As an object-oriented programming language, Java works on the concept of objects. An object is the basic component of any Java code. Since Java is open-source and ideal to write a wide variety of code for different purposes, the demand for it has been surging lately.
Security has always been an important issue in computer programming, may it be Java or other programming languages. With the recent surge in hacking activities, it has become important to come up with programs that are safe against hacking and security breaches.
Today, we are going to discuss some of the best secure coding practices in Java that will help you develop programs that are secure and robust.
Top Secure Coding Practices in Java
The widespread use of Java calls for the implementation of secure coding practices in Java. This ensures that the security of any program written using the popular programming language stays high. Let’s see what are the most important coding practices that can make a Java program secure.
1. Keep the Code Simple and Clean
The more complicated the code, the greater are the chances of vulnerabilities hiding in it. So the first thing you need to keep in mind is to write code that is as simple as possible. This means, in essence, the security of the program starts taking form the moment you start writing the code.
Follow these tips to ensure your code stays simple and to the point:
- Do not hesitate to use Java’s access modifiers. These ensure that every class, object, and user has an adequate level of access. Always keep in mind that the least access is always the best approach in coding.
- Do not use reflection and introspection as much as possible. These techniques are recommended for some advanced scenarios and for most Java development cases, you need to skip them.
- Minimize the API and interface surfaces as much as possible. Keep components as separated as you can and minimize the interaction area. In this way, even if one part of the application is breached, the problem will be contained within a smaller portion of the application.
2. Encrypt All Sensitive Data
This is a must-follow security measure for all programming languages and not just Java. It is strange how this simple issue can cause a lot of trouble again and again as most developers ignore encryption.
When any user enters a password or any other personally identifiable information (PII), it must be encrypted with a one-way cipher before being saved to the database. Storing any sensitive information as plain text is a very poor practice. Anything saved as plain text in the database is just sitting there waiting to be taken advantage of.
3. Do Not Use Serialization
Serialization is convenient in the way that it takes a remote input and forms a fully endowed object from it. Despite that, you need to avoid it. The trouble with serialization is that it works with constructors and access modifiers and lets an unknown stream of data operate as the code in JVM.
This, unfortunately, makes serialization an inherent security vulnerability for Java. As a matter of fact, Oracle is planning to remove serialization from Java altogether. According to Mark Reinhold, the Chief Architect of the Java platform, more than a third of all Java vulnerabilities are linked to serialization.
4. Use Tried and Tested Libraries
Many developers go with developing their own security algorithms but that is neither the most efficient nor the most secure approach. Java has an established ecosystem with robust and reliable libraries and algorithms available for almost any scenario. You should use them.
One thing that you need to do is to research and come up with a strong security strategy. Once you have done that, you can look for a Java library that best implements your strategy.
5. Be Cautious While Dealing With an External Input
Whether it is a user typing into a form, a remote API, or a data store, you should NEVER (ever!) trust any external input, period.
From simple commonly known attacks like cross-site scripting and SQL injection to specialized tactics like the “billion laughs attack” that uses an XML entity expansion to cause a denial of service attack, there are a ton of ways the security of your app can be compromised by an external input.
To avoid these attacks, it is cardinally important to check every single input for security and sanitize it before accepting it.
6. Use Prepared SQL Parameters
Any SQL statement that you use in the code is a potentially executable code that can be exploited by someone with bad intentions.
The best way to avoid something bad from happening at this front is to make use of the java.sql.PreparedStatement class when writing any SQL statement. As a result of this, these statements are made potent enough to repel any external SQL injection attack.
7. Use Minimal-Info Error Messages
Error messages can be a useful source of information for someone trying to circumvent or breach your security. The biggest source of information for such individuals is stack traces. This is because they can reveal information about what technology you are using and how it is being implemented in the application.
The best practice is to reveal as little information in error messages as possible. As an example, if a login attempt fails because of a wrong password, and the error message says “Wrong Password,” the person can be sure that their username is right.
To overcome this, the message should instead read “Login Failed” to make sure they do not get any information that can help them compromise your security measures.
8. Install Updates
This is another obvious secure coding practice but, sadly, it is overlooked by many developers. Most organizations release security updates and patches to ensure that their products stay protected against any new vulnerability.
As people with malicious intentions keep coming up with newer methods to undermine your security, you need to keep the system up to date to fight their latest tactics.
These are some of the best secure coding practices in Java that can help developers come up with hack-safe code. Bear in mind is that security is not something to be implemented after the app is developed. On the contrary, it needs to be an essential part of all stages of app development.
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