Secure programmer: validating input

Tuesday, 4 November 2003, 10:34 AM EST

In nearly all secure programs, your first line of defense is to check every piece of data you receive. If you can keep malicious data from entering your program, or at least keep it from being processed, your program becomes much harder to attack. This is very similar to how firewalls protect computer networks from attackers; it won't prevent all attacks, but it does make a program much more resistant. This process is called checking, validating, or filtering your data.

One obvious question is, where should the checking be performed? When the data first enters the program, or later by a lower-level routine that actually uses the data? Often, it's best to check in both places; that way, if an attacker manages to slip around one defense, they'll still encounter the other. The most important rule is that all data must be checked before it's used.

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