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Sonar: a powerful ally in meeting NIST SSDF code security requirements

Using SonarLint with SonarQube or SonarCloud helps you follow the best practices laid out in the NIST SSDF to meet code security requirements.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Understanding NIST SSDF
  • How Sonar helps
  • Conclusion


Secure software development is more critical than ever in today's world. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has developed the Secure Software Development Framework (SSDF) to provide recommendations for mitigating the risk of software vulnerabilities and cyber security attacks. It's designed to be adaptable without being specific to a methodology so you can easily integrate it into your existing software development lifecycle (SDLC) and fit it into your specific organization's size, risk profile, and security practices. This article explores how Sonar's static code analysis solutions, including SonarQube, SonarCloud, and SonarLint, help organizations meet NIST SSDF code security requirements.

Understanding the NIST SSDF

The NIST SSDF specifications, as outlined in the NIST publication, aim to reduce the number of vulnerabilities in released software, mitigate the potential impact of the exploitation of undetected or unaddressed vulnerabilities, and address the root causes of vulnerabilities to prevent future recurrences. The NIST SSDF 1.1 framework is organized into the following four groups, each focusing on a specific aspect of security risk during software development.

  1. Prepare the Organization (PO)
  2. Protect the Software (PS)
  3. Produce Well-Secured Software (PW)
  4. Respond to Vulnerabilities (RV)

Each group contains specific practices and tasks to enhance software security and quality. Sonar solutions play an essential role in supporting these practices, particularly in code analysis, vulnerability detection, and continuous improvement.

How Sonar Helps Meet NIST SSDF Code Security Requirements

Using SonarLint with SonarQube or SonarCloud helps you follow the best practices laid out in the NIST SSDF. In addition, at Sonar, we firmly believe that while security is essential, and our products have potent capabilities that address it, an application security tool alone is not enough to protect your applications. A comprehensive code quality solution that Sonar provides with SonarLint, SonarQube, and SonarCloud is needed to ensure the stability and longevity of your apps. After all, apps that are not reliable or maintainable are also less easy to secure. 

Let's look at how Sonar solutions SonarQube and SonarCloud can help you meet the NIST SSDF code security requirements for each of the four groups and the practices listed within those groups.

Note: For the remainder of this article, we will use SonarQube to describe how it helps meet the NIST SSDF requirements. The information below also applies to SonarCloud, our cloud-based solution with similar functionality to SonarQube. 

1. Prepare the Organization (PO)

This group focuses on establishing a security culture within the organization and creating an environment that prioritizes secure software development practices. 

  • Implement Supporting Toolchains (PO.3): SonarQube integrates seamlessly into existing toolchains, providing automated code analysis and continuous inspection capabilities. By incorporating SonarQube into the development pipeline, organizations can ensure that security practices are consistently applied throughout the SDLC.

  • Define and Use Criteria for Software Security Checks (PO.4): Once you define your specific security posture, you can configure SonarQube quality profiles and custom security engine configurations (available in the Enterprise edition) so your development teams follow your company-specific policies as they code. Organizations can define custom quality gates and security rules in SonarQube that align with their specific security requirements. These criteria can be enforced automatically, ensuring that code meets predefined security standards before it is merged or released. 

2. Protect the Software (PS)

This section emphasizes safeguarding all software components so that only authorized access is allowed and any tampering is prevented.

  • Protect All Forms of Code from Unauthorized Access and Tampering (PS.1): SonarQube's integration with version control systems (VCS) like Git and strict authentication mechanisms ensures that all code changes are tracked and audited. Configuring SonarQube authentification and user and group permissions syncing through your DevOps CI platforms or IDP can prevent unauthorized access. This also helps prevent unauthorized modifications and maintains the integrity of the codebase.

  • Provide a Mechanism for Verifying Software Release Integrity (PS.2): SonarQube's Quality Gates feature allows organizations to set predefined criteria that must be met before code can be released, ensuring integrity throughout the development process. SonarQube also generates detailed reports on code quality and security, which can be used to verify the integrity of software releases. These reports provide insights into potential bugs, vulnerabilities, and code smells, ensuring that only well-secured software is deployed.

3. Produce Well-Secured Software (PW)

This section highlights activities that lead to developing software with minimal security vulnerabilities, such as secure design principles, threat modeling, secure coding practices, recurring code reviews, and static analysis.

  • Design Software to Meet Security Requirements and Mitigate Security Risks (PW.1): SonarQube's static code analysis helps not only identify security vulnerabilities but also code quality issues early in the development process, allowing developers to address issues during the design and implementation phases. SonarQube's Static Application Security Testing (SAST) engine includes Deeper SAST, and advanced taint analysis features to identify deeply hidden security issues that arise from interactions with third-party open-source libraries. Secrets detection with the ability to detect custom secrets (in SonarQube Enterprise Edition) prevents leakage and reduces exposure to illicit access. Security hotspots identified by SonarQube in your code keep your development teams alert to possible threats and aware of your security policies.

  • Review the Software Design to Verify Compliance with Security Requirements and Risk Information (PW.2): SonarQube's detailed reports and dashboards provide visibility into code quality and security, facilitating design reviews and compliance checks. Risk assessments can be conducted leveraging downloadable security reports in SonarQube Enterprise Edition, which help verify the security status of your code against common security standards like OWASP Top 10, OWASP ASVS, and CWE Top 25.

  • Reuse Existing, Well-Secured Software When Feasible Instead of Duplicating Functionality (PW.4): SonarQube can detect code duplication, encouraging developers to reuse existing, well-tested code rather than reinventing the wheel.

  • Create Source Code by Adhering to Secure Coding Practices (PW.5): SonarQube supports a wide range of coding standards and secure coding practices. It enforces coding standards and best practices through its rule sets, which can be customized to align with organization-specific secure coding guidelines. It automatically detects violations and provides actionable feedback to developers, helping them adhere to best practices and reduce the number of security vulnerabilities in the code.

  • Configure the Compilation, Interpreter, and Build Processes to Improve Executable Security (PW.6): By integrating SonarQube into the build process, organizations can ensure that security checks are performed at every stage of development. This includes Static Application Security Testing (SAST) analysis, which identifies potential security issues early in the development cycle, reducing the cost and effort required to fix them.

  • Review and/or Analyze Human-Readable Code to Identify Vulnerabilities and Verify Compliance with Security Requirements (PW.7):  This is a core strength of SonarQube. Its SAST engine thoroughly examines code for vulnerabilities, coding standard violations, and security issues. It identifies common security issues such as SQL injection, cross-site scripting (XSS), and buffer overflows, ensuring that code complies with security requirements. Robust reporting capabilities and product dashboards help verify compliance with requirements.

4. Respond to Vulnerabilities (RV)

Lastly, this section focuses on the processes for identifying, mitigating, and remediating vulnerabilities discovered in software after it is released.

  • Identify and Confirm Vulnerabilities on an Ongoing Basis (RV.1): SonarQube continuously monitors code for new vulnerabilities, providing real-time feedback to developers. Sonar shortens the detection and remediation cycle by providing developers with accurate, up-to-date vulnerability information within their daily workflows. This proactive approach helps organizations identify and address security issues promptly, reducing the window of opportunity for attackers. 

  • Assess, Prioritize, and Remediate Vulnerabilities (RV.2): SonarQube's detailed reports prioritize vulnerabilities based on their severity and impact on code quality, allowing organizations to focus on the most critical issues first. The platform also provides remediation guidance, helping developers fix vulnerabilities efficiently.

  • Analyze Vulnerabilities to Identify Their Root Causes (RV.3): SonarQube's detailed issue descriptions, using the Learn as You Code (LaYC) methodology and code navigation features, help developers understand and address the root causes of vulnerabilities. By understanding the underlying causes, organizations can implement preventive measures to avoid similar issues in the future.


Sonar solutions, including SonarLint, SonarQube, and SonarCloud, help you meet NIST SSDF code security requirements and enhance overall code quality. Sonar addresses critical NIST SSDF practices for protecting and securing software and responding to vulnerabilities, making it essential for a comprehensive, secure development lifecycle. You can build secure, reliable, and maintainable software with Sonar's Clean Code solutions. 

Reach out to a live representative to learn more. Or get started using SonarCloud or SonarQube today.

This article was written by Robert Curlee.

  • July 10, 2024