15 January, 2024

8 tips on cyber security

Arlet Padron

In the world of programming, cyber security plays a crucial role. As programmers, we are responsible for writing code that attackers can exploit. Therefore, we must understand how to protect our systems and applications against cyber threats. Here, we present eight practical and innovative tips to improve computer security in your life as a programmer.

1. Keep your development environment up to date.

The first step to ensuring the IT security of your development environment is to keep it up to date. Manufacturers of programming languages and integrated development environments (IDEs) periodically release updates that fix known vulnerabilities. Therefore, you should install these updates as soon as they are available. Also, ensure all the libraries and frameworks you are using are current.

Online communities of programmers are a great way to stay up to date with the latest updates and trends in programming. Platforms like Stack Overflow, GitHub, and Reddit are places where programmers share ideas, solve problems, and learn from each other. Participating in these communities not only keeps you up to date with the latest technologies, but also allows you to learn from the experience and challenges of other programmers.

Thought leaders and experts in the programming community often publish valuable content that can provide you with early insights into emerging technologies, best practices, and industry trends. Follow these thought leaders on platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn to stay up to date with the latest news and trends in programming.

2. Use reliable antivirus software.

Although programmers are often used to dealing with potentially dangerous software, it is still essential to have reliable antivirus software on your machine. These programs can help you protect your system against malware and other cyber threats.

There are several examples of reliable antivirus software on the market, such as Avast, Norton, and Bitdefender. These programs use a variety of techniques to detect and remove malware, including behavioral analysis, signature detection, and heuristics. Some antivirus programs offer additional features like real-time protection, firewalls, and data recovery systems.

One of the best practices when choosing an antivirus program is to compare different options and read reviews from other users. This will allow you to determine which offers the best features and performance for your specific needs. Additionally, it is essential to remember that no antivirus program can offer 100% protection against all threats. Therefore, you should also follow security best practices, such as keeping your system and programs up-to-date, not opening suspicious emails, and not downloading files from the Internet unless you are sure they are safe.

3. Implement two-factor authentication.

Two-factor authentication adds an extra layer of security to your apps. When implemented, it requires users to provide two forms of identification before they can access an application or system. This can be as simple as a code sent to your mobile phone or as complex as a physical or biometric key.

There are several authentication methods when using two-factor authentication. Among the most popular are:

Voice-based authentication: This feature works similarly to push notifications, except your identity is confirmed by automation. The voice will ask you to press a key or say your name to identify yourself.

SMS token authentication: With a mobile device, you can generate your codes, or tokens, to provide a unique set of letters/numbers to verify identity. These codes are sent via SMS and verified through a website or app.

Software token authentication: Software tokens require the user to download and install an application that runs on their computer or mobile device and dynamically generates tokens for the user. With the rise of smartphones, this method is gaining popularity.

Biometric authentication: This method uses unique physical or behavioral characteristics of the user, such as fingerprints, facial recognition, or retina, as a second factor. Although this method is more secure, it is also more challenging to implement and may only be suitable for some users.

Implementing 2FA in a personal or professional environment is very helpful in protecting vulnerable databases and networks. Remember that most users can implement 2FA through the security settings of their smartphone or electronic device.

4. Perform penetration tests.

Penetration testing is an effective way to identify vulnerabilities in your code and protect your application against attacks. These tests involve trying to access your application as if it were an attacker. If you can access sensitive areas of your application, then an attacker can too.

There are several free and commercial penetration testing tools that you can use to establish if your system is secure. Some of these free tools include Metasploit, Wireshark, Burp Suite, and Nmap. These tools can help you identify and exploit vulnerabilities in your system, which is essential for the security of your application.

In practice, penetration testing involves performing various security tests or assessments on servers, networks, websites, web applications, etc. A typical process includes the following steps:

List of possible vulnerabilities and problems that attackers can exploit.

• Prioritize or organize the list of vulnerabilities to determine the criticality, impact, or severity of the possible attack.

• Perform penetration tests from inside and outside your network or environment to determine whether you can use the specific vulnerability to access an illegal network, server, website, data, or other resource.

• If you can access the system without authorization, the resource is insecure and requires addressing the security vulnerability. After fixing the problem, perform another test and repeat until there is no problem.

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5. Protect your API keys.

API keys are like the keys to your house: if they fall into the wrong hands, they can let someone into your house. Therefore, you should protect your API keys like gold. Never expose them publicly, don't store them in plain text, and change your API keys regularly.

Do not store them in plain text: API keys must be stored securely. Don't save them in plain text in your code or your database. Instead, consider using a secrets manager, such as Azure Key Vault or HashiCorp Vault. If neither of these options is possible, you can store the authentication credentials in an .env file. Ensure you encrypt the .env file and never push it to any repository.

Change your API keys regularly: Changing your API keys regularly can help you minimize the risk in case a key is compromised. When you change an API key, be sure to replace the old key everywhere you store or access it

Limit credential permissions: When creating a personal access token, select only the minimum necessary permissions or scopes and set an expiration date for the minimum amount of time you will need to use the token. GitHub recommends using limited-scope personal access tokens instead of (classic) personal access tokens.

6. Implement the principle of least privilege.

The principle of least privilege states that each user or process should have only the privileges necessary to perform its tasks. By implementing this principle, you can limit the damage an attacker can do if they gain access to your system.

Audit your environment: The principle of least privilege states that each user or process should have only the privileges necessary to perform its tasks. By implementing this principle, you can limit the damage an attacker can do if they gain access to your system.

Remove unnecessary privileges: You should remove unnecessary local administrator privileges and ensure that all human and non-human users only have the necessary privileges to do their jobs. This may involve revoking administrator privileges that are not needed for daily work.

Separate administrator accounts: It is advisable to separate administrator accounts from standard accounts and isolate privileged user sessions. This can help prevent attackers from gaining administrator privileges if they can access a standard account.

Use a digital vault: Provide privileged administrator account credentials to a digital vault to begin protecting and managing those accounts. This can help you more securely manage privileged accounts and reduce the risk of them being compromised.

Rotate all administrator passwords immediately after each use: This can help minimize the risk of an attacker gaining access to an administrator account if they manage to intercept a password.

Continuously monitor activity related to administrator accounts: Enables rapid detection and alerting of anomalous activity that may indicate an attack in progress.

Enables just-in-time access elevation: This allows users to access privileged accounts or execute privileged commands temporarily and as needed. This can help reduce the risk of an attacker gaining elevated privilege access if they gain access to a standard account.

7. Educate your fellow programmers

Computer security is not just the responsibility of individual programmers. All development team members should be aware of security best practices and work together to keep their code secure. This includes understanding what phishing is, how malware is installed, and how to protect against ransomware attacks.

Promote a security culture: Security culture is essential to keeping your code secure. You should promote a security culture throughout your organization, not just among programmers. This may involve conducting security workshops, creating security policies, and promoting a security mindset among all organization members.

Offer security training: Offer security training to all members of your development team. This may include training in the safe use of the tools and technologies they use and general security best practices. Security training can help programmers understand how to protect their code and prevent vulnerabilities.

Encourage code review: Code review is an essential practice for keeping your code secure. By reviewing your colleagues' code, you can identify and fix potential vulnerabilities before they become security problems.

Promote the use of security tools: Security tools such as security scanners, firewalls, and antivirus software can help protect your code and system. You should promote using these tools and ensure that all team members use them.

Share security information: Share security information with your team to keep them updated on the latest threats and how to protect against them. This may include information about new types of malware, phishing techniques, and security best practices.

8. Keep a security log.

Finally, it is important to maintain a safety record. This involves logging all security-related activities on your system, such as changes to API keys, changes to security settings, and any suspicious activity. A security log can be invaluable if a security incident occurs and you need to investigate it.

Establish a complete audit trail: The goal is to maintain an entire audit trail of significant events from a security perspective. Logging is the most common way to capture access patterns. Registration must be done for the application and the platform. In the case of an audit trail, you must establish what, when, and who is associated with the actions.

Monitor application user flows: Identify critical points within the application and establish logging for these points. For example, when a user logs into the application, it captures the user's identity, origin location, and other relevant information. It is essential to recognize any escalations in user privileges, actions taken by the user, and whether the user has accessed sensitive information in a secure data store.

Monitor identity and access: Maintain a comprehensive record of access patterns for the application and modifications to platform resources. Implement extensive logging using all available data points. For example, include the client's IP address to differentiate between regular user activity and potential threats from unexpected locations.

Document recording errors: Recording errors are necessary from a security perspective. Document any violations, such as a user trying to perform an action but encountering an authorization error, attempting to access non-existent resources, and other suspicious actions.

Plan records retention strategy: This is based on compliance, regulation, and business requirements. Configure the log retention policy on individual log services to ensure that logs are archived correctly.

In conclusion:

Computer security is not a task for an expert. Any programmer can take basic steps to protect their development environment and applications from cyber threats. However, it is essential to remember that cybersecurity is an ongoing effort that requires long-term commitment and active participation from all team members.

Plus, it's about more than just protecting your system and code. It also means protecting the information and systems of your colleagues and users. This may involve implementing strict security policies, educating teams on best practices, and continuously monitoring systems to detect and respond to suspicious activity.

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