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Using SANS' 25 most dangerous programming errors list

In a small cry of victory today, someone on the team found this article from the BBC detailing the “top 25 most dangerous programming errors.” I say small cry of victory, because he had recently logged a ticket in JIRA detailing one of those errors, but when the ticket came up for review it was ignored. It was acknowledged as an issue, but pushed to a later sprint for work.

While I agree with the reasons we used when we prioritized the ticket, for me this incident demonstrated a common pattern I see in the teams I’ve worked with. First, there seems to be an expectation that the testing team shouldn’t be looking for errors like this — that is, unless you’re a high-priced security tester. Second, that when issues like this are found they take a backseat to the more traditional functional defects.

I like research like this (both SANS and OWASP do great work in this area), because it gives me a way to structure the conversations that take place when these issues come up. I find that programmers typically respond well to links to catalogs of errors with descriptions. They are unrelated to the software they are working on. It makes it less personal I think — less close to home.

That said, these issues aren’t always burning, top-priority issues. Like I said, in the context of our current project where we found one of these, we have time to fix it. Given the current list of commitments, the issues we know we need to work, and the relative risk of this causing a problem — this specific issue can be sidelined for a couple of weeks until we get to it. That perspective is important as well, and it’s one that I sometimes forget. There’s always a business story to tell as well with issues like this — context is important.

For those interested in the more details on the list of programming errors, you can find the full list of errors from SAN here.

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