Expert: Simplicity is key to keeping code secure

By Ashlee Vance, IDG News Service |  Security

When it comes to writing secure code, less is more. That was the advice passed down by security expert Paul Kocher, president of Cryptography Research Inc., who told the Usenix Security Symposium that more powerful computer systems and increasingly complex code will be a growing cause of insecure networks.

Huge chunks of software such as Microsoft Corp.'s Windows operating systems that have myriad features built in to take advantage of fast processors will perpetually have more flaws than security experts are able to uncover, he said. For this reason, programmers and companies should keep simplicity in mind when writing applications and only build in tools that appeal to 80 percent or more of users.

"The problem that we have is that we are getting these great performance improvements, which leads to increases in complexity, and I am not getting any smarter," Kocher said. "But it's not just me. I don't think you guys are getting smarter, either." Increasing processor speeds tempt developers to create code that can take advantage of the extra horsepower. This leads to software such as Windows or the Linux operating system growing over time. Every time the number of lines of code is doubled, a company adds four times as many security problems, Kocher said, which makes this trend of bigger, more feature-rich applications daunting to security experts.

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