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Microsoft security dev tools go 'Agile'

Not just for Windows anymore

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Microsoft has expanded a key security tool to work with developers of web applications and other software that's developed over rapid and repeated stretches.

The Microsoft Solutions Framework for so-called Agile development is designed to tailor its SDL, or secure development lifecycle, offerings to coders who write applications quickly and then regularly revise them over time. Many steps spelled out in the previous SDL framework don't work particularly well for such software because they envision a development process that can span months or years, David Ladd, principal security program manager for Microsoft's SDL team, told El Reg.

"Now we have something that's suitable for short and rapid application development," he said. "To the extent it makes sense, we'd like to have developers that are using a methodology in ... the Agile template download it and take a poke."

The Agile-tailored template plugs into Microsoft's Visual Studio developer applications to help streamline the process of secure coding. It automatically provides reminders to comply with SDL requirements when code is added or removed. It also reorders steps such as threat modeling to make them more practical for Agile development teams.

A beta of the new framework can be downloaded here. It expands upon a template for longer-term software projects that Microsoft released last May.

While the download is free, it's of benefit only to developers who have paid a considerable sum to license Visual Studio. Ladd said an open-source version of the template is possible "but wouldn't be trivial." To be fair, many of the SDL tools Microsoft has released over the past 18 months are free stand-alone apps.

The support for agile developers was announced Tuesday at the Black Hat security conference in Washington, DC. Microsoft also unveiled a simplified implementation of its SDL guidelines to make them more relevant to smaller development houses and a wider range of applications.

"You don't have to be the size of Microsoft" to benefit from the SDL guidelines, Ladd said. "You can be four guys gathered around the coffee pot."

Lest Tuesday's announcements give the impression Microsoft's security house is fully in order, it's worth remembering that the past few months have been some of its worst. Two weeks ago, we learned that a pernicious bug that had festered in Internet Explorer for eight years was the toe-hold criminals used to pierce the defenses of Google and as many as 33 other companies. Microsoft was forced to respond with an emergency patch.

And in September, a bug in newer versions of Windows exposed defects in the rigorous code-review policy that underpins Microsoft's SDL. The oversight was all the harder to fathom given the flaw was fixed in the final version of Windows 7, but was allowed to remain in Windows Vista and 2008 and the release candidate version of Windows 7.

"Anytime we get a bug, regardless what the flavor is, that wasn't caught by the SDL process, we'll do a root cause analysis," Ladd said. "If it's a human issue, perhaps we need to train more." ®

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