Multifactor authentication (MFA) is becoming increasingly standard within software development organizations, with GitHub recently announcing that two-factor authentication (2FA) will be mandatory for all code contributors by the end of 2023.
This is a smart move. In recent years, bad actors have frequently initiated attacks by accessing source code through the use of stolen developer credentials. Once inside, they quickly penetrate organizations’ entire code repositories and elevate access to company-wide systems. This was the case with the 2021 SolarWinds compromise that ultimately jeopardized federal agencies, corporations and governmental institutions.
But for some developers with lofty goals and concentrated timelines, MFA is an extra step that has the potential to slow them down. As organizations continue to implement MFA and other foundational security controls, they may face pushback—but they shouldn’t be deterred. MFA is a critical attack barrier that improves individual protections and can contribute to tightened source code security.
If organizations approach implementation thoughtfully, they can lay the foundation for subsequent security controls—and build credibility among their users and within the larger development community.
The Risks of Lax Individual Developer Security
Organizations’ source code typically powers a host of upstream programs and products, so it’s valuable for bad actors to launch attacks by infiltrating their repositories. Attackers can also hide malware in source code that can be escalated to breach entire systems and third-party organizations. This risk is heightened by the fact that many companies rely solely on antivirus scans and other surface-level monitoring tools to flag source code vulnerabilities instead of combining them with dynamic testing and penetration testing.
Attackers typically gain access to source code through stolen developer credentials. While single authentication systems—i.e., usernames and passwords—are the easiest to compromise, MFA creates an additional barrier that’s more difficult for attackers to overcome. While this tool does create additional friction in the development process, it’s worth the extra step. Even for hobbyist or open source developers, compromised source code can cause larger repercussions that put other developers at risk. When it comes to cyberattacks, it’s best to assume any entity is a potential target.
Beyond individual security, MFA and other foundational controls are critical to safeguarding organizational reputations and adhering to legal privacy standards. By 2023, 65% of the global population will have personal data covered by privacy regulations. Security measures that protect authentication credentials will become even more important in the coming years, especially for organizations producing source code that powers consumer-facing products and programs. With an intentional approach to implementation, MFA can help mitigate potential source code attacks—and form the basis of comprehensive security programs.
Four Steps to Successful MFA Implementation
The benefits of MFA far outweigh the cost of user friction and developer pushback. Get the most out of this authentication technology by following these four steps to implementation.
- Start small and build credibility. Approach implementation gradually to help developers understand MFA’s value. Successful implementation will give your leadership and security teams credibility for future security initiatives, and it will improve processes for security integration into your larger software development life cycle.
- Examine your security program’s value chain. Implementing foundational security controls like MFA provides an opportunity to examine your security program’s entire value chain. Take time to look for potential vulnerabilities beyond your source code repository and flag areas within your development lifecycle that may create risk.
- Layer subsequent security controls. With MFA under your belt, build up your security program with other tools and controls—like dynamic and penetration testing, source code scanning, software composition analysis (SCA) and vulnerability management. The more security tools you layer, the harder you make it for attackers to succeed.
- Plan for continuous optimization. Attackers will devise more ways to thwart MFA as more organizations mandate it. For example, the popularity of using SMS as a second form of authentication declined when attackers developed methods to gain control of mobile phones. To keep up with evolving attacker behaviors, continuously optimize your MFA technology and subsequent security controls.
MFA Will Become the Industry Standard
As bad actors evolve attack methods and privacy regulations strengthen, MFA will undoubtedly become an industry standard for protecting source code repositories.
To stay ahead of the curve, focus on the concept of MFA throughout your network by ensuring it protects every system entry point. This extra step is an easy price to pay for improved source code protection—and ultimately safeguards every asset, product and program your code powers. Thoughtfully implementing MFA can lay the foundation for comprehensive source code protection.