Security is really a thing of Passion: it is so huge a topic and evolving so fast, that you have to fully commit yourself to it if you want to do it properly. So, it is very important to build a solid foundation on which to grow and expand your knowledge.
Security is also a Community thing: you have to be fully connected if you want to be up to date and to create the trust around you needed to do your job. And one of the most important things if you want to be part of a Community, is to know its “Lingo”.
This is precisely what (ISC)2 is and what it does. First and foremost, it is a Community of Security Professionals, which collects common knowledge around the main Security Topics. It defines some of the most recognized Security Certifications, like CISSP and SSCP, and collaborates with many Security Organizations to provide continuous training to its members.
One of those certifications is particularly relevant for Software Development: this is CSSLP. I have studied it and I am in the process of obtaining this certification, therefore I have grown some strong feelings on that and the various tools provided to achieve it.
CSSLP is currently in its second incarnation, and it is composed of 8 Domains (as described in the (ISC)2 site):
- Secure Software Concepts – Know what constitutes secure software and what design aspects to take into consideration to architect hack-resilient software.
- Secure Software Requirements – Capturing all of the security requirements from various stakeholders and understanding the sources and processes needed to ensure a more effective design.
- Secure Software Design – Secure design elements, software architecture, secure design review, and conduct threat modeling.
- Secure Software Implementation/Coding – Secure coding practices, vulnerabilities to look for, and how to review the code to ensure that there are no errors in the code or security controls.
- Secure Software Testing – Integrated software testing for security functionality, reliability, resiliency to attack, and recoverability.
- Software Acceptance – Security implications in the software acceptance phase including completion criteria, risk acceptance and documentation, Common Criteria and methods of independent testing.
- Software Deployment, Operations, Maintenance and Disposal – Security issues around steady state operations and management of software. Security measures that must be taken when a product reaches its end of life.
- Supply Chain and Software Acquisition – A holistic outline of the knowledge and tasks required in managing risk for outsourced development, acquisition, and procurement of software and related services.
The first incarnation lacked the last Domain.
All in all, this represents a fully holistic approach for Software Development, based on proven concepts and tools (many from Microsoft’s own SDL!) and provides a very good overview of the main topics to be considered by Architects and Software Developers. There are also some key concepts that I have seen here for the first time so clearly exposed, like the reason why you have to keep your software behaves like cheese: after some time it stinks and you have to replace it! In other words, you have to plan for its retirement even before it is released! The 7th Domain discuss specifically this concept.
So, it is really key to study for CSSLP even if you are not planning to certify, because it gives you some important tools for understanding that needs to be done.
Speaking of which, the next question is: how do you study for CSSLP?
I have seen some tools, in the quest for the certification, which I am going to briefly discuss here: I will probably expand on some of them in the near future.
First of all, there is the Official (ISC)2 Guide to the CSSLP CBK, Second Edition: this is the official book from (ISC)2 and it is a good starting point. I would say that the quality is average: I have found some inaccuracies and some parts are oversimplified.
A better reference could be the CSSLP Certification All-in-One Exam Guide. This is an unofficial book covering the original 7 Domains. I have read most of it and its content is really good, but its lack of coverage for the last Domain is a pity. I would recommend buying it as first book if you do not want to certify for CSSLP, otherwise it would be a good integration of the official book.
There are also additional tools, for greater budgets: the first one I would get, if you can afford it, would be the Security Compass CSSLP Training. This is a comprehensive course on every Domain of CSSLP, in CBT form: it is very convenient and its length feels ok, being around 10 hours. I have completed it and I can say that contains good material, well explained and fully understandable; now and then, there are some simple exercises to test your knowledge. Even if the course is definitely mature, there are some glitches, but they are regularly fixed and the support is fast in helping if there is any need. Even if full of goods, this Security Compass training cannot be considered a complete solution for trying to certify. First of all, the exercises are not nearly enough to have a feeling of the certification: it would be great if Security Compass would supplement it with some sample questions that would simulate the actual certification. Secondary, I would have liked the ability to download the course material, to consume it offline: this is not possible.
Speaking of test simulation, fortunately there are a couple of tools provided by (ISC)2 to enjoy some actual questions:
- The studISCope Self Assessment and Exam Simulator Tool, provided by the Express Certifications platform.
- An App for iOS.
The first one is a good solution and provides up to 300 real questions – not actual questions, but something that has been used in the past or that is really similar to actual questions from the exam, but comes with a cost. The iOS App is way much cheaper but provides a very limited set of questions.
Last but not least, you could use some Training in class or online (a recent addition to the (ISC)2 offering), but this comes with greater costs and imposes some toll on your schedule.
Concluding this roundup, I can definitely say that (ISC)2 certifications are a really good opportunity for entering the Security Community from the front door, to achieve credibility and to gain some very good tools and reasons to keep yourself up to date and committed to Security.