Emergence of DevSecOps

Emergence of DevSecOps

by Vijay Kumar

Over the last decade, DevOps has transformed the software development landscape. The practice has led to development teams and IT operations working together to produce software faster. DevSecOps takes DevOps to the next level. In traditional software development, security teams got involved around the end of the development process, nearer to deployment. In a DevSecOps practice, the security tasks are prioritized from the start. It strengthens the DevOps process to create more secure and robust software.

What is DevSecOps?

In a DevOps environment, development and operations merge together. Teams use continuous integration (CI) and continuous delivery (CD) in an agile framework to achieve rapid development. DevOps teams concentrate on speed of delivery. They use techniques like automated builds and tests, faster fail cycles, regular code monitoring, and no-downtime deployments. Information security is often viewed as a bottleneck. Security practices are often considered antithetical to the fast-delivery objectives.

DevSecOps tries to automate core security tasks and incorporate them into the development pipeline. Automating security testing leads to streamlined processes that are more aligned with core DevOps goals. In a mature DevSecOps practice, traditional security tasks like access control, event monitoring, and vulnerability assessment become part of the day-to-day operation. The whole team is responsible for critical issues. Bottlenecks are avoided by using integrated security practices.

Benefits of DevSecOps Approach

It’s no secret that security breaches are expensive. According to a Ponemon Institute study sponsored by IBM, the average cost of a data breach for an organization is around $3.86 million. So it’s crucial to have robust security in any application. Here are some of the benefits of DevSecOps:

  • Cost Reduction: Incorporating security early in the development process prevents attacks. Prevention is more cost-effective than fixing a problem. Also, traditional security checks can slow down delivery. In the DevSecOps model, issues are resolved during development which results in less time and financial costs for security checks.
  • Faster Recovery: In DevSecOps, security testing is part of the pipeline. So when there is a security incident, the process allows faster detection and remediation of the problem.
  • Better Collaboration and Communication: In traditional IT practices, separate departments increase the chances of miscommunication. It can also lead to information flow problems. In a DevSecOps team, developers, IT operations, and security experts work together on a daily basis. It decreases the possibility of information gaps. It also results in better auditing and monitoring.

Delivers More Value to Customers: DevSecOps ensures “security by design”. Automated code reviews and customer-centric security deliver more robust and secure applications.

Implementing a DevSecOps Practice

Integrating security requires changes in mindset, processes, and technology. Bringing all of these components together is a difficult task. From a security perspective, a DevSecOps team should consider the following areas when implementing a practice:

  • Security Engineering – Teams should experiment with various processes to ensure code security. Automation and testing should be an integral part of the process.
  • Security Operations – For any security incident, teams should plan a detection and containment process.
  • Compliance Operations – Complying with various rules and regulations, like GDPR or PCI DSS, is part and parcel of running a business. Developers should be trained to manage compliance requirements.
  • Security Science – DevSecOps processes should have monitoring tools in place to learn, measure, and model threats and vulnerabilities.

With the above functions in mind, DevSecOps teams can follow the guidelines below to implement an integrated workflow:

Automate Processes and Change Management

Organizations use DevOps to speed up their development processes. Teams might end up delivering or deploying the application multiple times per day. It’s not possible to run manual security checks if an application is deployed 50 or 100 times a day. So automation needs to be a high priority. Access controls and tests need to be embedded into the code. There should be a mechanism to trigger security tests automatically. Any changes to the code should be easily traceable.

Implement Analysis and Audits for Code Dependencies

Most applications are not developed from scratch. Often developers use third-party dependencies. Whether they are open source or proprietary libraries or frameworks, DevSecOps teams need to address related issues using code analysis and audits. Tools like Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) Dependency-Check[] can help. The tools can scan code bases to find vulnerabilities.

Take an Adaptive Approach to Security

Organizations often try to put in place all security measures at once. This can be overwhelming. Instead, organizations should introduce testing tools and processes in steps. It will give developers time to adapt to the changes. It’s not possible to eliminate all vulnerabilities at once. So the security testing process itself should be continuously improved with each iteration. Also, time and risk factors should be taken into consideration. For example, running comprehensive static application security testing (SAST) is time-consuming. Developers can design more targeted SAST tests to balance between test coverage and time efficiency.

Evaluate the Tools

The quality of a DevSecOps practice depends a lot on the tools. Due to the emerging nature of the discipline, the quality of the tools can be unreliable. So teams need to make sure they are not using anything that is subpar. False positives or inaccurate results will slow down the pipeline. So DevSecOps teams need to have processes to test the tools they are using.

Manage Risks Using Threat Modeling and Vulnerability Assessment

For secure applications, software architects need to assess threats and vulnerabilities. But creating models to evaluate the risks can be time-consuming. Even with automation, threat modeling can be a slow process. But threat modeling and vulnerability assessment provide enormous value. So development teams should make sure these processes are part of their pipelines.

Train Developers for Security

Most developers learn to code for performance and speed. They don’t have the necessary training to optimize code for security. So organizations need to invest in training for secure coding. Developers don’t need to become security experts. But they should understand the basic principles. They should know the risks of basic threats like SQL injection, embedded password or hardcoded credential. Knowing the basics can prevent a lot of common mistakes.

Investment for the Future

DevSecOps takes time and patience. It requires new tools and processes. The above guidelines can provide some direction. But every organization has to find its own path. If organizations don’t start the process early, they risk falling behind in the long run. So they should start as soon as possible to have a competitive advantage in the future.

Vijay is a Senior DevOps Engineer and Systems Architect at Practical Logix

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