Code of Hammurabi – or 4000 years later, we still haven’t got it

The Code of Hammurabi is one of the earliest known written laws, and possibly pre-dates Moses’ descent from the Mount.

In it, we get a picture of the Babylonian’s laws and punishments. In particular, there’s this one:

If a builder builds a house for someone, and does not construct it properly, and the house which he built falls in and kills its owner, then the builder shall be put to death.(Another variant of this is, If the owner’s son dies, then the builder’s son shall be put to death.)

(Source: Wikipedia)

So essentially, this is one of the earliest building codes. Pretty harsh, but you know…

What this means is that only qualified builders prepared to take the risk of death built houses. This obviously focuses the mind.

In our industry, we have hobbiests and self-taught folks working side by side with software engineers and computer scientists, but they usually share one thing in common: they know nothing of security.

This is like an accountant graduating without knowledge of auditing principles or GAAP. It’s exactly like a civil engineer being unaware of load stresses and envioronmental factors necessary that require safety and tolerances to be built into every structure.

When the average person goes to a builder or architect, and asks for a house to be built, we expect them to know how to build the two or three story building such that it not only complies with minimum code requirements, but that it will not collapse. When they do, we strike those builders off the master builder’s register and they can no longer build homes. We can sue them for gross negligence.

When the average small company does their books, they expect the accountants they hire to know how to do double entry book keeping, and be aware of local, state and federal tax rules. When they fail to do so, they lose their CPA accreditation and we can sue them for gross negligence.

When a city or state wants to build a new bridge, they expect the winning tenderer to design the bridge to last for the expected period of time, satisfy all state and federal road and safety laws, and obtained specialist advice for key elements of constructions, such as wind tunnel tests. If the bridge falls down, this is usually the end for that building group and they are sued out of existence.

Why is so different in our field? What we do is not art. SQL injection is so utterly preventable and has been for over 10 years that I truly believe it is gross negligence to have injectable code in any running code today.

There is a huge difference between using MYOB to run a small business and building a cubby house. Yet this is all 99.9% of all developers are capable of today. They lack the most basic awareness of software security, the only key non-functional requirement of all software – from games through national treasury finance systems.

Efforts like Rugged Software and OWASP are vital. We must get out to Universities and employers and make sure that security is taught and that all IT, CS, and software engineering graduates have done at lease one 13 week subject on it, and make it the easiest possible path to major in software security. We must get out to employers and make sure they require all new hires to know about it and be able to code for it. Moreover, if they buy off the shelf software, we must get them to include clauses in contracts, such as the OWASP Secure Software Contract Annex to protect themselves from gross negligence such as SQL injection or XSS. We must reach out to frameworks and make them utterly aware that what they do affects millions of developers and they simply must be better at security than everyone else.

It’s time for the software industry to grow up, realize that fortunes, privacy and lives really are at risk, and we’re doing a repeatable engineering process, and not some black art. We have to have consequences.

Published by vanderaj

Just another security geek

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