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A single line of poorly-written code can lead to severe performance issues or security risks. Such predicaments translate into costly repercussions for businesses. According to CISQ, poor software quality caused US companies to suffer $2.08 trillion of losses in 2020. Hence, enterprises, businesses, and startups seek professional software code audit services to ensure their applications' reliability, scalability, and security.
Integrating proper software code audit practice into your software development pipeline is crucial for delivering a better user experience. No customers enjoy using an app that crashes or subjects their device to hacking attempts.
In this article, we’ll explore the entire code auditing process, why it benefits your business, and how you can start incorporating this practice.
What is a software code audit?
Software code audit is a professional service for analyzing an application’s code base for performance issues, vulnerabilities, and non-recommended coding practices. Unlike code reviews, code audits are conducted by independent developers or an external software firm. Some companies prefer to perform code audits despite having their own IT team. This way, they can seek an objective perspective and capture issues that their team might miss.
When auditing the source code, developers use code audit tools and manual inspection to find bugs, bottlenecks, insecure libraries, and other coding issues. Code audit services may include, but are not limited to,
- Performance issue analysis;
- Code quality review;
- Static and dynamic application security tests;
- Plugins, libraries, and integration checks;
- Scalability test.
Then, developers summarize their findings in a software audit report, which may highlight:
- Vulnerability issues;
- Performance issues;
- Software bottlenecks;
- Outdated plugins, libraries, and databases.
More importantly, the code auditor will provide recommendations that help your team to revise or introduce new changes to the software.
Great, but do startups really need code audits?
Startups prioritize speed when getting their digital products to market. In their haste, founders might need a proper code audit to ensure a smooth launch, positive financial returns, and reduce post-release issues. Furthermore, bad codes can create unpleasant circumstances, including business downfall. For example, RBS’s digital bank Bó's failed 6 months after its launch, with poor tech stack as one of the reasons for its demise.
Therefore, code audits are a necessity for startups. Regardless of the business size, a code audit acts as a quality assurance check before you release your app to the public. It identifies issues that will otherwise jeopardize user experience and cost startups dearly.
So, who is qualified to audit software codes?
Code audits require an experienced developer to go through part of the entire source code with keen eyes and an open mind. Technically, both internal developers and 3rd party auditors are qualified to review software codes. However, each brings different sets of pros and cons into the practice.
Internal developers are familiar with the app’s development environments, logic flow, and tech stacks. They can start the auditing tasks with little delay. However, internal developers might need to sustain a neutral perspective to identify easily-overlooked issues. Therefore, some teams perform pair programming where one developer writes the code, and the other reviews them to reduce pre-fixed bias in their findings.
Third-party providers, like Uptech provide objectivity, technical adeptness, and impartiality in the code review workflow. We are helpful for startups that have limited capacities for such tasks or need a different perspective. However, outsourcing app developers might take more time to familiarize themselves with the code base, tech stack, and business logic.
Now let’s dive deeper into code auditing: types, tools, and methods
Modern apps run with software frameworks and infrastructures designed to support different devices. Therefore, code auditors employ different tools and techniques when inspecting specific software and tech stack.
The main types of software code audits
Most code audits fall into these categories.
Frontend code review
Frontend code review allows developers to identify issues that affect customer-facing solutions. It helps ensure a responsive user experience across computer and mobile screens.
Backend code review
Backend code checks involve scrutinizing codes that integrate with databases, microservices, and third-party providers for quality and performance issues. Auditors pay attention to code structure and tech stack versions when performing checks,
Security review requires tight scrutinization of potential vulnerabilities in code that hackers might capitalize on. For example, developers probe for memory leaks, weak encryption, and hardcoded credentials.
Auditing the app's infrastructure ensures scalability, availability, and security. It involves checking the cloud servers, storage, and services the app uses to engage the users.
The best code audit tools
Code auditing remains a vital task best performed by human developers. Nothing can replace the insight and experience a seasoned code auditor could offer. With that said, integrating software tools in the code auditing pipeline helps increase code check efficiency.
We share several useful code auditing tools below.
- GitHub allows code authors to assign reviewers to check and validate their codes before applying the changes. It enables software auditors to check design, style, and coding practices.
- Codesonar is a specialized tool for conducting in-depth dynamic security testing. It helps apps comply with stringent requirements by analyzing and identifying hidden vulnerabilities in the codebase.
- SonarQube analyzes software code and provides code quality metrics to help developers resolve problems efficiently. It provides actionable feedback and allows auditors to configure vital security rules.
- Synk is a code analysis tool that lets auditors run checks on security and dependencies issues. It integrates easily with cloud development pipelines and allows developers to resolve issues promptly.
- OWASP ZAP is an open-source web scanner that helps security teams identify vulnerabilities in applications. It also supports penetration testing, where security experts try to bypass the application’s security measures as hackers do.
Software code audit methods
Developers use several methods to run thorough checks in different situations when auditing codes.
Manual code review
Manual review complements automated tools to provide a thorough code auditing process. Seasoned developers rely on their years of practice to narrow down specific lines of code and identify deep-rooted problems.
Automated code review
Here, developers leverage automated audit tools to scan and report vulnerabilities, discrepancies, and other coding issues. This method efficiently analyzes a large code base but needs human developers to provide insights into the problem. Auditors use the following automated checks when assessing software codes.
- Static code analysis. Static code check helps inspect the code’s logic, structure, security, and compliance with best programming practices. For example, developers may analyze your codebase to determine if the login function handles user information with the proper security measures.
- Dynamic code analysis. Unlike a static audit, developers observe parameters, variables, data movements, and other changing factors when the application is running. For example, you can discover if there are any inconsistencies between your application and 3rd parties during a dynamic audit.
In performance profiling, auditors analyze the software infrastructure and code base for bottlenecks that may impact app performance. They use profiling tools to collect insightful data and make recommendations to improve scalability.
Security audit involves inspecting the app’s tech stacks and source code for vulnerabilities that bad actors may exploit. For example, auditors might review coding best practices, data handling, and authentication policies to assess the app’s cyber resilience.
Our Code Audit Process: 5 Main Stages
Before auditing codes, you should plan the process thoroughly to ensure it meets your business objectives and requirements. Different software auditors may have their respective auditing workflow.
Here’s how our team runs code audits and the approximate duration.
Step 1: Assess the project
During an introductory meeting, our team holds a detailed discussion with you to understand the auditing purpose and scope. For example, we’ll need clarity on whether you seek recommendations for a legacy application or an expert review for ongoing MVP development. Depending on your scenario, we’ll devise different auditing strategies.
Duration: several days
Pro tips: Always ensure the software auditor provides an auditing plan that suits your business needs.
Step 2: Review the software architecture
In the next stage, software architects analyze the technological framework that powers the software. This is an important practice at Uptech to understand the risks and challenges when reviewing the codebase and making recommendations later.
For example, modern cloud applications use microservices to provide the functionality to users. Microservices are small software components that talk to each other. Our team needs to map out the complex interaction paths between microservices to understand how the app functions.
Besides, our software architects also assess data storage, libraries, and programming languages to ensure they are up to date. We hope to preempt cases where startups face challenges when software programming frameworks become obsolete.
Duration: several days or weeks.
Pro tips: Technological choices that support software infrastructure shall be scalable to meet future demands.
Step 3: Determine appropriate audit methods
Depending on the application’s complexity, infrastructure, and business goals, we deliberate on the proper code audit methods and tools. No single choice fits all situations; therefore, we weigh our decision for each project differently.
For example, a fintech app requires strict regulatory compliance and robust resilience against data breaches. Hence, we’ll prioritize security checks with dynamic and static code analysis to ensure no data leakage or vulnerabilities throughout financial transactions.
Check out our Fintech Security Checklist
Also, we use manual and automated code checks, with varying degrees, to meet the audit requirements. In cases where we require a large team of human reviewers, we might take more time in preliminary preparations.
Duration: several weeks or months.
Pro tips: Choose audit methods that fit the project's purposes.
Step 4: Review the code
The next stage involves applying the chosen methods and tools to analyze the source code and associated frameworks. Software architects might start with automated scans to quickly provide insight into potential issues. Automated tools with static and dynamic test capabilities reveal common vulnerabilities like code injection and cross-site scripting. Such checks also analyze the code for standards compliance or performance issues.
Once the automated tools complete their findings, Our senior developers proceed with manual review. Often, we provide context to the results that automated tools generate. For example, audit tools can’t relate code structure to business workflow, but our developers can map different software functions with specific business functions. This way, we’ll find ways to optimize business logic.
We conduct this stage separately for front-facing apps and their backend applications.
Duration: several weeks or months.
Pro tips: Use the same audit standards throughout this stage to ensure consistency.
Step 5: Compile the findings
To wrap up the audit, we consolidate the results and present them in detail in the final audit report. Here, we prioritize the findings as some may require more urgent attention than others. We classify the audit information accordingly and provide descriptive information to help your team take remediation actions easily.
Duration: several days or weeks
Pro tips: Add relevant screenshots, charts, and logs to convey the findings effectively to the development team.
What’s the price of a software code audit?
The software audit process requires experienced and dedicated software developers and involves automated tools. It isn’t possible to provide a definite price for software auditing services. Each project has unique requirements, which require individual assessment and cost estimates.
With that said, the price of engaging software audit services from professional providers pales compared to the cost of deploying problematic applications. According to IBM, fixing bugs in the maintenance phase is 100 times more costly than in the design stage. This provides strong motivation to engage auditors to support your development efforts.
How to make code auditing successful: 3 Tips
Code auditing involves continuous engagement between your software team and third-party reviewers. It could be a stressful process without sufficient planning and careful implementation.
Here’s how to make code auditing a more positive experience.
1. Don’t wait until the final stage of development before reviewing the code.
Make code audits part of the development pipeline and review codes as your team builds more functions.
2. Implement good development practices right from the start.
A strong foundation goes a long way in reducing vulnerabilities and strengthening performance. Seek help from Uptech if you’re doubtful of your existing software development capabilities.
3. Make code auditing a collective responsibility and refrain from taking the results negatively.
Remember, the audit report serves as a medium for improvement for your entire team, not to assign blame to anyone.
Let’s sum up
Software code auditing is a vital process that ensures businesses release apps with strong confidence. With independent reviewers, you can avoid disappointing users with apps that perform unreliably, affecting revenue growth. Reviewing and compiling audit reports require a mix of experience, skill sets, and understanding of business logic.
Tell us about your project and our seasoned software architects will personalize your software audit strategy.
What is a software code audit?
Software code audit is a professional service for analyzing an application’s code base for performance issues, vulnerabilities, and non-recommended coding practices.
Who can perform a software code audit?
Code audits require an experienced developer to go through part of the entire source code. Technically, both internal developers and 3rd party auditors are qualified to perform software code audits.
What is the software audit process?
Project assessment –> Software architecture review –> Appropriate audit methods determination –> Code review