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Software for Dependable Systems: Sufficient Evidence? (2007)

Chapter: C: Statement of Task

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Suggested Citation:"C: Statement of Task." National Research Council. 2007. Software for Dependable Systems: Sufficient Evidence?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11923.
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C
Statement of Task

This project will convene a mixed group of experts to assess current practices for developing and evaluating mission-critical software, with an emphasis on dependability objectives. The goal of this study is to identify the kinds of system properties for which certification is desired, how that certification is obtained today, and, most important, what design and development methods, including methods for establishing evidence of trustworthiness, could lead to future systems structures that are more easily certified. Where these methods cannot be identified, the study will identify a research agenda that would lead to their discovery. The committee will address system certification, examining a few different application domains (e.g., medical devices and aviation systems) and their approaches to software evaluation and assurance. This should provide some understanding of what common ground and disparities exist.

The discussion will engage members of the fundamental research community, who have been scarce in this arena. It will consider approaches to systematically assessing systems’ user interfaces. It will examine potential benefits and costs of improvements in evaluation of dependability as performance dimensions. It will evaluate the extent to which current tools and techniques aid in ensuring and evaluating dependability in software and investigate technology that might support changes in the development and certification process. It will also use the information amassed to develop a research agenda for dependable software system development and certification, factoring in earlier High Confidence Software and

Suggested Citation:"C: Statement of Task." National Research Council. 2007. Software for Dependable Systems: Sufficient Evidence?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11923.
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Systems research planning. It will also investigate ideas for improving the certification processes for dependability-critical software systems. The work of the expert committee will culminate in a written report with recommendations, which will be subject to National Research Council review processes.

Suggested Citation:"C: Statement of Task." National Research Council. 2007. Software for Dependable Systems: Sufficient Evidence?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11923.
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Suggested Citation:"C: Statement of Task." National Research Council. 2007. Software for Dependable Systems: Sufficient Evidence?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11923.
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Page 130
Suggested Citation:"C: Statement of Task." National Research Council. 2007. Software for Dependable Systems: Sufficient Evidence?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11923.
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Page 131
Suggested Citation:"C: Statement of Task." National Research Council. 2007. Software for Dependable Systems: Sufficient Evidence?. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/11923.
×
Page 132
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The focus of Software for Dependable Systems is a set of fundamental principles that underlie software system dependability and that suggest a different approach to the development and assessment of dependable software.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to assess the dependability of software. The field of software engineering suffers from a pervasive lack of evidence about the incidence and severity of software failures; about the dependability of existing software systems; about the efficacy of existing and proposed development methods; about the benefits of certification schemes; and so on. There are many anecdotal reports, which—although often useful for indicating areas of concern or highlighting promising avenues of research—do little to establish a sound and complete basis for making policy decisions regarding dependability. The committee regards claims of extraordinary dependability that are sometimes made on this basis for the most critical of systems as unsubstantiated, and perhaps irresponsible. This difficulty regarding the lack of evidence for system dependability leads to two conclusions: (1) that better evidence is needed, so that approaches aimed at improving the dependability of software can be objectively assessed, and (2) that, for now, the pursuit of dependability in software systems should focus on the construction and evaluation of evidence.

The committee also recognized the importance of adopting the practices that are already known and used by the best developers; this report gives a sample of such practices. Some of these (such as systematic configuration management and automated regression testing) are relatively easy to adopt; others (such as constructing hazard analyses and threat models, exploiting formal notations when appropriate, and applying static analysis to code) will require new training for many developers. However valuable, though, these practices are in themselves no silver bullet, and new techniques and methods will be required in order to build future software systems to the level of dependability that will be required.

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