What Is DevSecOps and Why Are You Doing Your Security Wrong?
The software development world has barely gotten used to the DevOps methodology (despite it being around for almost 10 years) and there is already a new trend emerging. This new trend is known as DevSecOps and it can be called a subset of DevOps. As you can guess by its name, DevSecOps emphasizes security and focuses on making software products more resilient to threats. So why might you want to reconsider your security measures after reading this article? Let’s get started.
What’s DevSecOps all about?
DevSecOps is a software development approach that encompasses development, security, and operations, and focuses on implementing and automating security at every phase of the software development cycle. In simple terms, DevSecOps ensures that you pay attention to security not at the end of the project development but from the very beginning of the process.
DevSecOps vs DevOps: what’s the difference?
It’s impossible to talk about DevSecOps without mentioning DevOps so let’s clarify things a bit.
DevOps is a software development methodology that allows an organization to deliver software products at a high velocity. This can be achieved by merging the teams together and making the development process easier by partially reducing a human factor with automation. With DevOps, there are no longer two separate teams each doing its own thing - instead, both development and operations teams work as one and share a common goal and vision. As well, DevOps brings the following to the development process: continuous development, continuous automated testing, continuous integration, and continuous delivery.
Now, as for DevSecOps, you can refer to it as a subset of DevOps. It’s basically the same approach but it places security in the center of attention. Because DevOps implies fast development, cumbersome and legacy security methods don’t work anymore - this is why DevSecOps was created. And by legacy security, we mean lack of automation and injection of security testing only before the release.
The reasons behind introducing DevSecOps (and why legacy security methods don’t work anymore)
As the IT world embraced the DevOps methodology, the development process was significantly accelerated. The new product versions are now released every few weeks (or it can be every day and even every hour) and new features are constantly added at a very high pace.
In such conditions, it became really hard to maintain the conventional approach towards development, QA, and security. Another big change was the shift to the cloud and deployment of microservice architecture. Because the apps are now broken down into smaller, independently-functioning parts, there appeared new possible ways of attacking them - and this is where conservative security methods lag behind.
Before, security was added to the project at the last stage after everything else was done. And it was considered enough in an environment where a software product was hosted on a physical server, was updated once a year (or every six months or so), and was not very scalable. But with years, the development process has changed a lot. The requirements towards infrastructure changed as well: security, scalability, and fault-tolerance have become a bare minimum.
As the number of technical solutions has grown, so has the number of potential vulnerabilities. It becomes increasingly hard to maintain the needed state of technical solutions, especially if your processes are not set up properly. So if you add security at the very last stage, you might risk redoing some parts of an app if any breach or weak spot is found. Just think about it: if you roll out new versions every few weeks and do not bother with checking their security, you are at a very high risk of a cybersecurity attack.
This is why DevSecOps was introduced as part of the DevOps approach and an attempt to inject security checks in all stages of product development. Now to the best part - how do you implement it?
Implementing DevSecOps 101
DevSecOps may sound intimidating especially if you are not feeling very comfortable with DevOps yet. But hear us out: DevSecOps is important if you want your products to be secure. In a world where the cost of a small data leak can be up to several million dollars, one cannot really afford to ignore security.
So what can you do right now to implement DevSecOps into your project without any stress? Here are a few good practices to start with.
“Shift left” approach
With traditional development, security was implemented in the end - or on the “right” side of the development process. DevSecOps suggests shifting it to the left, thus moving security to the beginning of the project and prioritizing it more.
What does the “shift left” approach bring to the project? In general, it helps developers code with security in mind and identify any threats or vulnerabilities at an early stage. Thus, as the product progresses, it won’t hoard hundreds of security bugs prior to the release.
Automation is your best friend when it comes to DevSecOps implementation. Due to the speed of development and release, it’s nearly impossible to physically track all vulnerabilities and detect bugs. Hence, you can use specialized automation tools for security testing.
There is a trick though. It’s not enough to just buy a security testing tool and let it loose - you need to step back, evaluate your process, and identify areas that call for automation. These are most often CI/CD pipelines, API management, operational management, release automation, and similar. So remember: first you identify areas to apply automation and only then you implement it.
Education on security
It is impossible to implement security at the beginning of the project without educating people on its importance first. One of the biggest problems that some dev teams have is the unwillingness of the team members to take on extra responsibilities and expand them beyond their customary ones. But if you want your software products to be not only high-performing but also secure, you must educate your team members on best practices of secure coding.
In the DevSecOps environment, it’s software engineers who are responsible for detecting and eliminating security vulnerabilities and breaches. Hence, without proper training, it will be challenging to implement DevSecOps. Some of the things that you can educate the team on are OWASP top 10, application security testing, and secure coding.
Despite the necessity to educate the whole team on security, there will always be this one person who is a bit more knowledgeable and experienced than others. Congratulations, it’s your security champion!
A security champion is a person who got advanced training on application security testing and can review the others and help them if needed. While a security champion can greatly help with DevSecOps implementation, you should not overlook the importance of general training that we just talked about. That also means a security champion should not be put in charge or assigned to a managerial position. This specialist can assist with certain things but does not do any decision-making.
The main benefits of DevSecOps implementation
We’ve already stated that security is the cornerstone of DevSecOps implementation - now let’s get more specific with all the benefits that this approach brings. But before we list down all the tangible benefits, first, ask yourself the following questions:
- What is the cost of your software being inoperable for an extended period of time??
- What will be the potential damage from a data loss?
- What will be the potential damage from a data leak?
If you have any hesitations about the implementation of DevOps and DevSecOps, we highly recommend answering these questions and estimating whether it’s worth it or not. In most cases, it turns out that the long-run damage from potential risks is much bigger than expected and could have been easily avoided if the processes were set up properly. Now, back to the benefits!
Faster development and deployment
Depending on the technical decision on security, you can either significantly or insignificantly slow down the release process. If one does not pay enough attention to security, in the end, you will inevitably face the need to redo certain parts of an application in order to eliminate vulnerabilities.
With DevSecOps though, you will be taking care of security from the start. And this means you won’t be facing gruesome security errors upon the product release and the chances for the delay will be significantly reduced. As well, mind the security automation that contributes to release speed as well.
We’ve talked about it from the start but let’s repeat once again: implementation of DevSecOps equals much better security of your software product. It helps minimize and mitigate risks, takes care of routine security checks, and overall helps you produce a product that will be error-proof in the long run.
Fast patching of vulnerabilities
Because DevSecOps places lots of attention on automation, that means that new vulnerabilities will be discovered and patched really quickly thanks to integrated vulnerability scanning. It means you won’t have to manually go through all the code to look for any new risks popping out: the system will do it for you.
The main challenges of DevSecOps implementation
We’ve talked about benefits and DevSecOps seems like a magic tool to help you with all your security worries. So why don’t we see too much of it in software projects?
Reason #1: Wrong priorities
In software development, there are hundreds of tasks to keep an eye on. Hence, all of them get prioritized so the team knows what to work on in the first place. Unfortunately, security often lags behind, giving its way to speed, functionality, or design.
But here is a trick: sacrificing security absolutely doesn’t work in the long run. Think about the following example: if your database gets stolen, it kind of won’t hurt your business much but it will most probably have a tremendously bad effect in the future. This kind of thinking gets many companies in trouble and all of it happens because of poor task prioritization.
Reason #2: Laziness
Unfortunately, that’s true. Some companies simply do not wish to worry too much about implementing a whole new approach when you can have things done the old way. As a result, you get a shaggy product that screams “I’m open to cyber attacks”.
Reason #3: Lack of general understanding
It’s hard to make changes when they don’t happen on the managerial level. When it comes to DevOps and DevSecOps, some companies still don’t understand what it’s all about and how it can bring tangible benefits when things seem to be working just fine.
As well, there is another misconception about DevOps which is: if things go wrong, a DevOps specialist will 100% save the day. Indeed, the implementation of DevOps will make things different but it may seem confusing and hard in the beginning. With time though, you will be rewarded with well-configured processes, fault-tolerant and scalable infrastructure, automation, and all needed security features which will be great both for product users and for your business.
There is still a lot left to say if talking about DevSecOps. But to sum things up, here is what you need to remember: if you really consider enhancing your security, you need to train everyone, including both managers and developers. The integration of DevSecOps does not happen in one day and it’s a gradual process that has to be supported by everyone on the team.
You might be having the following questions though: how much time will it take to implement DevSecOps (or DevOps), how much will it cost and what kind of resources are needed to implement these changes? Mostly, there are no answers to that as every business is unique. You can receive an approximate estimation only after a specialist has a look at your project and evaluates its current state (as well as your future goals) based on project and business requirements. Hence, if you consider transforming your processes for the better, contact us and we’ll figure out the most efficient way together.
SoftTecoView all articles by this author.