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What is security by design?

What is security by design?

Security by design means building security into systems from the beginning rather than adding it later. For healthcare organizations, this means ensuring that patient data is protected at every step. For example, electronic health records systems are designed to encrypt data, restrict access to authorized users, and regularly update software to fix vulnerabilities. 


What is security by design?

"security by design" refers to a proactive approach in technology development where security measures are integrated into the product from the outset, rather than being added as an afterthought. A dissertation published in Software Engineering Research and Practice provides,The main idea in the proposed methodology is that security principles should be applied at every development stage and that each stage can be tested for compliance with those principles.”

This methodology involves considering security at every stage of the design and development process. It ensures that the final product inherently possesses strong security features, reducing vulnerabilities and potential exploits. Unlike traditional security approaches that often involve bolting on security features after a product's development, security by design embeds security into the product's core architecture.


Origin and evolution

Initially, the concept of security by design was a response to the growing complexity and severity of cyber threats, as recognized by the technology industry. However, it wasn't until organizations like CISA and their international counterparts started emphasizing these principles that they gained widespread acceptance and implementation.

CISA, along with other national and international cybersecurity agencies, recognized that proactive and integrated security measures were necessary in the face of advanced and evolving cyber threats. This recognition led to the development of structured principles and guidelines that specifically address the need to embed security in the design phase of product development.

The collaboration between these agencies, including the formulation of joint guidance documents like “Shifting the Balance of Cybersecurity Risk: Principles and Approaches for Secure by Design Software,” is a testament to the evolution of security by design. To build secure and reliable technological solutions, it is imperative to prioritize security as a core element of the development process right from the start.

See also: Trends for 2024: Paubox’s state of cybersecurity 2023 report



The key principles of security by design revolve around integrating security into every aspect of technology development. These include: 

  • Proactive security integration
  • Risk assessment and management
  • Principle of least privilege
  • Continuous monitoring and testing
  • Secure defaults
  • Resilience to attack
  • Transparency and accountability
  • User-centric security

See also: What is cybersecurity in healthcare?



In the initial planning stage, security objectives and requirements are defined, forming a blueprint for the entire development process. During the design phase, architects integrate security into the software's architecture, employing risk assessments to identify potential vulnerabilities. Coding is then carried out with security best practices in mind, such as using secure coding standards to prevent common vulnerabilities. In the testing phase, the software undergoes rigorous security testing, including vulnerability scanning and penetration testing, to detect and fix security flaws. After deployment, continuous monitoring and maintenance ensure the software remains secure against new threats.

The stages where security by design is most critical are the early phases: planning and design. It is during these stages that the foundation for a secure product is laid. By addressing security in these initial stages, potential vulnerabilities can be identified and mitigated early, reducing the risk and cost associated with fixing security issues later in the development cycle. 

See also: HIPAA Compliant Email: The Definitive Guide



What is the software lifecycle?

The software lifecycle is the process of developing software, including stages like planning, designing, coding, testing, deployment, and maintenance.


What is the consequence of a failure of security?

A failure of security can lead to data breaches, financial loss, reputational damage, and unauthorized access to sensitive information.


What is the function of the CISA?

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency protects the nation's critical infrastructure from physical and cyber threats.

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