DevOps has quickly become a standard way of working for many software development processes. Yet with such a focus on speed - 83% of developers saying they're now releasing code faster than ever before - it's vital that security considerations aren't overlooked.
That's why evolving this into DevSecOps strategies that place security at their heart is vital. However, this can present its own challenges. Many of the testing processes that are fundamental to a successful DevSecOps strategy can be tedious, time-consuming and complex. Therefore, being able to automate these activities is a must if you're to ensure you can get quality, secure code into production as quickly as possible.
The benefits of an automated testing environment
Deploying automation at every stage of your DevSecOps testing process offers a range of advantages that can help ensure the final product is as high-quality as possible and no critical vulnerabilities have been overlooked. At the same time, using this technology greatly speeds up the process, thereby making it much more cost-effective.
Among the key benefits you can expect to see as a result of security automation include:
- Reduced risk of human error: Many manual testing processes can be tedious and require a lot of attention to detail. Taking them out of the hands of your team not only frees them up for more interesting work, but reduces the risk of mistakes.
- Earlier intervention: Automated processes allow any issues to be flagged up and rectified earlier in the software development, improving security and minimizing the need for large-scale changes later that may have unintended knock-on effects.
- Improved response processes: Streamlining the process with automation makes it easier for problems to be categorized and prioritized effectively.
- Better consistency: Automation offers a highly repeatable process, ensuring that every line of code is reviewed and tested in the same way. This prevents anything slipping through the nest and makes certain everyone can trust the process.
- Clearer understanding: By assigning actions automatically to the appropriate team member, this eliminates any confusion over who is responsible for the next steps.
What testing processes can be automated?
When planning an automation process, it's important to know where to focus your attention. Not every part of the DevSecOps process can benefit from these technologies, as there are times when it pays to have manual oversight of what's going on. For example, if a process has a lot of rigidly-defined policies that must be followed, an automation tool may not be the best way of meeting business objectives.
You also need to be aware of the risk of losing visibility into your processes if you become overly-dependent on automated testing solutions.
Therefore, understanding when automation can help with the limitations of manual testing is vital. For example, key factors that can indicate a task is suitable for this include:
- It’s straightforward
- It’s extremely repetitive
- It’s mundane and time-consuming
- It’s highly data-intensive
For example, tests that use well-defined processes to look for known security vulnerabilities, such as weak encryption ciphers and flaws that can lead to SQL injection attacks, are often suitable for automation as they’re relatively straightforward, but can take time to conduct manually. Meanwhile, the testing of security features such as authentication and authorization can be a highly structured, repetitive process that can easily be handed off to these tools.
3 best practices to streamline your testing procedures
Knowing what testing processes to automate is only the start. To be successful, it pays to follow a few key best practices to ensure you stand the best chance of getting positive results from these investments.
1. Know what the different types of scan involve
Step one should be to ensure you're familiar with the different types of scanning processes your automation tools can perform. For example, static application security testing (SAST) is essential for checking the quality of code, but it works best when automated in a few key places, such as prior to a build or when a developer commits code.
Elsewhere, dynamic application security testing (DAST) takes place after the code is built but before it reaches production, while container and configuration scanning tools should also feature in your automation testing environment.
2. Have clear goals
Ensuring everyone has the same, clear end goals in mind when implementing automation is also important - and this can be more complex than merely identifying and fixing security vulnerabilities.
These goals must be closely related to business objectives, ensuring the people running the test know what to focus on. For example, will it need to scale up? What metrics will you use to gauge its success? All these questions need to have clear answers set out before you start.
3. Use the right testing tools
There are a wide range of automation testing tools available to help your business streamline these processes. Therefore, it pays to take the time to evaluate what your requirements are and which technologies will be best-suited to meet your needs.
For example, open source tools may come with a clear, well-maintained framework and a strong support network, but they may not always offer the advanced technology or adaptability to your circumstances that you would get from a proprietary solution. Will you need to add custom scripting to meet your needs? If so, how much will this add to the time and cost of the project?