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New certification aims to improve security of computer applications

An information security training firm announced on Wednesday it will offer a new security certification for software professionals in 2009 aimed at reducing the number of vulnerabilities in applications, one of the most common ways hackers gain access to systems.

Comment on this article in The Forum.ISC2, which has trained and certified more than 50,000 information security professionals, said it will begin offering in June 2009 an exam to security specialists interested in receiving the firm's Certified Secure Software Lifecycle Professional designation. The CSSLP will establish best practices and will validate an individual's competency in addressing security issues that occur during the life cycle of software development and use.

More than 70 percent of computer security vulnerabilities can be found in software applications, such as databases, word processors, spreadsheets and even security programs themselves, according to research firm Gartner. These vulnerabilities frequently are the result of poorly written code.

"Often, coders focus on enabling that cool application that is robust and innovative, but not necessarily secure," said Howard Schmidt, ISC2 board member and president and chief executive officer of R&H Security Consulting.

Schmidt, who also is a former vice chairman of the president's Critical Infrastructure Protection Board and special adviser to the White House on cybersecurity, was recently appointed president of the Information Security Forum, a not-for-profit organization of more than 300 companies and public sector entities.

"People forget that we use a shared infrastructure in both government and industry," he said. "I may be willing to assume a certain amount of risk on my little Web site, but that Web site is connected through routers and networks to the rest of the [IT environment]. That's becomes a serious problem."

The certification will address seven stages of software development: conceptualization; definition of requirements; design; implementation and coding; testing; acceptance; and deployment, operations, maintenance and disposal. Subject areas also covered will include vulnerabilities, risk, information security fundamentals and compliance.

"This is no longer a world where you build software and patch vulnerabilities as they're detected," Schmidt said. "The bad guys are working harder, and we have to do better to ensure vulnerabilities don't exist in the first place."

The Software Assurance Forum, a private-public partnership sponsored by the Defense and Homeland Security departments, as well as the National Institute of Standards and Technology helped drive the development of the certification. It will include government agencies, commercial software developers, academic institutions and others.

Others are supporting the effort. Defense's Federated Development and Certification Environment brings together developers, users and testers to improve how software is evaluated, and the Air Force recently launched the Application Software Assurance Center of Excellence.

"There's a culture to build quality software that provides a specific function," said Hord Tipton, executive director for ISC2 and former chief information officer of the Interior Department. "But is it configured and integrated securely? There needs to be a sense of history, where security is built into the process, because these vulnerabilities are not blatant. We can't scan for them after the fact."

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