How Do Microsoft and Apple Protect Their Source Code?

Software development is becoming an essential part of company models and the “secret sauce” that makes them lucrative. The source code represents its intellectual property, and a leak or breach of this data can render a company less competitive in the marketplace.

Companies confront various dangers to the security and confidentiality of their source code. Many people are curious about how Microsoft and Apple safeguard their source code. This article will examine how those companies minimize or remove source code security threats by following a few basic procedures.

What is a Source Code?

What is a Source Code

A programmer’s source code is the core pillar of a computer program. It is readable and understandable to human beings. This source code is present when a programmer puts a sequence of C programming language commands into the Windows Notepad and saves that sequence as a text file.

The “before” and “after”  type versions of a built computer program are commonly referred to as source and object codes. The words source code and object code do not apply to script (noncompiled or interpreted) program languages such as JavaScript since there is only one code version.

Any organization’s ‘magic elixir’ is its source code.

The building elements of any software are stored in source code. The source code provides the company with a competitive advantage, a top-secret plan, and a path to success.

Multiple companies employ remote employees, outsource to freelancers, and divide work across more sites, many of which are insecure. 

Moving from safe, in-house servers to the cloud without fully comprehending the extra exposure they may face, which necessitates additional security procedures to prevent risk, is also a concern. This occurs in various businesses, from entertainment to agriculture to national defense.

So, regardless of the type of organization, caring about the source code’s safety is critical to its survival. Especially when you consider the possible threats and financial consequences that security flaws might have on your firm.

How is Microsoft’s Source Code Safeguarded?

Microsoft, one of the original software behemoths, has experienced trouble with code leaks. The source code for Windows 2000 and Windows NT 4.0 was released online in 2004. Because Windows is so extensively used, the security ramifications at the time were enormous. 

Hackers could have been able to attack the Windows operating system if they had access to such sensitive source code, which is still the most popular operating system for both corporate and personal users throughout the world.

That isn’t the first time Microsoft leaked or gave out source code. Microsoft agreed with the Russian intelligence service FSB in 2010 to provide them access to the source code for Windows 7. 

In some respects, this was an odd decision on the part of the firm. Big internet businesses frequently collaborate with government intelligence organizations, but an American corporation providing direct access to a foreign spy agency is unusual. 

Although this is not a leak, it may have weakened the security of the Windows platform. This approach today makes even less sense than it did at the time, given subsequent developments on the global stage.

Microsoft has taken the following security precautions to secure the Source Code:

  • Signing a non-disclosure agreement to assert ownership and safeguard intellectual property (trademarks and patents) includes non-duplication, re-selling, re-branding, and risk acceptance conditions. 

The contract specifies the security and code quality approach, including penetration testing standards, security incident management, code testing, and an overlapping code review process to ensure work is checked and balanced.

  • As a crucial stakeholder, Microsoft has a representative active in every step of the SDLC to ensure that optimal security measures are in place.
  • Microsoft is actively involved in the requirements collecting process and has meticulously documented every feature and security control.
  • Microsoft reviews every phase of the SDLC, including the vulnerability maps, threat maps, and penetration testing.
  • The functionality and design of each class and function are documented at the module level by Microsoft, which is critical for debugging, maintenance, patching, and upgrades.
  • The company updated all hard-coded encryption key settings, default passwords, and license hashes.
  • When the model allows, Microsoft divides the important components and outsources development to other companies, ensuring that no single vendor has total control over the project. 

On the other hand, a professional staff needs to stitch the components together and integrate them neatly without leaving security gaps.

How is Apple’s Source Code Safeguarded?

Apple has a reputation for being quite a secretive business. They take great care with their intellectual property. They’ve already sued other companies, such as Samsung, for patent infringement.

Any violation of Apple’s patents is actively pursued. Despite defeating Samsung in court, they could not defend themselves from danger from inside. The source code for iBoot was recently mistakenly released on GitHub by an intern. Initially, the code was only shared by a small number of people engaged in the iPhone jailbreak scene.

 However, it quickly made its way into the internet, and the genie was no longer contained. Although the code was from iOS 9, hackers may still utilize it to weaponize the information.

Apple said they were aware of the breach before it was published on GitHub. However, they couldn’t stop the leak from spreading worldwide to blogs and news sites. The event caused the firm some shame, but it might have been worse.

A few years back, Apple CEO Tim Cook remarked that the company was “doubling down on secrecy.” Apple’s worldwide security staff has increased since then. The resources at their disposal would make most nations jealous!

According to Tim Cook, product leaks are to blame for low iPhone sales. As a result, the security staff was expanded. Apple’s factories in China check 3 million individuals every day for stolen components to avoid product leaks to bloggers.

Apple’s manufacturing security has improved to Cupertino now has more leaks than China. Despite the security measures, a low-level employee was able to share critical source code with a few acquaintances. This demonstrates how vulnerable any company is to internal dangers.

Apple’s Strategies for Protecting the Source Code 

Apple's Strategies for Protecting the Source Code 
  1. To guarantee that the essential security measures are in place, Apple has a representative active in every phase of the SDLC as a crucial stakeholder.
  2. Apple is fully engaged in the requirements collecting process and has meticulously documented every feature and security control.
  3. To guarantee no backdoors, Apple does a rigorous code check of the provided software.
  4. Apple does compliance testing on the contractor’s servers without divulging sensitive information from the production environment.
  5. The Apple team reviewed every phase of the SDLC, particularly the vulnerability maps, threat maps, and penetration testing results.
  6. Apple has put in place access limitations.

Protecting source code from theft or unauthorized modification necessitates effective access control. It’s considerably more difficult for unauthorized users to steal or inject harmful functionality into source code when they can’t access it. 

Implementing robust user authentication requiring multi-factor authentication (MFA) was a good start, but it isn’t enough to ensure security. 

Protecting against both internal and external threats necessitates limiting who has access to source code and which devices have access. Employees who have access to source code on authorized business devices are less likely to make a copy on a personal gadget for later use.

Apple Conducts In-Depth Code Reviews

It all boils down to knowledge, code reviews, tools, and understanding of where to focus your efforts. According to a 2015 AppSec USA survey, automated tools missed the most vulnerabilities, while manual tools found the most. 

In this situation, automated tools were more likely to overlook “Insecure Direct Object Reference,” “Sensitive Data Exposure,” and “Missing Access Control.” This offers a good idea of which vulnerabilities the Apple team should hunt for some human procedures like code reviews, which can be gathered using automated technologies.

Apple Has Strict Change Management Rules in Place

The majority of attacks take advantage of ineffective change management strategies. Rogue code can be slipped into update code without being detected, allowing malicious functionality into a legitimate software update. 

Vulnerable code is also a result of poor code management. It is easier for mistakes to get into the official repository if code commits are uploaded without sufficient inspection and validation. According to a strict change management policy, all code commits must be reviewed and authorized by an experienced developer before being added to the code repository.

DevSecOps

Security is generally delegated to a small team of security professionals, but there is a lot that developers can and should bear responsibility for. DevSecOps is the idea of including developers early in the security process.

Developers are perhaps the most linked to source code. Thus it seems reasonable that they share some responsibility for ensuring its security. This implies that not only are fewer vulnerabilities introduced into the source code but many more are detected earlier, lowering the cost of repair.

While this does not imply Apple can eliminate the security team, it does mean that security is improved across the software development lifecycle.

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