The idea of a CERT secure coding standard arose at the Spring 2006 meeting of the C Standards Committee (more formally, ISO/IEC JTC1/SC22/WG14) in Berlin, Germany [Seacord 2013a]. The C Standard is an authoritative document, but its audience is primarily compiler implementers, and, as noted by many, its language is obscure and often impenetrable. A secure coding standard would be targeted primarily toward C language programmers and would provide actionable guidance on how to code securely in the language.
The CERT C Secure Coding Standard was developed in this wiki following a community-based development process. Experts from the community, including members of the WG14 C Standards Committee, were invited to contribute and were provided with edit privileges on the wiki. Members of the community can register for a free account on the wiki to comment on the coding standards and individual rules. Reviewers who provide high-quality comments are frequently extended edit privileges so they can directly contribute to the development and evolution of the coding standard. Today, the CERT Secure Coding wiki has 2,502 registered users.
This wiki-based community development process has many advantages. Most important, it engages a broad group of experts to form a consensus opinion on the content of the rules. The main disadvantage of developing a secure coding standard on a wiki is that the content is constantly evolving. This instability may be acceptable if you want the latest information and are willing to entertain the possibility that a recent change has not yet been fully vetted. However, many software development organizations require a static set of rules and recommendations that they can adopt as requirements for their software development process.
Toward this end, a stable snapshot of the CERT C Secure Coding Standard was produced after two and a half years of community development and published as The CERT C Secure Coding Standard. With the production of the manuscript for the book in June 2008, version 1.0 (the book) and the wiki versions of the secure coding standard began to diverge. A second snapshot was taken in December 2013 and was published in April 2014 as The CERT C Coding Standard, second edition. The wiki had become so comprehensive by this time that only the rules were included in the second edition of the book. A third snapshot was taken in March 2016 and published in June 2016 as SEI CERT C Coding Standard, 2016 edition, as a downloadable PDF document.
The CERT C secure coding guidelines were first reviewed by WG14 at the London meeting in April 2007 and again at the Kona, Hawaii, meeting in August 2007.
The topic of whether INCITS PL22.11 should submit the CERT C Secure Coding Standard to WG14 as a candidate for publication as a type 2 or type 3 technical report was discussed at the J11/U.S. TAG Meeting, April 15, 2008, as reported in the minutes. J11 is now Task Group PL22.11, Programming Language C, and this technical committee is the U.S. Technical Advisory Group to ISO/IEC JTC 1 SC22/WG14.
A straw poll was taken on the question, “Who has time to work on this project?” for which the vote was 4 (has time) to 12 (has no time). Some of the feedback we received afterwards was that although the CERT C Secure Coding Standard was a strong set of guidelines that had been developed with input from many of the technical experts at WG14 and had been reviewed by WG14 on several occasions, WG14 was not normally in the business of “blessing” guidance to developers. However, WG14 was certainly in the business of defining normative requirements for tools such as compilers.
Armed with this knowledge, we proposed that WG14 establish a study group to consider the problem of producing analyzable secure coding guidelines for the C language. The study group first met on October 27, 2009. CERT contributed an automatically enforceable subset of the C secure coding rules to ISO/IEC for use in the standardization process.
Participants in the study group included analyzer vendors such as Coverity, Fortify, GammaTech, Gimpel, Klocwork, and LDRA; security experts; language experts; and consumers. A new work item to develop and publish ISO/IEC TS 17961, C Secure Coding Rules, was approved for WG14 in March 2012, and the study group concluded. Roberto Bagnara, the Italian National Body representative to WG 14, later joined the WG14 editorial committee. ISO/IEC TS 17961:2013(E), Information Technology—Programming Languages, Their Environments and System Software Interfaces—C Secure Coding Rules [ISO/IEC TS 17961:2013]was officially published in November 2013 and is available for purchase at the ISO store.
This wiki contains ongoing updates of the standard between official published releases. If you are interested in contributing to the rules, create an account on the wiki and then request contributor privileges by sending a request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Secure Coding eNewsletter contains news from the CERT Secure Coding Initiative as well as summaries of recent updates to the standard rules. If you are interested in getting updates, subscribe to the eNewsletter through our website or by sending a request to email@example.com.