Case Study: Software Security Pays Off for Heartland
Heartland Payment Systems has successfully leveraged software-assurance tools and best practices to drive better security within its IT organization -- and improve its overall business performance.
In this podcast, Ashwin Altekar, director of enterprise risk management at Heartland, shares his insights and knowledge with Amir Hartman, the founder and managing director at MainStay, a marketing and IT advisory services firm.
Hartman, who recently completed a software-assurance return-on-investment study, also shares details from that study on how HP Fortify has impacted Heartland's IT organization.
Listen to the podcast (26:20 minutes).
Following are some excerpts:
Amir Hartman: The research that we did found some very interesting results from the companies that we interviewed.
We found three main benefits to employing and institutionalizing a strong software security-assurance program with supporting tools. One was a saving that organizations are seeing. Second, it's a risk-management benefit to the organization. Last, we actually saw some revenue protection benefits as well.
So I'm pretty excited to have Ashwin on the call today and have Ashwin share with us his experiences in deploying HP Fortify solutions and these practices within Heartland. Ashwin, give us a little bit of background, a little bit about yourself, and then describe the software security landscape at Heartland.
Ashwin Altekar: I've been working in information security for over a decade and have spent a large portion of my time performing application penetration tests and managing software-assurance efforts.
At Heartland, we take software security very seriously. We strive to be the trusted transaction provider, the trusted partner of the large number of merchants who depend on our payments and payroll services. With application security being such a large vector for attack, we're very aware of the multiple controls necessary to keep our customers' data secure.
We lean quite heavily on HP Fortify, first to understand, and then improve, our level of software assurance.
Hartman: Let's take people back a little bit. Please describe what the software-security scenario was like at Heartland before institutionalizing some of these practices and before implementing and rolling out Fortify. What did things looked like before? Then, talk to us about why you went in a new direction.
Altekar: Prior to Fortify, or any automated tools, we relied mostly on manual inspection by developers using common security guidelines like the Open Web Application Security Project or assessments done by third parties.
As our enterprise grew, it became harder and harder to be confident in our application-security posture with just manual inspection by development teams. Software assurance is very important to us, not just finding vulnerabilities, but understanding what percentage still remains. With manual efforts, there was just too much to do and not enough time.
We liked the breadth of programming languages supported by Fortify and we really liked the direct integration to the integrated development environment for common IDEs like Visual Studio and Eclipse. So Fortify was just a natural fit for the need at the time.
Hartman: I would imagine that with the space that Heartland plays in, obviously these issues are quite sensitive. And if you look at the marketplace, you're seeing this explosion of mobile devices and mechanisms by which consumers are transacting. It makes this issue even more front and center.
Altekar: Absolutely. Our primary product or service of facilitating transactions is provided through software. So Fortify is definitely a key product that helps us position ourselves as a secure company. And to do so, we need to understand what security issues we have in our software.
Hartman: What are some of the benefits that you've been able to deliver to the organization and to its customers through institutionalizing these practices and tools?
Altekar: At Heartland, we risk-rank our numerous applications and have various requirements on what each development team has to do to meet internal requirements.
One of our basic requirements is that all software applications be scanned using Fortify. From the information-security perspective, that has allowed us to understand what it is that we're up against when we talk about software-security assurance. So, a large challenge is trying to figure out what it is we don't know. Fortify allows us to quantify our level of effort and get the attention software security requires.
Also, we've been able to show the successes of many teams that embrace Fortify. They've been able to do more and learn more about software security in much less time.
Hartman: In the research that we did, we found similar results. We found quite a number of organizations that were able to reduce the amount of time the developers were spending identifying and remediating. Because of the automated mechanism, they focused their attention on developing new value-add applications.
It's reallocating their time. It's not that this stuff isn't important. Obviously it's essential, but if we've got a way to do this faster and then focus the developers' attention on different areas that are more value add, that was a big win. I don't know if that's something similar what you're finding as well, as developers are making it part of their DNA.
Altekar: We absolutely do find that. There's an old expression for spell check that if you see the correct spelling seven times, you would finally get it right on the eighth.
Our developers are bit quicker in learning about security best practices, but Fortify allows us to do a very similar type of reinforcement when it comes to specific software-security issues. They're able to see the right way to do secure development through Fortify and then learn from that.