The ongoing debate in the United States regarding software developers’ responsibility for bugs in code that lead to security breaches has gained significant attention as cybersecurity incidents increase. In an effort to address the growing cybersecurity challenges the nation faces, the Biden administration has taken a stance on this issue. 

Earlier this year, the Biden administration published a National Cybersecurity Strategy that urges Congress to impose liability on software companies for data losses and harm resulting from vulnerabilities in their products. The call for increased responsibility and liability stems from the heightened frequency and severity of cyber breaches and attacks. On page 20 of the strategy document it states that “Too many vendors ignore best practices for secure development, ship products with insecure default configurations or known vulnerabilities, and integrate third-party software of unvetted or unknown provenance.” A similar conversation has also emerged in Europe with the EU Cyber Resilience Act, which was introduced in September 2022. Essentially, any company that wants to be successful, regardless of its global reach, must properly invest in and prioritize software security. 

The surge in security incidents and attacks has raised awareness about the serious impact that software quality can have on businesses, governments and individuals. As a result, legislators are taking proactive measures to define and enforce regulations and support preventive actions to avert such events.

What This Means for Organizations and Developers 

The proposed U.S. legislation mandates that organizations and their developers prioritize the development of software products and services that are of higher quality and more secure. The aim is to shift the responsibility to the appropriate stakeholders rather than end-users who suffer the consequences of insecure software resulting from dirty code. Additionally, the legislation seeks to encourage the market to produce safer products and services while still fostering innovation.

With the enforcement of responsibility, a new aspect that must be considered under this act is the emergence of code development using generative AI tools like ChatGPT. Developers and organizations need to be mindful of the ethical and commercial implications AI-generated code can have, including the potential for unintentional introduction of security vulnerabilities. Exercising caution while embracing AI is crucial, and organizations must have a plan of action in place that ensures AI-generated code adheres to the same, or even higher, quality standards and practices as traditionally developed code.

At the same time, it is also important to be realistic about the challenges of cybersecurity. While the legislation and strategy aim to enhance security, it does not guarantee an immediate fix or the eradication of breaches and attacks. Cybersecurity is an ongoing battle, and adversaries are constantly evolving their tactics. The strategy’s high standards and increased accountability will certainly push for better security practices, but it will take time to realize the full impact.

To prepare, software companies must prioritize the development of high-quality software. This can only be truly achieved by developing code that exhibits the attributes of Clean Code: consistent, clear, adaptable, and responsible. When code adheres to these characteristics, the software is easy to maintain, reliable, and secure. Clean Code follows a set of principles and quality standards that empower developers to build software that is least prone to security breaches. This approach facilitates collaboration amongst developers on development and maintenance of code, minimizing the risk of new security issues or vulnerabilities being introduced during updates and modifications. 

Advantages of Clean Coding

The Clean Code approach emphasizes writing code that is not only functional but also easy to understand, maintain and secure. By adhering to Clean Code principles, developers are able to create software that is free of security vulnerabilities and is least likely to be affected by potential security breaches. With a Clean Code approach, not only is the introduction of security flaws eliminated, the developers can proactively identify and address potential security issues early in the development lifecycle. This enables them to be confident that they are, as the legislation states, taking “reasonable precautions to secure their software.”

Code that is clean is well-structured, efficient, and follows established coding principles and conventions. This includes adhering to secure code standards, conducting thorough code reviews and performing regular security testing throughout the development cycle. A well-structured and properly documented codebase not only reduces the chances of introducing vulnerabilities but also makes it easier to detect and fix security issues promptly.

Mitigate Code Vulnerability Risks and Safeguard Ecosystems 

With new legislation to enforce software quality, software makers can use Clean Code as a critical asset to mitigate the risk of delivering and operating vulnerable software. The financial impact of vulnerabilities can be staggering, with an average cost of $3.86 million per data breach incident. This statistic serves as a stark reminder that code quality and software security can have a major impact on a business’s bottom line. 

In this era of heightened threats and regulatory pressures, practicing Clean Code becomes not only a prudent business strategy but also an ethical responsibility. Through these measures, software companies can build a secure and resilient digital future for themselves and their ecosystems, while mitigating legal risks and maintaining a competitive edge in the market.