exploited in the real world. When analyzed, a CVE problem has some root causes in the code behind it – those are the CWEs. For a denial-of service issue (DDoS or DoS) we may find code that is subject to buffer overflow. The DoS gets a CVE ID. The code that overflows gets a CWE ID. CERT rules tell you how to avoid the overflow in the first place by coding differently.

  • Both standards have data for understanding risk and prioritizing the security defects they find. They help you understand that the underlying code problems detailed in CWE (like buffer overflow) lead to specific problems when exploited, like DoS or unexpected reading of protected data.
  • For CERT, there are scores for each rule and a recommendation that tells you how likely the problem is to occur in the real world, how difficult it is to mitigate and the severity if it does happen.
  • Knowing what problems can happen helps you better decide which problems are most important in the context of your application or device. Together, CWW and Technical Impact get you a priority level that helps you focus on the most important issues first.

To get ahead of security challenges using static analysis, it’s important to select a tool with the following capabilities:

  • Support all the security standards you need
  • Support more than just the CWE Top 25
  • Work with your code editors and IDEs
  • Work with your build and CI tools
  • Include flexible and comprehensive reporting
  • Include both detection (flow/taint) rules as well as prevention rules (standards/pattern)
  • Take advantage of the risk scoring algorithms in CWE and CERT to help you prioritize your security defects
  • Can selectively execute based on current code, new code, changed code, and legacy code

Remember: In a broad practice area like cybersecurity, you’re not going to find everything you need from a single vendor. Having a way to integrate all tools into a single process with a comprehensive report is important for efficiency as well as compliance needs.

Parasoft provides static analysis tools that support all the major security coding standards like CWE and CERT, in addition to other industry standards like MISRA, JSF & UL2900. On top of that, we’ve built a rich data-driven reporting system called Parasoft DTP that helps you easily identify the most pressing issues first.

About Parasoft

Parasoft’s software testing solutions support the entire software development process, from when the developer writes the first line of code all the way through unit and functional testing, to performance and security testing, leveraging simulated test environments along the way. Parasoft's unique analytics platform aggregates data from across all testing practices, providing insights up and down the testing pyramid to enable organizations to succeed in today's most strategic development initiatives, including Agile/DevOps, Continuous Testing, and the complexities of IoT. Parasoft’s automated software testing innovations fuel software development organizations, helping teams reduce the time, cost, and effort of delivering high-quality software to the market.