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Writing Secure Code: A Comprehensive Guide by Microsoft Experts

Writing Secure Code: A Book Review

If you are a developer who cares about security, you might have heard of Writing Secure Code, a book by Michael Howard and David LeBlanc. This book is considered one of the classic references on how to develop software that can resist attacks from hackers, malware, and other threats. But what is this book really about? Who are the authors? And why is it important to write secure code? In this article, we will review Writing Secure Code and answer these questions.

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The Main Themes of the Book

Writing Secure Code covers three main themes: security principles, secure coding techniques, and special topics. Each theme consists of several chapters that explain security concepts, strategies, and practices that can help you make your code more robust and reliable.

Security Principles

The first theme of the book introduces some fundamental security principles that every developer should know and follow. These principles include:

  • The need for secure systems: why security matters, what are the common types of attacks, and how to measure security.

  • The security mindset: how to think like an attacker, how to avoid common pitfalls, and how to adopt a security culture.

  • The security development lifecycle: how to integrate security into every stage of software development, from design to deployment.

  • The threat modeling: how to identify and prioritize potential threats, vulnerabilities, and countermeasures for your application.

Secure Coding Techniques

The second theme of the book teaches you how to apply secure coding techniques to prevent or mitigate various kinds of attacks. These techniques include:

  • Buffer overruns: how to avoid one of the most common and dangerous programming errors that can lead to code execution, data corruption, or denial of service.

  • Access control: how to determine appropriate permissions for your resources, users, and processes.

  • Least privilege: how to run your code with the minimum amount of privileges necessary to perform its function.

  • Cryptography: how to use encryption, hashing, digital signatures, and other cryptographic methods to protect your data and communications.

  • Input validation: how to prevent evil input from causing harm to your application or system.

  • Database security: how to protect your data from SQL injection, cross-site scripting, data leakage, and other database-related attacks.

  • Web security: how to secure your web applications from common web-based attacks such as cross-site request forgery, session hijacking, cookie poisoning, and more.

  • Internationalization: how to handle different languages, character sets, and encodings in a secure way.

  • Socket security: how to secure your network communications using protocols such as SSL/TLS, IPsec, and Kerberos.

  • COM, ActiveX, and RPC security: how to secure your distributed components and inter-process communications.

  • Denial of service: how to protect your application from being overwhelmed by malicious requests or traffic.

  • File system security: how to secure your files and directories from unauthorized access or modification.

  • .NET security: how to use the .NET Framework features and tools to develop secure applications.

Special Topics

The third theme of the book covers some special topics that are relevant for writing secure code. These topics include:

  • Testing secure applications: how to perform security testing, code review, penetration testing, and fuzz testing.

  • Secure software installation: how to install your software securely and avoid common installation errors.

  • Good practices: how to follow some general good practices for writing secure code, such as using safe APIs, avoiding dangerous functions, using error handling, logging, and auditing.

  • Privacy: how to respect and protect the privacy of your users and customers.

  • Documentation: how to write clear and concise security documentation and meaningful error messages.

The Strengths of the Book

Writing Secure Code has many strengths that make it a valuable resource for developers who want to learn about security. Some of these strengths are:

Practical and Proven Advice

The book is full of practical and proven advice that comes from the authors' extensive experience in developing and securing software at Microsoft. The authors share their insights, lessons learned, best practices, and recommendations based on real-world scenarios and examples. The book also includes many case studies and anecdotes that illustrate the importance and impact of security in software development.

Sample Code and Examples

The book provides many sample code snippets and examples that demonstrate how to implement various security techniques in different programming languages and platforms. The book also provides links to online resources where you can download the full source code and additional materials. The sample code and examples help you understand the concepts better and apply them to your own projects.

Updated with Latest Security Threats and Best Practices

The book is updated with the latest security threats and best practices that have emerged since the first edition was published in 2001. The book covers new topics such as .NET security, Web security, internationalization, privacy, and documentation. The book also reflects the changes and improvements that Microsoft has made in its security development lifecycle, tools, and processes over the years.

The Weaknesses of the Book

Writing Secure Code is not a perfect book. It has some weaknesses that might limit its usefulness or appeal for some readers. Some of these weaknesses are:

Focused on Microsoft Technologies

The book is mainly focused on Microsoft technologies, such as Windows, Visual Studio, .NET Framework, COM, ActiveX, RPC, SQL Server, IIS, ASP.NET, etc. The book assumes that you are familiar with these technologies and use them in your development environment. If you are not a Microsoft developer or use other technologies or platforms, you might find some of the content irrelevant or less applicable to your situation.

Some Topics are Outdated or Too Technical

The book covers some topics that are outdated or too technical for most developers. For example, the book spends a lot of time on buffer overruns, which are less common in modern languages and frameworks that have built-in memory management features. The book also goes into a lot of detail on low-level topics such as assembly language, memory layout, stack frames, registers, etc., which might be too complex or unnecessary for most developers.

Not Very Engaging or Entertaining

The book is not very engaging or entertaining to read. The book is written in a dry and formal style that might bore some readers. The book also lacks humor, stories, or anecdotes that could make the content more lively and interesting. The book is more like a textbook than a novel.

The Key Takeaways from the Book


Writing Secure Code is a book that every developer who cares about security should read and follow. The book provides you with the knowledge, skills, and tools to develop software that can resist attacks from hackers, malware, and other threats. The book covers security principles, secure coding techniques, and special topics that are relevant for writing secure code. The book also offers practical and proven advice, sample code and examples, and updated information on the latest security threats and best practices.

If you are a Microsoft developer or use Microsoft technologies in your development environment, you will find this book especially useful and applicable to your situation. If you are not a Microsoft developer or use other technologies or platforms, you will still benefit from this book by learning the general security concepts and strategies that can be applied to any software development project.

Writing secure code is not easy, but it is possible and necessary. By reading this book and following its recommendations, you can improve your security skills and mindset, and make your code more robust and reliable. You can also protect your users and customers from potential harm and loss caused by security breaches. You can also enhance your reputation and credibility as a developer who cares about security.

So what are you waiting for? Get your copy of Writing Secure Code today and start writing secure code tomorrow!


Here are some frequently asked questions about Writing Secure Code and their answers.

Where can I get the book?

You can get the book from various online retailers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Microsoft Press Store. You can also download the PDF version of the book for free from here.

How long is the book?

The book is 800 pages long. It has 25 chapters and 5 appendixes. It also has a foreword by Brian Valentine, a senior vice president at Microsoft.

What are some other books on writing secure code?

Some other books on writing secure code are:

  • The Art of Software Security Assessment: Identifying and Preventing Software Vulnerabilities by Mark Dowd, John McDonald, and Justin Schuh.

  • The Web Application Hacker's Handbook: Finding and Exploiting Security Flaws by Dafydd Stuttard and Marcus Pinto.

  • Hacking: The Art of Exploitation by Jon Erickson.

  • Secure Coding in C and C++ by Robert C. Seacord.

  • Cryptography Engineering: Design Principles and Practical Applications by Niels Ferguson, Bruce Schneier, and Tadayoshi Kohno.

How can I learn more about security?

You can learn more about security by:

  • Taking online courses or certifications on security topics such as Coursera, Udemy, edX, etc.

  • Reading blogs, newsletters, podcasts, or magazines on security topics such as Krebs on Security, The Hacker News, Security Weekly, etc.

  • Joining online communities or forums on security topics such as Stack Overflow, Reddit, Quora, etc.

  • Attending security events or conferences such as Black Hat, DEF CON, RSA Conference, etc.

  • Participating in security challenges or competitions such as Hack The Box, Capture The Flag, etc.

How can I contact the authors?

You can contact the authors by:

  • Sending them an email at or

  • Following them on Twitter at @michael_howard or @dleb64.

  • Visiting their websites at or



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