The Challenge of Security in Offshore Software Development
We’ve discussed the pros and cons of augmenting your internal product team with offshore resources but there are many finer details you will discover once you hire a vendor. One of the biggest challenges is maintaining the security of your company's data and intellectual property. In this article, we will explore the challenges associated with offshore software development and provide some tips on how to maintain the security of your company's data and intellectual property.
When you work with an offshore software development team you are entrusting your intellectual property and confidential data to people who are not under your direct supervision. This might sound terrifying and frankly, it should, no matter what kind of product you build but there are ways to mitigate your risk and manage the relationship without compromising.
I worked for a healthcare technology company which meant we had some of the highest security requirements to protect our client's data. By having a focus on security, implementing industry standards, and focusing on finding the balance between creating a safe infrastructure and scaling, even the most regulated products can take advantage of offshore teams.
Some challenges you may be concerned with that need to be addressed include:
Data Leakage: One of the biggest risks of working with offshore teams is data leakage. This can occur when confidential information is leaked out of the company by an employee or contractor, intentionally or unintentionally. This can happen when offshore team members are not adequately trained in security protocols and procedures. Make sure you have your offshore team members take the same security and coding training as your internal team, and if you are not running a routine training program for either, invest in one.
Intellectual Property Theft: Another major concern is the theft of intellectual property. This can occur when offshore team members gain access to your source code, algorithms, or other proprietary information. They may use this information to create a competing product or to sell the information to third parties. Look, this is true of any new team member and it all comes down to proper vetting and oversight. Make sure you know who you’ve given access to your system and you can track what they do once inside. The reality is this can and had happened with third offshore teams but if you do your due diligence you’ll find any reputable vendor who wants to stay in business would steer clear of this practice.
Lack of Control: When you work with an offshore team, you have less direct control over the security of your data and intellectual property. You need to rely on the offshore team to follow your security protocols and procedures, which can be difficult to enforce. The key here is that you have them in place for your internal team and you actually enforce them. My advice here is that especially if you deal with sensitive data you already have a secure internal development practice in place before bringing in an offshore team. You can always increase the requirements and security with your new team but starting from scratch and trying to onboard a new group will lead to poor practices that will reduce your control and oversight in the long run.
Despite the challenges associated with offshore software development, there are several steps you can take to maintain the security of your company's data and intellectual property:
Use Secure Communication Channels: Make sure that all communication channels are secure. This means using encrypted email, video conferencing software, and file-sharing platforms. There are so many remote communication tools available to you but make sure you have vetted them and they meet your security requirements.
Implement Security Protocols: Develop a comprehensive security protocol that outlines how data and intellectual property should be protected. This protocol should be communicated to all offshore team members and enforced through regular training and monitoring. If this does not exist already, be careful to add team members before you have it in place. There are many standards you can follow and even certifications that may help your product stand out against the competition.
Use Secure Development Practices: Implement secure development practices that are designed to protect your company's data and intellectual property. This includes code obfuscation, code signing, and the use of secure development environments. Again, master this with your internal team, make code reviews and your QA process, and testing a machine before you add new members. You can have them preform their own QA but before the code goes live, your internal team gets to review and QA too.
Conduct Background Checks: Conduct background checks on all offshore team members to ensure that they are trustworthy and have a good track record. Lean on the vendor to supply these or run them yourself. While there are many benefits and reductions in HR activities with using offshore teams, you will still need to be to diligent and if you do have security protocols in place, they will often require background checks to be kept on file.
Monitor Access: Monitor all access to your company's systems and data. This will allow you to quickly detect any unauthorized access and take appropriate action. Having dedicated members of your organization focused on security will help you spot issues before they develop. This also creates a paper trail that will protect you from any criminal and civil penalties and more importantly will help you mitigate breaches.
Enforce Confidentiality Agreements: Require all offshore team members to sign confidentiality agreements that prohibit them from sharing any confidential information with third parties. Again, just like any employee, you can have strict employment agreements in place and often even more strict since it is a contract between two companies. Make sure the agreement you put in place is well thought out and ideally generated and reviewed by your company’s legal counsel.
Maintaining the security of your company's data and intellectual property is a critical part of working with offshore software development teams. By implementing the tips outlined in this article, you can reduce the risks associated with offshore development and protect your company's assets. Remember to communicate your security protocols and procedures clearly and enforce them through regular training and monitoring. With the right approach, you can successfully work with offshore teams while protecting your company's valuable assets.