I had a long chat with Josh Corman yesterday afternoon about Rugged, especially as it applies to software development. I know this will be a continuing topic at the RSA conference, and we are both looking forward to a series of brainstorming sessions on the subject. One aspect that intrigues both of us is the overlap between Agile and Rugged as conceptual frameworks for guding developer decisions. I though this was important enough to blog up prior to the conference. The discussion went something like this:

Agile – as a concept – is successful because when the principles behind the Agile Manifesto are put into practice, they make software development easier and faster.

Agile development – embodied as one of many different process enhancements – is successful because they promote Agile principles.

When creating Rugged, mirroring Agile Manifesto was a great approach because both strive to adjust development’s approach to creating software. But the Agile Manifesto illustrates – through its 12 principles – how you should prioritize preferences and make tradeoffs when molding software.

Rugged has yet to define the principles that, when put into practice, promote Rugged software.

Rugged is missing embodiments – examples to guide practitioners – that describe and promote Rugged principles.

Rugged denotes a problem set (software is fragile, insecure, and feature-focused to the exclusion of all else) but lacks principles and a roadmap for fixing it. That’s the bad part, and the gist of my Twitter rant earlier this week. The good news is that the overlap between the two concepts provides plenty of examples of what Rugged could be. The more I think about it, the more I think the parallels between Agile and Rugged are important and serve as an example of how to approach Rugged development. There is sufficient overlap that several of the Agile principles can be directly adopted by Rugged with no loss of meaning or intent. Specifically, stealing from the Agile Principles:

  1. Welcoming changing requirements, even late in development …: Threats evolve rapidly, as do use cases and deployment models (Cloud? Anyone?). The fact that new security issues pop up like whack-a-moles is no different than new feature requests in web application development. The agility to respond to new requests and reprioritize on customer importance is no different that being agile enough to respond to risks. This principle applies equally well to Rugged as to Agile.
  2. Working software is the primary measure of progress: If your software does not compile, or is filled with logic errors, development efforts have not been totally successful. If your code is filled with security bugs, your software has variable functionality, then your development efforts have not been totally successful. When it comes to secure code development, I look at security as just another vector to manage on. It’s one of many factors that must be accounted for during the development process. Security is not your only goal, and usually not even the most important goal, but something important to account for. You can choose to ignore it, but if so there will likely be some major issue down the road. We are at that uncomfortable junction in the history of software development where we are seeing some firms have businesses disrupted by failing to manage risks posed by new code. Ruggedness should be a metric for progress.
  3. Continuous attention to technical excellence and good design enhances agility: I do threat modelling when building new software. I do it after the architecture phase and sometime during the design phase, because threat modelling finds weaknesses in my design choices. Sometimes they are logic flaws, sometimes communication protocol flaws, and sometimes it’s simply that the platform I was considering does support adequate security. Regardless, examining code with a jaundiced eye – looking for issues before they become serious problems – is all part of the design process. The scrutiny enhances product quality and Ruggedness. I have avoided problems before they became serious, because they were exposed during design, and those problems were easier to fix than ones I found later. That is only one example of the overlap.
  4. Build projects around motivated individuals: Coders are competitive. Developers have egos. Most developers want to write quality code, and to be recognized as experts who pay attention to detail. Most I have worked with are highly motivated to practice, to learn, and to get better. When there is a coding standard, they work hard to make sure their code meets it. They don’t want the code they checked in to crash the nightly build because everyone on the team will hear about it. If Ruggedness is part of the coding standard, and security checks are part of daily regression tests, there is no reason to expect the development team to do anything other than raise their game and meet the challenge.
  5. Simplicity – the art of maximizing the amount of work done – is essential: Developers are creative. Agile as a concept is intended to allow developers to think of creative solutions. Group discussions and open dialog, combined with rapid prototyping proofs of concept, all help find simple solutions to complex problems. Security problems fall to the same blade if you allow them to be addressed in the same way.

Unfortunately much of what I am proposing here is a heck of a lot easier when building new code, as opposed to retrofitting old code. I have lugged the burden of legacy software many times, and the restrictions imposed by some old glob of misbehaving garbage crushes inspiration and ingenuity. Bubble gum and duct tape are fun up to a point, but sooner or later it becomes just fixing someone else’s crap over and over again. With new code I contend that Rugged is simply good programming practices – and if incorporated efficiently it will make software designers, coders, and quality assurance teams better.

To some of you I am simply playing security jazz, this is all BS, and it really does not help you get your jobs done. And that’s fair. But Rugged is about changing mindsets and practices so your software does not suck. Frankly it’s early enough in the evolution of the Rugged ideals that we are still trying to build a community to contributes methodologies, tools, and experience that promote Rugged – whether in software development, IT management, or security operations. Can I provide a code library that will make you Rugged? Can I point you to a set of design choices that promote Rugged? Not yet, but I hope within the year we will see progress here. What worries me the most is that this post will be read and understood by the “security echo chamber”, but not the practitioners who must ultimately create the solutions necessary.