4.2 Developing a Secure .NET Application

The developer takes the application design from the architect and develops the classes that form the application implementation. The developer must have a good working knowledge of software security, and especially the security features provided by the development platform. This knowledge is required so that the developer can correctly program the security policy as part of the implementation process.

The developer takes a much more concrete approach than the abstract approach taken during the design, and takes the broad policy laid out in the application design and transforms it into a robust and accurate implementation.

We do not suggest that the developer should follow the application design to the exclusion of everything else. As the developer, you have an obligation to assess the practicality and suitability of the application design, and the security policy the design defines. Question the design appropriately and bear in mind that your in-depth knowledge of programming security should be used to collaborate on improving a faulty design, rather than as a weapon in a political or cultural war. Nonetheless, respect the purpose of the application design, and do not deviate from it unless you have the architect's permissionneedlessly deviating from the design will lead to implementation defects, which can present unforeseen opportunities to attack and subvert your application.

The developer is often responsible for making implementation decisions, such as the strength of cryptography used to protect secrets or the way security roles are employed. There is often a temptation to adopt new and exciting technologies, which is a dangerous approach when applied to application security. Security is best established by using tried-and-tested techniques, and by using algorithms and implementations that have been subjected to extensive testing.

As you will see in later chapters, .NET security is implemented by the developer but is configured by the system administrator. You should implement your security policy to simplify the configuration wherever possible, and to use default settings that offer a reasonable level of security without any configuration at all. You cannot expect a system administrator to have the in-depth knowledge required to develop the application or the time to invest in learning the intricacies of your application. Document the default settings you have used, and explain their significance. We offer the following advice to assist you in developing applications securely:

  • Ensure that someone knows when you make a change. Implementing changes in isolation is likely to open security holes in your application. Components of a software system are often highly dependent on each other. Unless told of a change, other people working from the original design will assume that your components function as specified and will make implementation decisions for their own components based on those assumptions.

  • Do not be afraid to ask questions. You should always seek clarification when you do not understand part of the application design; many developers feel that this is a sign of "weakness," but our experience is that confusion is often caused by lack of clarity in the design or an error made by the architect. Always make sure you understand all of the design before implementing the application.

  • Take the time to understand the business. You will find it easier to understand the decisions made in the application design if you take the time to understand the business problem the application is intended to solve. Remember that the architect is the "bridge" between the business problem and the technical solution, and decisions that may appear to have no technical justification are often influenced by business factors.

  • Do not rely on untested security libraries. Developers are usually responsible for selecting third-party tools and libraries for the application implementation. We recommend that you select security libraries from reputable companies and submit their products to your own security-testing procedure (see Section 4.3).

  • Apply rigorous unit testing. You should test all of the classes that you develop as part of the application implementation. This testing should not only test the expected behavior, but also make sure that unexpected inputs or actions do not expose security weaknesses. In this regard, your unit testing is a simplified form of the security testing that we proscribe below.

  • Remove any default accounts before deployment. It is usual to create default user accounts or trust levels that simplify unit testing; you must ensure that these are disabled or removed before the application is tested and deployed.

    Part V: API Quick Reference