How to Support DevOps Security Without Ditching Innovation and Speed

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Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Embracing DevSecOps will be essential if firms want to create innovative applications quickly and securely.

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How to Support DevOps Security Without Ditching Innovation and Speed
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In the current environment, security needs to be a top priority for any software development project. Hackers are always on the lookout for new vulnerabilities within applications that can give them access to valuable data, and this can leave businesses paying a heavy price.

But implementing security throughout the process is often a significant challenge, especially when businesses are embracing more modern, fast-moving forms of development such as DevOps. This places a premium on speed and agility, but such methods often clash with traditional approaches to ensuring security.

So how do you ensure that your applications are as safe as possible without compromising on speed of development or innovation?

Understand the vulnerabilities you’ll face

One of the key challenges for developers is there's no such thing as inherently secure programming language. In fact, the most popular, and therefore often most useful, options are likely to have more vulnerabilities, simply because more people will be working with them.

Therefore, it's essential to have a thorough understanding of the unique quirks and behaviors of your chosen language that could put your application at risk. For instance, the likes of Python, Ruby and Java can all be vulnerable in different ways to unvalidated user-defined data entries, which can then be used to run exploits.

Taking the time to learn your language inside out is just the first step in avoiding these issues. You also need to understand the frameworks, ensure all your packages are up to date, and, most importantly, design your applications from the ground up with security in mind, and not just consider it as an afterthought.

The importance of DevSecOps

This is easier said than done, however. In many approaches to software development, security is viewed as a discrete element that's only reviewed at the end of the process, and is left to specialist security teams to test and check. And if new bugs are discovered after a build has been completed, this slows down the process.

Therefore, it's vital that DevOps approaches take into account security at every stage - what's known as DevSecOps. As the name suggests, this involves adding security practices throughout the development so any vulnerabilities can be addressed as soon as they arise.

However, this can't be achieved unless development and security teams are in full alignment and not separated into their own silos. This requires each team to find common ground and build their understanding of how the other side works so they can integrate their own processes.

For developers, this means appreciating the value of security and improving their code-writing skills to reduce bugs, while security pros need to understand developer timelines, tools and processes.

Prioritize development fixes

Once security has been integrated into the development process, it's also important to know where to start when it comes to fixed vulnerabilities. While you can't afford to let known issues pile up - creating a 'security debt' that leads to more work later - taking on every bug at once, as soon as they’re discovered, can slow development to a crawl.

Not every vulnerability will be mission-critical, so being able to identify the potential impact of a vulnerability and prioritize it accordingly is essential in keeping development processes on track. Yet this is something many professionals struggle with, according to a report from Securosis.

"During our research many security pros told us that all vulnerabilities started looking like high priorities, and it was incredibly difficult to differentiate a vulnerability with impact on the organization from one which did not." - Securosis, Building an Enterprise DevSecOps Program
 

Getting to grips with this is therefore a vital part of any successful DevSecOps development, and one where a close working relationship between developers and security professionals will be especially useful.

Embrace automation

Automated tools are another essential if security is to be maintained without hampering the development process. Being able to test and check code as it's created throughout the process provides you with a seamless and continuous workflow, rather than one that has to be paused at periodic intervals for manual testing to be performed.

This is especially the case when pursuing a DevOps approach. These methods may see new versions of code created and pushed out many times per day, so using manual processes to look for vulnerabilities is often impractical.

Around 40% of IT professionals surveyed by Sonatype say they run automated security tests throughout the entire development lifecycle. There are a wide range of DevSecOps tools available that can help you automate every aspect of your security processes, from source-code analysis to post-deployment monitoring.

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