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07 January 2021

Code Audit: How Badly Do You Need It?

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When something needs checking under the hood, then it’s probably going to be the code.

Whether you’re looking at a digital app, web site, or native application, there’s a good chance that you’ll need to carry out a Code Audit. This is a comprehensive analysis of source code in the programming project.

Depending on what kind of project you carry out, coding can be developing lines of perfect code – or going back to fix it, over and over again. What that comes down to essentially means discovering bugs, breaches, violations, or programming conventions, and more.

That’s where the code audit comes into play. As the name might suggest – it’s a detailed and meticulous review of your assets. It is also the central pillar of the defensive programming paradigm. Its purpose is to reduce errors before the software is released.

Now that we know what it is, let’s examine the code audit!

When Do We Carry Out the Code Audit?

Some of the most vulnerable types of code and arising situations are cause for carrying an audit. There are some common instances in which we use C# and Java. These are fertile ground for problems. C has historically been a go-to, for carrying out an assessment – but has since made itself near obsolete.

Python, on the other hand, presents fewer vulnerabilities, making this less likely to require auditing. As a rule of thumb, any environment with less room for error makes the process a great deal smoother.

There’s the digital approach and the analogue approach.

The first is using specialised software, which can recognise common issues. But software alone would be ineffective at identifying everything. That’s why I more-than recommend the human approach in aid of the software. Code should also be audited manually by an experienced developer or architect.

Note : Humans help the software – not the other way around!

Critical components to be audited can be carried out separately, or together with the whole programme. What’s most important – is to prioritise your sticking points!

One such area of interest is malicious code linked to libraries. This takes precedence over some low-priority areas, with considerably less risk. An example of this is the client-side code that doesn’t link with the server.

Those examples are abundant, and I urge you to investigate them. Meanwhile, I invite you to explore the process with me.

Code Audit Process Breakdown

Introduction

The foremost step is to identify your business goals and requirements. Which aspects require the most optimisation, and will you wish to address them? Be sure to agree to a set process that delivers according to your organisation’s needs.

Assessment of Architecture

The next phase will be to carry out a project code review and to document key areas of the code structure. Here, we will assess code maintainability levels before classifying risks and potential costs.

The elements marked for assessment include the likes of the frontend and backend, in addition to containers, data planes, certificates, as well as drivers.

Analysis of Static Code

Using a suite of static analysis tools, your software team should be able to test every project component. This will identify instances of code duplication, as well as a host of other potential security issues.

The code’s programming language can ultimately determine the type of tool you will need. These can be CodeClimate, CSSLint, Pylint, RailsBestPractices, Reek, Rubocop, and others.

Manual Checks

This is a reference to the much-needed human touch. At this stage, senior developers perform inspection and diagnosis. Here, developers engage in the ‘second layer’ analysis of project code. Findings are also documented during this phase.

Whilst this stage contains much of the same tasks as the previous phase – this instance is a failsafe against any potential lapses in the functioning of the software. Developers also provide valuable insights due to their experience and subjectivity. In this case, their know-how ensures robust database design, test coverage, data structure, among other factors.

Scale and Infrastructure

Code can contain bottlenecks or blockages. When this meets a compromised infrastructure, they can cause scalability issues to the system functions. A remedy to this is application penetration testing, wherein we detect vulnerabilities. This does not, however, reveal source code locations.

You can think of this as an attack simulation. Our job will be to launch different attack techniques, and spare no efforts while we do it. This targets likely access points into your system. The objective will ultimately be to ‘bring down’ the application.

Rest assured – it is a controlled exercise. Nothing will be torn down.

Process Research

Once the dust settles, we produce a ‘damage report’. This assessment also provides a series of reviews of your key components. This consists of the following evaluations:

  • Data repository overview
  • Performance assessment
  • Security testing practices review
  • Automation review

Recommendations

You can expect a final course of action. With the conclusion of your review, your audit should consist of any relevant actionable steps. These would include follow-up engagements such as refactors, or changes, which would ensure reliable code takeovers.

Any custom solutions will also be presented to you. Depending on your assessment, we may recommend a code re-write or merely a revision.

Code Audit Methods

End-of-cycle Auditing

This is a common course of action when a company takes over an existing, developed project from the client. What is idealistically attractive is that this results in a considerably longer list of problems to solve. The downside to this is that it presents a ‘can of worms’ scenario, whereby the rundown of issues becomes untenable. That, of course, can be overwhelming from a developers’ perspective. The ultimate downside to this method is a potential increase in the project timeline.

In-line Auditing

When time is of the essence, or when developing from scratch, this method is a recommended alternative. The process audits segments, assemblies, before making the recommendations and data to shorten process variation. Additionally, this process also includes a code review definition. In-line auditing is curt but continues to abide by a list of guidelines that keep this process within a certain timeline.

Carry the Code Audit to Improve Your Software

Ultimately, auditing tools are here to help you, your product, and your organisation. No matter which method you select, their task is to look for vulnerabilities, sparing no effort to identify any lapses that could compromise your project – and your investment.

Digital tools will play an important role in carrying out your code audit. However, be sure to remember that many of your chosen auditing tools work in conjunction with specific programming languages. These tools are also not recommended for in-depth auditing. For that, the experience of a seasoned developer is essential, and cannot be substituted by simple technology.

Where best to start? Seek out an expert team to carry out your audit. Look for reputed 3rd party review sites, or simply look below, for my contact. I will be happy to have a conversation and discuss your requirements.

Whichever your choice, I wish you all the best. Code audits are tricky, but they’re always vital.

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Author
Marcin Bartoszuk
Chief Technology Officer

With Microsoft technologies related since 2005. He graduated from the Computer Science Faculty of the Bialystok University of Technology where he was the leader of the .NET Group and the Microsoft Student Partner. Four times finalist of the national stage of the Imagine Cup competition, and later the mentor and the jury member of the contest. Co-founder of the Bialystok .NET Group. He lectured .NET development at the Bialystok University of Technology. Microsoft MVP in the Client Application Development category in 2008-2010, when he actively participated in the IT community. Constant new technology enthusiast and IT consultant.