Debug Like a Boss

You wake up, and probably check your smartphone immediately. Chances are
you already have smart devices at home; like light bulbs, you turn on
and off from the same smartphone. You often check traffic and estimated
time arrivals of your commute by using an app or online service.
Software aids plenty of operations while you drive, like braking and
accelerating (even if you’re not aware). No matter the job, work has to
cross over digital boundaries. Also, to see your friends or family, a
piece of software might be in the midst. Much of the time, consciously
or not, our lives develop over software grounds.

Softare is eating the world

Figure 1. Software is eating the world by Gerd Leonhard. Source flickr

Corporations have brought us software. They now depend heavily on coding
for sustainability and to keep competitiveness. Organizations of all
sorts are becoming more like tech companies focused on specific
services. The shift is more clear in some industries like banking: no
bank would survive without information technology. IT spending keeps
growing across the
You probably have read that “software is eating the world”, a sentence
by Marc Andreessen —Netscape founder and venture capitalist—, written
in an op-ed back in 2011. It has already eaten nearly everything.

Why bugs and vulnerabilities should be CEO’s top of mind

With software so pervasively present, corporations should consider
putting more attention on theirs at a strategic level. A recent Harvard
Business Review piece written by Nicholas Bowen suggests that fixing
software defects should be a CEO’s priority. We can’t agree more. Some
global cases support this view.

In 2003, there was a massive blackout in North
covering several states in the US and Canada. More than 50 million
people were left with no electricity for two days or more. An
investigation found a race
was present in
a Unix-based system (XA/21), which stalled a critical process. Last
year, a software defect caused two fatal incidents in two brand-new
Boeing 737 MAX. The press coverage was massive. The bug affected a
critical alarm for captains, inhibiting timely maneuvering. Business

confirmed the airplane manufacturer knew the defect for around a year.
Bowen’s article draws upon two similar cases. One tells about how
Toyota settled a lawsuit in USD 1.1 billion by a sudden acceleration

in one of its models, which caused deaths. Again, it was a software bug.
In line with this type of defect, the National Highway Safety
Administration reported that only one car manufacturer recalled 80.000
vehicles in 2016 due to software defects. The other case is Microsoft,
which in the nineties experienced spectacular growth, so much that the
share of software defects and vulnerabilities among operative systems
around those years was higher for Windows. Do you remember the “blue

How much do other of these escapes —defects and weaknesses— cost to
corporations? More importantly, how much do they cost to society?
Vulnerabilities are rising and probably will keep growing. Organizations
can find a competitive advantage in paying more attention to software
quality, deployment, functionality, and security. Making sure testing
efforts are performed with high standards should be more prominent in
C-level discussions about product and service development and delivery.

Electronics related recalls from 2007 to 2016

Figure 2. Electronics related recalls from 2007 to 2016. Source Alixpartners.

What can be done about this?

Bowen suggests that asking simple questions can cause a turnaround by
making an organization proactive with software quality management. CEOs
could ask, “what criteria was used to determine when the product was
ready to be shipped?”
attempting to capture attention to quality
processes. Moreover, executives should ask for the defect status months
after releasing a software product, seeking to prevent significant size
events, like car or airplane crashes. In the case of an incident,
executives could ask, “how did the software get released with that type
of bug?”

These questions are important but aren’t enough. An effective quality
management system should be in place, and not every CEO is in a
position to assess that. At Fluid Attacks, we have blended robust
technology, automation, and the best hacking skills in the market to
address security quality issues in the whole software development
lifecycle. Our hacking tests
covers from static code analysis to attacks (controlled, of course) to
production environments. We centralize every security hole in our Attack
Resistance Management platform (ARM). And along with processes
and technology, our Criteria
act as unifying chain; a criteria to classify findings so customers
can quickly identify and decide where to start fixing defects.
We also test the effectiveness of fixes and break
the build every time software doesn’t follow those rules.

Will you ask those questions to your team? We can help by giving them to
you without even asking. Everything would be available at our ARM,
covering from very technical to strategic levels. Bowens propose a
simple 2x2 matrix to assess how an organization is performing based on
quality awareness and response to bugs. Fluid Attacks can help you
moving towards the upper-right.

Bowens Matrix

Figure 3. Bowens performance matrix. Source [1].

But, do not just ask for bug reports

In emergency rooms, medical staff has to make quick decisions under
uncertainty, with tight time frames and sometimes without clear how-to’s
to keep people alive in extreme conditions. Some researchers have found
a positive correlation between the number of mistakes made by teams and
their results. This is counterintuitive: more mistakes, better
. Best-performing groups show a riskier behavior (hence the
errors), but these teams also share more among themselves about those
risks and mistakes. In turn, they find better results from these
interactions, allowing more experimentation, and achieving incremental
improvements. Why? Psychological safety.

Psychological safety,
coined by professor Amy Edmonson, is a state where people aren’t
afraid to speak up
when needed and to accept their mistakes. Teams
feel psychologically safe when they expect no retaliation from sharing
uncomfortable yet essential matters to their peers and managers, like
pointing out something that might endanger a project just before it is
launched. Trust and openness are key.

Bowen’s related his own experience at IBM when software defects were
harming. A VP was commissioned to revert the trend and he had a motto:
“be forthright, and I’ll be forthcoming”. To make software defects and
security weaknesses chief for high leadership, companies have to create
a safe environment so technical teams aren’t hesitant to reveal what is
or might be wrong. If people think speaking out would threaten them,
they will be dangerously silent. Some incidents, like Boeing’s, seem to
reveal an effort to cover things up. In Volkswagen’s gas emission
scandal, people who bravely spoke up were fired.

We hope you have enjoyed this post, and we look forward to hearing from
you. Do get in touch with us!


  1. Bowen, N. (2019) Why Fixing Software Bugs Should Be the CEO’s
    Problem. Harvard Business

*** This is a Security Bloggers Network syndicated blog from Fluid Attacks RSS Feed authored by Julian Arango. Read the original post at: