By Dennis Fisher
November 10, 2010
WASHINGTON -- Despite its reputation for secrecy and technical
expertise, the National Security Agency doesn't have a set of secret
coding practices or testing methods that magically make their
applications and systems bulletproof. In fact, one of the agency's top
technical experts said that virtually all of the methods the NSA uses
for development and information assurance are publicly known.
"Most of what we do in terms of app development and assurance is in the
open literature now. Those things are known publicly now," Neil Ziring,
technical director of the NSA's Information Assurance Directorate, said
in his keynote at the OWASP AppSec conference here Wednesday. "It used
to be that we had some methods and practices that weren't well-known,
but over time that's changed as industry has focused more on application
Ziring said that even within the NSA, the problems of application
security remain maddeningly difficult to solve. The agency, which is
responsible for both protecting the communications of the U.S.
government and eavesdropping on those of hostile nations, faces many of
the same challenges that private enterprises and other organizations do
when it comes to writing secure applications and defending deployed
"Assurance is very hard to do for apps, especially lightweight,
distributed apps. They don't have a clean, waterfall lifecycle," Ziring
said. "Very few applications start from a clean slate. They're built on
the existing code bases and they have to work with other existing apps
and they have to be updated frequently.
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