Nav: Home

Safer, less vulnerable software is the goal of new NIST computer publication

December 05, 2016

We can create software with 100 times fewer vulnerabilities than we do today, according to computer scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). To get there, they recommend that coders adopt the approaches they have compiled in a new publication.

The 60-page document, NIST Interagency Report (NISTIR) 8151: Dramatically Reducing Software Vulnerabilities (link is external), is a collection of the newest strategies gathered from across industry and other sources for reducing bugs in software. While the report is officially a response to a request for methods from the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy, NIST computer scientist Paul E. Black says its contents will help any organization that seeks to author high-quality, low-defect computer code.

"We want coders to know about it," said Black, one of the publication's coauthors. "We concentrated on including novel ideas that they may not have heard about already."

Black and his NIST colleagues compiled these ideas while working with software assurance experts from many private companies in the computer industry as well as several government agencies that generate a good deal of code, including the Department of Defense and NASA. The resulting document reflects their cumulative input and experience.

Vulnerabilities are common in software. Even small applications have hundreds of bugs (link is external) by some estimates. Lowering these numbers would bring many advantages, such as reducing the number of computer crashes and reboots users need to deal with, not to mention decreasing the number of patch updates they need to download.

The heart of the document, Black said, is five sets of approaches, tools and concepts that can help, all of which can be found in the document's second section. The approaches are organized under five subheadings that, despite their jargon-heavy titles, each possess a common-sense idea as an overarching principle (see downloadable infographic).

These approaches include: using math-based tools to verify the code will work properly; breaking up a computer's programs into modular parts so that if one part fails, the whole program doesn't crash; connecting analysis tools for code that currently operate in isolation; using appropriate programming languages for the task that the code attempts to carry out; and developing evolving and changing tactics for protecting code that is the target of cyberattacks.

In addition to the techniques themselves, the publication offers recommendations for how the programming community can educate itself about where and how to use them. It also suggests that customers should request the techniques be used in development. "You as a consumer should be able to write it into a contract that you want a vendor to develop software in accordance with these principles, so that it's as secure as it can be," Black said.

Security is, of course, a major concern for almost everyone who uses technology these days, and Black said that the White House's original request for these approaches was part of its 2016 Federal Cybersecurity R&D Strategic Action Plan, intended to be implemented over the next three to seven years. But though ideas of security permeate the document, Black said the strategies have an even broader intent.

"Security tends to bubble to the surface because we've got adversaries who want to exploit weaknesses," he said, "but we'd still want to avoid bugs even without this threat. The effort to stymie them brings up general principles. You'll notice the title doesn't have the word 'security' in it anywhere."
-end-


National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

Related Technology Articles:

The science and technology of FAST
The Five hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope (FAST), located in a radio quiet zone, with the targets (e.g., radio pulsars and neutron stars, galactic and extragalactic 21-cm HI emission).
AI technology could help protect water supplies
Progress on new artificial intelligence (AI) technology could make monitoring at water treatment plants cheaper and easier and help safeguard public health.
Transformative technology
UC Davis neuroscientists have developed fluorescence sensors that are opening a new era for the optical recording of dopamine activity in the living brain.
Do the elderly want technology to help them take their medication?
Over 65s say they would find technology to help them take their medications helpful, but need the technology to be familiar, accessible and easy to use, according to research by Queen Mary University of London and University of Cambridge.
Technology detecting RNase activity
A KAIST research team of Professor Hyun Gyu Park at Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering developed a new technology to detect the activity of RNase H, a RNA degrading enzyme.
More Technology News and Technology Current Events

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Erasing The Stigma
Many of us either cope with mental illness or know someone who does. But we still have a hard time talking about it. This hour, TED speakers explore ways to push past — and even erase — the stigma. Guests include musician and comedian Jordan Raskopoulos, neuroscientist and psychiatrist Thomas Insel, psychiatrist Dixon Chibanda, anxiety and depression researcher Olivia Remes, and entrepreneur Sangu Delle.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#537 Science Journalism, Hold the Hype
Everyone's seen a piece of science getting over-exaggerated in the media. Most people would be quick to blame journalists and big media for getting in wrong. In many cases, you'd be right. But there's other sources of hype in science journalism. and one of them can be found in the humble, and little-known press release. We're talking with Chris Chambers about doing science about science journalism, and where the hype creeps in. Related links: The association between exaggeration in health related science news and academic press releases: retrospective observational study Claims of causality in health news: a randomised trial This...