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Embracing the Future of Secure Software Development: A Comprehensive Look at the SSDF

This article delves into the Secure Software Development Framework (SSDF), looks at the differences between the traditional Secure Software Development Life Cycle (SSDLC), and goes over the benefits of adopting the SSDF for improved security, compliance, and resilience. By understanding the key differences between these frameworks and recognizing the value of the SSDF, organizations can make informed decisions about their software development practices and better protect their digital assets in an ever-evolving cybersecurity landscape. 

What Is the SSDF?

As cybersecurity becomes an increasingly essential aspect of business operations, the need to comply with government and industry regulations is a requirement. In order to address the increasing prevalence of cyber threats, while ensuring compliance is met, organizations must prioritize secure software development.  

One way of doing this is by following the Secure Software Development Framework (SSDF). It’s a comprehensive and proactive approach to addressing security challenges throughout the entire software development process.  

The Secure Software Development Framework (SSDF) is a set of fundamental and secure software development practices aimed at addressing the security issues often overlooked in traditional software development life cycle (SDLC) models. As defined by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the SSDF is based on established secure software development practice documents from organizations such as BSA, OWASP, and SAFECode. 

History of the SSDF 

Although the SSDF is one of the more recent SDLC frameworks, it’s one of the few SDLC models that directly address software security in detail. Given the increasingly hostile environment businesses face within the development environments, they can no longer afford to leave security protocols and measures as an afterthought. They need a framework that directly applies to security risks and concerns within the SDLC in order to properly secure their software supply chain

Recognizing the growing need for secure development practices, NIST introduced the SSDF as a means to integrate security into the core of software development processes. 

Tenets of the SSDF 

The SSDF is built on four core tenets that aim to address the challenges of secure software development in a comprehensive manner: 

Prepare the organization: This emphasizes the importance of creating a security-conscious culture within the organization. The tenet involves establishing security policies, providing training and awareness programs, and assigning dedicated security roles to key stakeholders to ensure a proactive approach to software security. 

Protect the software: This tenet focuses on incorporating security best practices throughout the software development process. This includes threat modeling, risk assessments, secure coding guidelines, and regular security testing to identify and mitigate potential vulnerabilities. 

Produce well-secured software: This tenet emphasizes the need for continuous improvement in software security and prioritizing development of software with minimal vulnerabilities or exploits. By implementing security measures throughout the development process, organizations can minimize the likelihood of vulnerabilities and improve the overall security posture of their software. 

Respond to vulnerabilities: This final tenet addresses the need for timely and effective responses to any identified security vulnerabilities. This includes having a process in place for vulnerability management, having a system in place for patching, and engaging in effective communication with stakeholders to ensure a coordinated response to any potential compromise or incident. 

Later in this article, we’ll break down these tenets in more detail. 

 The NIST SSDF is a comprehensive framework companies can adopt to address the security challenges within their software development process. With the framework, organizations can better protect their software assets, mitigate risks, and have a more secure digital ecosystem as part of a DevSecOps practice. As supply chain attacks and attacks on developer environments increase, companies need to have a more formalized process to handle these emergent risks. 

Here’s How the SSDF Compares to the SSDLC 

When it comes to creating secure software, both the Secure Software Development Framework (SSDF) and the Secure Software Development Life Cycle (SSDLC) offer valuable guidance. However, they differ in their approaches and the emphasis they place on security throughout the development process. They’re also structured differently which changes how an organization can follow and implement them. 

SSDLC - Elements and Principles 

The SSDLC uses a seven-step process that incorporates security best practices in each phase of software development: 


Planning & requirements 






There’s also a common five-phase approach which includes: requirements, design, development, testing, deployment and maintenance. While the SSDLC does integrate security into its framework, the majority of security measures, for either version of this framework, are concentrated in the testing phase. This means security is done during testing and after it’s deployed. 

SSDF - Elements and Principles 

On the other hand, the SSDF recommends security-focused initiatives and directives at each phase of the SDLC, rather than consolidating it into one phase. This approach is built upon four main tenets, each of which is broken down into the following elements. 

  • Practices: Sub-goals of a tenet that support the tenet’s central theme. 
  • Tasks: Activities performed within one of the practices. 
  • Notional implementation examples: These specify the types of tools, processes, and methods that help implement a task. 
  • Refer: Some practices link to specific software development documents that may be relevant or map to a task

Here are the practices that are part of each tenet. 

Prepare the organization 

  • Define Security Requirements for Software Development 
  • Implement Roles and Responsibilities 
  • Implement Supporting Toolchains 
  • Define and Use Criteria for Software Security Checks
  • Implement and Maintain Secure Environments for Software Development 

Overall, this tenet aims to establish what security requirements are necessary, identify key stakeholders, tools, roles, and responsibilities, while defining criteria necessary for software security checks. This helps an organization set a baseline for the rest of the tenets by ensuring that the right people are mobilized and that the company can assess security effectively. 

Protect software 

  • Protect All Forms of Code from Unauthorized Access and Tampering 
  • Provide a Mechanism for Verifying Software Release Integrity 
  • Archive and Protect Each Software Release 

This tenet specifies how an organization ensures that code and software releases and deployed in a secure manner. Across these practices, the framework offers specific guidance on secure storage, reviewing code signing processes, and protecting provenance data. 

Produce well-secured software 

  • Design Software to Meet Security Requirements and Mitigate Security Risks 
  • Review the Software Design to Verify Compliance with Security Requirements and Risk Information 
  • Reuse Existing, Well-Secured Software When Feasible Instead of Duplicating Functionality 
  • Create Source Code by Adhering to Secure Coding Practices 
  • Configure the Compilation, Interpreter, and Build Processes to Improve Executable Security 
  • Review and/or Analyze Human-Readable Code to Identify Vulnerabilities and Verify Compliance with Security Requirements 
  • Test Executable Code to Identify Vulnerabilities and Verify Compliance with Security Requirements 
  • Configure Software to Have Secure Settings by Default 

This is the most detailed and prescriptive tenet and informs an organization on how secure software can be developed from code to deployment. This includes using and reusing secure code, even when used from commercial or open-source resources, training the development team on risk management best practices, iterating and improving on secure processes, and ensuring that there’s a process that verifies how secure code is through code reviews and analyses. 

Respond to vulnerabilities 

  • Identify and Confirm Vulnerabilities on an Ongoing Basis
  • Assess, Prioritize, and Remediate Vulnerabilities 
  • Analyze Vulnerabilities to Identify Their Root Causes 

This tenet provides a more proactive approach that considers potential malicious actors and plans for scenarios where secure coding and software development is not 100% guaranteed. The practices here focus on vulnerability identification through a number of different sources, having a vulnerability management system in place, and even going deeper by asking organizations to see whether vulnerabilities are the result of a lack of coding practices or other reasons that may result in future vulnerabilities. 

Direct comparison between the SSDF and the SSDLC 

The primary difference between the SSDF and the SSDLC lies in their approach to incorporating security measures throughout the development process. The SSDLC focuses most on the testing phase and looks to integrate security best practices there. The SSDF, on the other hand, takes a much more comprehensive and holistic approach by recommending security-focused initiatives at every stage of the SDLC and not just in the testing phase. 

By implementing the SSDF's four main tenets, organizations can ensure a more robust security posture throughout the entire software development process. This approach ultimately leads to more secure code, application data, products, features, updates, releases, internal environments, and a reduced likelihood of vulnerabilities and security incidents. 

Both the SDLC and SSDF offer valuable guidance for organizations seeking to implement secure software development standards. However, because the SSDF offers a more comprehensive approach to security throughout the development process, it stands apart as a more effective secure product development framework. 

Benefits of Adopting the SSDF

Adopting the SSDF framework offers numerous advantages for organizations committed to building secure software and having a secure developer environment. Here are some of the key benefits: 

An integrated secure software development process: Because the SSDF integrates security practices at every stage of the software development process, it ensures a vastly more secure end product and process. This has a much wider impact across the entire organization, helping you protect your business, your customers, while also helping you maintain a complete Software Bill of Materials (SBOM). 

Ensures complete compliance: The SSDF's comprehensive approach to security helps organizations meet and exceed regulatory requirements, such as GDPR, HIPAA, and PCI-DSS. By adopting the SSDF, you can demonstrate your commitment to secure software development, minimize the risk of non-compliance penalties, and maintain customer trust. The SSDF also allows you to work with any regulators and compliance investigators who audit your organization to see if you’re committing to secure practices. 

Reduce long-term costs and improve ROI: Not having any kind of security framework opens organizations to a risk of having a vulnerable product, accidentally exposing sensitive information, and having less secure systems. This may lead to data breaches which have downstream costs related to reputational damage, regulatory fines, and legal fees. By investing in a secure software framework upfront, organizations can save money and resources in the long run while improving the return on investment (ROI) for their software projects by streamlining their security strategy and having established processes. 

Build a security-conscious culture: The SSDF encourages the entire development team to establish a security-aware culture, which empowers employees to take ownership of their roles in maintaining software security. This mindset shift can lead to more proactive security measures, reduced risks, and increased resilience to security threats. 

Adopting the SSDF provides stronger assurance and risk management benefits that help organizations achieve compliance while also minimizing a company’s exposure to vulnerabilities, malware, leaks, and breaches.  

Is SSDF the Future of Development Frameworks?

The Secure Software Development Framework (SSDF) has emerged as a comprehensive approach to addressing the ever-increasing security challenges in software development. As attacks on software supply chain and development environments increase, this holistic approach is likely necessary for organizations to truly secure their software supply chain in an effective way. 

The SSDF will likely play a significant role in shaping the future of software development frameworks, as organizations continue to recognize the value of incorporating robust security measures from the outset. The growing emphasis on regulatory compliance, data protection, and the need to address the rising number of cyber threats makes the SSDF an increasingly attractive choice for organizations seeking to improve their software security posture. 

While the SSDF tenets and practices are comprehensive and may seem overwhelming to implement and incorporate, organizations can look to tools that provide a lot of vulnerability management, risk identification, and secure software development processes within its features. By leveraging automated solutions, organizations can adhere to the SSDF and ensure that their team isn’t devoting their entire time and resources doing so. 

Legit can help secure an organization’s SDLC from supply-chain attacks by enabling various security controls that harden the pipeline and can prevent and build resiliency to these types of attacks - whether it is code tampering, a malicious insider or an untrusted 3rd party.

In addition, an SCA scanner can help identify the use of vulnerable packages in your code, but it’s not always enough, both because of missing coverage, and the fact that SCA scanners report malicious libraries only after they have been identified by the industry as malicious. With Legit, you can see exactly which part of your organization is covered by scanners and which remains unprotected, on top of managing the received alerts, and harden your pipelines for a case of a zero-day vulnerability.

Ready to learn more? Schedule a product demo or check out the Legit Security Platform. 

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Published on
May 25, 2023

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