Shifting left: DevSecOps basics

The historical divide: Development vs security

Software development and IT security have always been siloed disciplines. Developers focus on rapidly building new features and meeting tight deadlines. Security teams, on the other hand, are tasked with fortifying defenses and minimizing risk. This divide often breeds mistrust and friction. Developers often see security as an obstacle to innovation, while security views developers as reckless.

Birth of DevSecOps: A paradigm shift in software development

The rise of cloud computing, containers, and microservices has compelled a new approach to this dynamic. Businesses need to accelerate release cycles while still delivering secure, resilient systems. This goal requires breaking down barriers between development, security, and operations teams.

Out of this need, the DevSecOps methodology has emerged. DevSecOps integrates security practices into the entire software lifecycle, from design and coding to testing and deployment. By working together across disciplines, teams can build security into systems from the start.

Understanding the DevSecOps triad: Development, security, and operations

DevSecOps is based on a triad of collaboration between 3 key roles:

  • Development: Writes, tests, and builds code and applications. Focuses on delivering features and functionality.
  • Security: Identifies vulnerabilities, implements defenses, and protects systems and data. Brings security expertise.
  • Operations: Deploys and runs systems while monitoring performance. Ensures availability and reliability.

Together, these disciplines use automation, collaboration, and shared ownership to create secure systems rapidly and reliably.

Core principles of DevSecOps

Automation: Streamlining workflows for efficiency and consistency

DevSecOps relies heavily on automation to integrate security seamlessly into rapid development cycles. Automation promotes consistency, reduces human error, and speeds up processes like testing and infrastructure provisioning.

Continuous integration (CI): Weaving security into the development process

CI automates the process of developers frequently merging code changes into a shared repository. Security tools scan each change for vulnerabilities before code is integrated. This shifts security left in the development lifecycle.

Continuous delivery (CD): Ensuring safe and swift application deployment

CD uses automation to standardize and accelerate packaging and releasing applications. Infrastructure is provisioned on-demand. Policies enforce security standards across environments. Releases can be reliable and frequent.

Continuous monitoring: Vigilance beyond deployment

Monitoring continues beyond deployment to surface risks or threats. Logs, metrics, and events are analyzed in real-time. Alerts notify if anomalous activity occurs, enabling teams to respond quickly to incidents.

DevSecOps workflow

Source code management: Where security begins

Using source code management tools, developers check code into a shared repository. Security tools scan commits for risks. Code review meetings enable collaboration. Shared workflows and ticketing systems can further help issues get addressed before they hit production, saving time and money.

Security code scanning: Detecting vulnerabilities early

Static application security testing (SAST), dynamic application security testing (DAST), and Software composition analysis (SCA) tools automatically scan source code, infrastructure, dependencies, and more for security flaws. Security testing "shifts left" into development so vulnerabilities can be fixed earlier, preventing software delays and costly post-production fixes.

Automating testing: Building robust and secure software

Automated unit, integration, and system testing validate functionality and security. “Test early, test often” is the mantra. Comprehensive testing results in resilient code and infrastructure.

Infrastructure as code (IaC): Treating infrastructure as software

IaC tools automate provisioning to help you find and mix misconfigurations before they’re deployed, without disrupting the developer experience. IaC can help to secure and standardize infrastructure without the need to be a security expert. By sharing this data across teams an organization can reduce configuration drift for servers and networks, further improving compliance.

Collaborative culture and communication

Breaking down barriers: Fostering collaboration across teams

Effective collaboration and communication fosters shared responsibility for security. Teams use Slack channels, demos, and meetings to share knowledge. Everyone has context to make secure decisions.

Security champions: Advocates of secure development

Security champions are developers passionate about security. They educate teams on secure coding practices and detect vulnerabilities early. Champions increase accountability and expertise.

Cross-functional teams: Synergy between dev, sec, and ops

Developers, security teams, and operations work closely together, sharing context and priorities to unite expertise and align on objectives. Synergy results in systems developed collaboratively for security.

Security as code: Incorporating security throughout

Policy as code: Codifying security policies and standards

Policy as code is an approach to policy management that uses tools to translate security policies into machine-readable code. Essentially policies are defined, updated, shared, and enforced using code-based automation, making it easy for developers and security engineers to understand, and helps to enforce compliance automatically for all systems and environments. Policy is version-controlled, just like app code.

Threat modeling: Anticipating and mitigating risks

Threat modeling is a structured process that identifies security requirements, pinpoints threats and potential vulnerabilities, and prioritizes remediation methods early in development based on criticality and risk. Teams diagram system components, data flows, trust levels, and threats.

Security testing: Uncovering vulnerabilities before deployment

Automated tests validate that security requirements are met. Tests run early and often, shifting security left in the process. Testing uncovers bugs that could become vulnerabilities.

Challenges and best practices

Bridging the gap: Overcoming challenges in DevSecOps adoption

Adopting DevSecOps brings cultural and process changes. It requires executive buy-in, new hires, training, and breaking down silos to help bridge gaps. To ensure a smooth transition, this process is best implemented in incremental steps.

Implementing DevSecOps: Best practices for a successful transformation

  • Start small with pilots focused on automation. Choose mature tools with broad coverage.
  • Develop metrics to measure progress. Track velocity, defects, and risk coverage.
  • Formalize security practices into the process. Add gates for things like static analysis.
  • Form cross-functional teams. Foster collaboration and shared ownership for security.
  • Champion education and awareness around secure development.
  • Continuously optimize processes. Ask "how can we improve?" and respond.

Following these best practices will lead to a DevSecOps transformation that delivers more secure systems at speed and scale and reduces friction across teams.