Source Code Security

I’m not surprised, and I had expected to read about something like this much sooner. Apparently someone at the ride sharing company, Uber, posted a security key online in a GitHub distribution. I assume this was some sort of code repository for Uber that may or may not have been supposed to be shared publicly, but having used GitHub, I could see someone making a mistake and accidentally putting private code in the public space.

Uber is worried as the key is a security authorization key used to access their databases. Someone apparently downloaded Uber database files and now Uber is attempting to track them down. The whole situation is a mess, but there are a number of problems here that we could learn from.

I give a talk on encryption options in SQL Server and one of the main problems I see with symmetric keys in SQL Server is that they can be reproduced with the same parameters passed to CREATE SYMMETRIC KEY. This means that your source code is now a security hole, at least if the production values are stored in a VCS.

However that’s a no-no. Developers shouldn’t have access to account information or keys that are used in production. There should be separate credentials used in development, precisely for this reason. If someone gets your code, or hacks a dev machine, they shouldn’t be able to jump to production.

There’s also the issue of using a service like GitHub, or any online VCS. The distinction between private code and public code shouldn’t count on a human checking or un-checking the right box. I’d like to see some better separation, perhaps requiring separate accounts and connections for public and private distributions.

As we see here, convenience can easily result in poor security. That’s not a trade-off we should be making with our security and applications. Especially not for software developers.

Steve Jones

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