How to Protect Your Source Code

How to Protect Your Source Code

Categories: DevOps

Software development is increasingly becoming a core part of companies’ business models and the “secret sauce” that makes them profitable. A company’s source code is its intellectual property, and a leak or breach of this information can make a business less competitive in the marketplace.

Companies face a number of different threats to the security and secrecy of their source code. However, they can mitigate or eliminate these source code security risks by taking a few simple steps.

Why you need to protect your source code

A company’s source code faces numerous threats from both inside and outside the organization. Some of the biggest threat vectors include:

  • Present/former employees: While source code and other intellectual property developed during an employee’s tenure belong to the company, not all employees agree and can become an insider threat to an organization. Former employees commonly take their work with them to their next job or include it in their portfolios. Also, a disgruntled employee can maliciously tamper with source code to wreak havoc on an organization.  
  • Source code theft: A company’s source code represents significant research and development effort. Outside threats may attempt to access and steal this code for their own use or to sell it to potential competitors.
  • Supply chain exploits: Recent hacks like the SolarWinds breach demonstrate the potential impact of supply chain attacks. Insertion of malicious code into a company’s products can give attackers a backdoor into customers’ systems.

These detailed threats pose significant risks to the organization and require targeted defenses to protect the security of your code.

What can you do to protect your source code?

Modern, agile development practices often prioritize speed of release over security. However, this doesn’t mean that companies need to leave their source code unprotected against cyber threats. By taking a few simple steps, companies can dramatically decrease the risk to their source code without impeding development.

Implement access controls

Strong access management is essential for protecting source code against theft or malicious modification. Blocking unauthorized users from accessing source code makes it much more difficult for them to steal or insert malicious functionality into it.

Implementing strong user authentication by enforcing multi-factor authentication (MFA) is an important first step, but it is not enough for security. Protecting against both internal and external threats requires restricting not only who can access source code but also which devices have access. Limiting access to source code to approved corporate devices helps to protect against employees making a copy on a personal device for later use.

Enforce strong change management policies

Attacks like the SolarWinds attack take advantage of poor change management policies. The attackers were able to slip malicious code into update code without detection, enabling the malicious functionality to be included in an official software update.

Poor code management also leads to vulnerable code. If code commits are added to the official repository without proper review and validation, it is much easier for errors to slip in.

A strong change management policy mandates that all code commits be reviewed and approved by an experienced developer before being included in the code repository.

Monitor for strange behavior

A company’s source code is at risk from internal and external threats, and strong user authentication is not enough for security. Legitimate users can misuse their access, and attackers can compromise user accounts and abuse the permissions assigned to them.

For this reason, organizations should also use behavioral monitoring to protect their source code. Looking for anomalous activities, such as bulk code downloads, oddly timed code submissions, or code approved without proper review, can enable an organization to detect and block attempted theft of intellectual property or malicious modifications to code.

Tie code commits to identities

Cyberattacks like SolarWinds take advantage of weak authentication for code commits. While the code commits may be tied to a user’s identity, the potential exists for malicious code to be submitted on a user’s behalf.

Protecting against these attacks requires stronger proof of identity for code commits. By cryptographically binding access and signing keys to a corporate identity, companies raise the bar for attackers looking to insert malicious functionality into its products. No one who is not authorized and not on an authorized device can merge code into the main branch, and the merge is tied to a real name, not just a username. By implementing defense in depth, companies make supply chain attacks more difficult to pull off.

Improve your source code security

The continued success of supply chain hacks and thefts of intellectual property has emboldened cybercriminals. These attacks are effective, profitable, and unlikely to stop any time soon.

Companies need to protect their source code to ensure their ability to compete in the marketplace, and traditional access controls are not enough. 

By tying code commits to user identities and managing access to source code based on devices as well as user identity, companies can better manage the threats to their intellectual property. Learn more about protecting your organization’s source code against internal and external threats with Beyond Identity Secure DevOps.