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ISO/IEC 27034:2011-2018 — Information technology — Security techniques — Application security (6½ parts)
ISO/IEC 27034 offers guidance on information security to those specifying, designing and programming or procuring, implementing and using application systems, in other words business and IT managers, developers and auditors, and ultimately the end-users of ICT. The aim is to ensure that computer applications deliver the desired or necessary level of security in support of the organisation’s Information Security Management System, adequately addressing many ICT security risks.
Scope and purpose
This multi-part standard provides guidance on specifying, designing/selecting and implementing information security controls through a set of processes integrated throughout an organisation’s Systems Development Life Cycle/s. It is process-oriented.
It covers software applications developed internally, by external acquisition, outsourcing/offshoring or through hybrid approaches.
It addresses all aspects from determining information security requirements, to protecting information accessed by an application as well as preventing unauthorized use and/or actions of an application.
The standard is SDLC-method-agnostic: it does not mandate one or more specific development methods, approaches or stages but is written in a general manner to be applicable to them all. In this way, it complements other systems development standards and methods without conflicting with them.
One of the key driving principles is that it is worth investing more heavily in specifying, designing, developing and testing software security controls or functions if they are reusable across multiple applications, systems and situations, albeit at the risk of propagating vulnerabilities more widely than might otherwise be the case. In a nutshell, “Do it properly, do it once, and reuse it”. The approach may seem a little idealistic, but some far-sighted organisations are already successfully using it: it is more than just an academic interest.
ISO/IEC 27034-1:2011 — Information technology — Security techniques — Application security — Part 1: Overview and concepts (first edition)
- Abstract: “ISO/IEC 27034 provides guidance to assist organizations in integrating security into the processes used for managing their applications. [Part 1] presents an overview of application security. It introduces definitions, concepts, principles and processes involved in application security. ISO/IEC 27034 is applicable to in-house developed applications, applications acquired from third parties, and where the development or the operation of the application is outsourced.”
- As with other multipartite ISO27k standards, the first part sets the scene for the remainder, providing a general introduction and outlining the remaining parts.
- ~80 pages long with quite a bit of detail.
- States explicitly that this is not a software application development standard, an application project management standard, nor a software development cycle standard. Its purpose is to provide general guidance on application security that will be supported, in turn, by more detailed methods and standards in those other areas.
- Explicitly takes a process approach to specifying, designing, developing, testing, implementing and maintaining security functions and controls in application systems. For instance it defines application security not as the state of security of an application system (the results of the process) but as “a process an organisation can perform for applying controls and measurements to its applications in order the manage the risk of using them”.
- Uses the concept of defining a Targeted Level of Trust (similar to a security plan) for an application, designing and building the application to meet it, and then validating the application against it.
- Draws on concepts such as auditing and certification of application systems similar in style to the Common Criteria and similar schemes primarily used for government and military systems. The text tends to emphasize deliberate threats arising from external adversaries implying the importance of confidentiality controls, arguably downplaying insider and accidental threats and the need for integrity and availability controls, but the process described ostensibly takes account of the full spectrum of security risks and controls.
- Status: part 1 was published in 2011. Three minor corrections plus a revised figure were published in 2014 as a technical corrigendum. The corrected standard was confirmed in 2022.
ISO/IEC 27034-2:2015 — Information technology — Security techniques — Application security — Part 2: organisation normative framework (first edition)
- Abstract: “provides a detailed description of the Organization Normative Framework and provides guidance to organizations for its implementation.”
- Part 2 explains the structure, relationships and interdependencies between processes in the Organisation Normative Framework - a suite of application security-related policies, procedures, roles and tools.
- The standard provides guidance on designing, implementing, operating and auditing the ONF.
- The approach is formal and bureaucratic e.g. a committee is needed to oversee the ONF, hence it seems most likely to suit organisations who have or want a highly structured way of securing the applications they develop.
- Status: part 2 was published in 2015 and confirmed unchanged in 2021.
ISO/IEC 27034-3:2018 — Information technology — Security techniques — Application security — Part 3: Application security management process (first edition)
- Abstract: “Provides a detailed description and implementation guidance for the Application Security Management Process.”
- Part 3 describes “the overall process for managing security on each specific application used by an organisation”.
- As such, this may be the most broadly applicable and useful part of this standard.
- Status: part 3 was first published in 2018.
ISO/IEC 27034-4 — Information technology — Security techniques — Application security — Part 4: Application security validation [cancelled]
- Part 4 was intended to describe an application security validation and certification process to assess and compare the ‘level of trust’ of an application system against its previously stated [information security] requirements. However ...
- Status: the part 4 project was stopped and resurrected several times following objections from CASCO (ISO’s Conformity ASsessment COmmittee), before eventually being cancelled.
- Part 4 has been deleted from ISO’s catalogue.
ISO/IEC 27034-5:2017 — Information technology — Security techniques — Application security — Part 5: Protocols and application security controls data structure (first edition)
- Abstract: part 5 ”outlines and explains the minimal set of essential attributes of ASCs and details the activities and roles of the Application Security Life Cycle Reference Model (ASLCRM).”
- Part 5 facilitates the implementation of the ISO/IEC 27034 application security framework and the communication and exchange of ASCs by defining a formal structure for ASCs and certain other components of the framework.
- It defines the Application Security Controls data structure, providing requirements, descriptions, graphical representations and XML schema for the data model.
- The XML schema, based on ISO/TS 15000 “Electronic business eXtensible Markup Language ebXML”, is designated as the standard interchange format for ASCs.
- It explains a minimal set of essential attributes of ASCs and the Application Security Life Cycle Reference Model.
- Part 5 enables the establishment of libraries of reusable application security functions that may be shared both within and between organisations.
- Status: part 5 was first published in 2017. An update is at Final Draft International Standard stage and may be published by the end of 2023 or early 2024.
ISO/IEC TS 27034-5-1:2018 — Information technology — Security techniques — Application security — Part 5-1: Protocols and application security controls data structure, XML schemas (first edition)
- Abstract: part 5 dash 1 “defines XML Schemas that implement the minimal set of information requirements and essential attributes of ASCs and the activities and roles of the Application Security Life Cycle Reference Model (ASLCRM) from [part 5].”
- Status: part 5 dash 1 was published in 2018 as a Technical Specification and confirmed unchanged in 2021.
ISO/IEC 27034-6:2016 — Information technology — Security techniques — Application security — Part 6: Case studies (first edition)
- Abstract: “provides usage examples of ASCs for specific applications. NOTE Herein specified ASCs are provided for explanation purposes only and the audience is encouraged to create their own ASCs to assure the application security.”
- Part 6 provides examples of how Application Security Controls might be developed and documented.
- It concerns the handling of information security in the course of software development.
- Status: part 6 was first published in 2016 and confirmed unchanged in 2022.
ISO/IEC 27034-7:2018 — Information technology — Security techniques — Application security — Part 7: Assurance prediction framework (first edition)
- Abstract: ”describes the minimum requirements when the required activities specified by an Application Security Control (ASC) are replaced with a Prediction Application Security Rationale (PASR). The ASC mapped to a PASR define the Expected Level of Trust for a subsequent application. In the context of an Expected Level of Trust, there is always an original application where the project team performed the activities of the indicated ASC to achieve an Actual Level of Trust.”
- Part 7 specifies a framework to deliver the assurance necessary to place trust in a computer program’s security arrangements, for example:
- When one program (such as an application) relies on another (e.g. a database management system, utility, operating system or companion program) to perform critical security functions (such as user authentication, logical access control or cryptography), or
- When an organisation updates or patches a trusted program.
- Encourages organisations to consider, determine/specify and document the trust or criticality (the “security predictability”) as the basis for their rational decisions plus those of their software suppliers concerning the way software is designed, developed, tested, delivered, managed, operated and maintained.
- Specifies minimum requirements when the required activities specified by an Application Security Control are replaced with a Prediction Application Security Rationale.
- The ASC mapped to a PASR defines the Expected Level of Trust for a subsequent application.
- The use of PASRs is applicable to project teams which have a defined Application Normative Framework and an original application with an Actual Level of Trust.
- Status: part 7 was first published in 2018.
- Personal comment: the language in part 7 is formal and stilted in style (e.g. “An application security claim is a claim that the application team implemented certain security controls and those controls mitigate specific security risks to an acceptable level. A security prediction is the transfer of confidence in the original claim to a claim that the same security controls are also present in a subsequent version of the application and mitigate, to the same acceptable level, the same specific security risks.” - got that?).
All parts of the standard should conform with JTC 1/SC 17’s standards on software engineering, and the terminology should align with ISO 31000.
The ability to generate and share libraries of reusable, parameterised, well-engineered security functions is a remarkable achievement with the potential to improve security practices in software development, globally.
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