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Developer Ecosystems for Software Safety

ACM Queue, vol. 22 (2024), 73–99


This paper reflects on work at Google over the past decade to address common types of software safety and security defects. Our experience has shown that software safety is an emergent property of the software and tooling ecosystem it is developed in and the production environment into which it is deployed. Thus, to effectively prevent common weaknesses at scale, we need to shift-left the responsibility for ensuring safety and security invariants to the end-to-end developer ecosystem, that is, programming languages, software libraries, application frameworks, build and deployment tooling, the production platform and its configuration surfaces, and so forth. Doing so is practical and cost effective when developer ecosystems are designed with application archetypes in mind, such as web or mobile apps: The design of the developer ecosystem can address threat model aspects that apply commonly to all applications of the respective archetype, and investments to ensure safety invariants at the ecosystem level amortize across many applications. Applying secure-by-design principles to developer ecosystems at Google has achieved drastic reduction and in some cases near-zero residual rates of common classes of defects, across hundreds of applications being developed by thousands of developers.