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Plutora Blog - DevOps, IT Governance, Software Development

DevSecOps: A Complete Guide to What, Why, and How

Reading time 13 minutes

If done right, DevOps implementation should bring fruitful results to any organization: better collaboration between teams, faster time to market, improved overall productivity, and enhanced customer satisfaction, to name a few.

But what good will all of these positives do for your company if you aren’t prioritizing security? Focusing on leveraging DevOps to improve your workflow while ignoring security issues is like trying to push water uphill with a rake.

On the other hand, the “Sec” in DevSecOps can be the Robin to your DevOps Batman—a trusty sidekick providing continuous backup. This article will walk you through everything you’ll want to know about creating your own DevSecOps methodology.

Security—The Traditional Way


Before the advent of DevOps, organizations executed their products’ security checks at the final stages of the software development life cycle (SDLC). Because the focus was predominantly on application development, this meant security was deemed to be less important than the other stages. By the time engineers performed security checks, the products would have passed through most of the other stages and been almost fully developed. So discovering a security threat at such a late stage meant reworking countless lines of code, an agonizingly laborious and time-consuming task. Not surprisingly, patching became the preferred fix. Thus, security was viewed as merely a gut feeling that nothing would go wrong, rather than investing the necessary time and money to bolster it concretely in the pipeline.

Where and How It All Went Wrong

IT infrastructure has evolved enormously in the last decade. However, there hasn’t been an equivalent advancement when it comes to the majority of security and compliance monitoring tools. The end result is that most tools can’t test code as fast as a typical DevOps environment demands.

Also, cybercrime attacks have increased at an alarming rate. A report from Juniper Research predicts that as more business infrastructures get connected to each other, the average cost incurred from a single data breach will be more than $150 million by the year 2020.

Implementing DevSecOps has a direct positive impact, as it helps manage these potentially devastating challenges.

What Is DevSecOps?

DevSecOps Diagram
Security in every stage of the DevOps process

“Rapid and secure code delivery” may be an oxymoron to most businesses. But DevSecOps aims to change that assumption.

DevSecOps is a way of approaching IT security with an “everyone is responsible for security” mindset. It involves injecting security practices into an organization’s DevOps pipeline. The goal is to incorporate security into all stages of the software development workflow. That’s contradictory to its predecessor development models—DevSecOps means you’re not saving security for the final stages of the SDLC.

If your company already does DevOps, then it’s a good idea to consider shifting toward DevSecOps. At its core, DevSecOps is based on the principle of DevOps, which will help your case for making the switch. And doing so will enable you to bring together proficient individuals from across different technical disciplines to enhance your existing security processes.

DevSecOps Myths

It’s common for buzzwords to have anti-patterns, and DevSecOps is no exception. Let’s discuss some common misconceptions.

Myth 1: We Need “Super Developers” for DevSecOps!

Not really. If you think you need to recruit certain people with magical coding skills for DevSecOps, then you’re mistaken. Unless you can’t train your existing people effectively or your developers aren’t interested in making the DevSecOps shift, you don’t have to put on your hiring cap just yet. DevSecOps aims to break down silos. Your development team, which is comprised of people with different skill sets, will receive training on DevSecOps processes and methodologies that should hold well throughout your delivery pipeline. So you’ll be bringing together existing teams—not hiring a new separate team.

Myth 2: DevSecOps Can Replace Agile

It can’t. DevSecOps complements agile, but it’s not a substitute for it. They must co-exist in order for organizations to maximize their business benefits. Agile fosters collaboration and constant feedback. But unlike DevSecOps, it doesn’t cover software delivery through testing, QA, and production. DevSecOps completes the picture by providing methodologies and tools to facilitate agile adjustments.

Myth 3: You Can Buy DevSecOps

Not exactly. You can only buy tools to use for the process, such as release management and CI/CD tools. You can’t buy the entire DevSecOps process because it’s a philosophy or a methodology. What really makes a difference to your business—the collaboration between teams and the focus on team responsibility and ownership—are things you can’t go out and buy.

What to Look for in a DevSecOps Engineer

As more and more enterprises are beginning to realize their significance, DevSecOps engineers are becoming highly sought after. What will the best ones bring to the table?

The role of a DevSecOps engineer demands a few supplementary skill sets. Thorough knowledge of DevOps principles, practices, and culture is a must-have. Candidates should have a strong understanding of languages such as Python, Java, and Ruby. And a good DevSecOps engineer will also know programs such as Chef, Puppet, Checkmarx, and ThreatModeler.

Besides this, DevSecOps professionals must know the intricacies of risk assessment and threat-modeling techniques. They’ll be up to date in their knowledge of cybersecurity threats, modern-day best practices, and other related software. And as far as work experience goes, DevSecOps experience is of course ideal. But prior experience in non-DevOps IT security can be a decent indicator of future success in DevSecOps.

DevSecOps Best Practices

The following factors facilitate and constitute an important role in implementing DevSecOps.

Practice Secure Coding

The obvious importance of secure coding is the ability to develop software that has a high resistance to vulnerabilities. Not practicing secure coding may invite a multitude of software security risks, such as a breach of an organization’s confidential information. Hence, it’s crucial that your developers are skilled enough to do it—even if it translates to a time and cost investment. Establishing and adhering to coding standards also come in handy, as they help developers write clean code.  

Embrace Automation

Just like it is in DevOps, automation is a key characteristic in DevSecOps. In order to match the pace of security with your code delivery in a CI/CD environment, automation of security is a necessity. This is especially true for large organizations where developers push various versions of code to production multiple times a day.

It’s important to be thoughtful when automating security testing. Choosing the wrong automated tools for the wrong purposes can be detrimental. Static Application Security Testing (SAST) tools are widely preferred to continuously check and identify any potential issues early in the development cycle. Choosing the right security automation tool and going forward with it is crucial for the success of your company’s products.

Shift Left

The shift left testing approach means baking security into your applications at the very beginning, instead of waiting until the final stages of the delivery chain. The obvious advantage of doing this is you can identify potential vulnerabilities and work on resolving them sooner. And the earlier you find any bugs, the cheaper it will be for you to fix them. So it’s a great practice, but it does come with its fair share of complications. A common challenge is that shifting left might temporarily disrupt your existing DevOps process workflow. Overcoming this might be hard, but it’s definitely a best practice to shift left in the long run if you adopt DevSecOps.

People, Process, and Technology

The holy trinity of people, process, and technology plays a major role in the success of DevSecOps.

People

It doesn’t matter how good you are at the other stuff; if your people aren’t interested, then a mature, effective DevSecOps environment simply isn’t possible. Convincing senior management to make the switch could be an uphill task. But the fact that intense and high-profile data breaches occur frequently because of inefficient security should help your case. Security specialists and “security champions” will play a key role in getting your DevSecOps right.

Process

A process consists of many components. The most important ones are workflow standardization and documentation. Typically, various teams within an organization will carry out different processes. But DevSecOps advocates for framing commonly agreed-upon processes and executing them to strengthen the extent of security in development.

Technology

Technology equips people to effectively execute DevSecOps processes. Some common technologies that are used in DevSecOps practices include automation and configuration management, Security as Code, automated compliance scans, host hardening, etc.

How to Implement DevSecOps

As you’d expect, implementing DevSecOps is an elaborate process. I’ll now explain the eight steps involved in implementing DevSecOps. While there aren’t any concrete, sequential steps that serve as a road map, the following processes are usually present.

Planning and Development

It all starts with planning. It’s essential that the plan is strategic and concise for successful implementation. Mere feature-based descriptions won’t suffice. The professionals must also establish acceptance test criteria, user designs, and threat models.

Development is the next stage, and teams should start by evaluating the maturity of their existing practices. It’s a good idea to gather resources from multiple sources to provide guidance. Establishing a code review system at this stage may also come in handy because it encourages uniformity, which is a facet of DevSecOps.

Building and Testing

Then comes building, where automated build tools do the trick. In such tools, through a build script, the source code is combined into machine code. Build automation tools bring in a variety of powerful features. Besides boasting a sizable library of plugins, they also have multiple available UIs. Some can also automatically detect any vulnerable libraries and replace them with new ones.

The next step is testing, wherein the robust automated testing framework inculcates strong testing practices to the pipeline.

Deployment and Operation

Deployment is usually carried out through IaC tools, as they automate the process and accelerate the pace of software delivery.

Operation is another crucial step, and periodic maintenance is a regular function of operations teams. Zero-day exploits are dreadful. So operation teams ought to keep an eye on them. To prevent human error from creeping in, DevSecOps can utilize IaC tools to secure the organization’s infrastructure quickly and efficiently.

Monitoring and Scaling

Another important part of the process includes using powerful, continuous monitoring tools. They ensure your security systems are performing as intended.

Scaling also plays an important role. The advent of virtualization means organizations no longer have to waste their resources to maintain large data centers. Instead, in the event of any threats, they can simply scale the IT infrastructure to manage them.

These are some of the basic steps in any DevSecOps implementation. Depending on the size and complexity of the project, your road map may include some special additional steps.

DevSecOps Challenges

Of course, implementation comes with a string of challenges.

Cultural Challenges

The biggest speed bump that discourages most organizations from shifting toward a DevSecOps approach is the reluctance you may face. Not many people will welcome a drastic change to something they’ve been doing the traditional way. And the fact that security was considered more of an afterthought in the predecessor software development models doesn’t help.

Also, DevSecOps unifies developers and security professionals, fostering an environment of collaboration. But a certain level of friction has always existed between these two teams. Both sometimes think what the other team does creates headaches for their own team. This perspective results in both teams working in silos, which defeats the main principle of DevSecOps. Again, a change in this cultural mindset is needed to mature in implementation.

Another common challenge is the belief that increased security slows things down and is a barrier to innovation. To meet the demands of modern-day businesses, developers want to deliver their code rapidly. However, the primary focus of security teams is to ensure the code is secure. Such contrasting objectives make it hard for these two teams to work in unison.

Other Challenges

According to a report from Cybersecurity Ventures, there will be 3.5 million cybersecurity job openings by 2021. So one can infer that although the rate of security breaches and attacks are on the rise, there is a shortage of skilled cybersecurity engineers. Hence, the low availability of security professionals is a challenge that particularly affects low- and mid-level organizations.

Unlike in collaborations between development and security, complexities arise when bringing together ops and security. In the former pair, you simply have to teach your developers about security best practices and have them work closely with your security team. Although this arrangement does change some things for developers, there usually aren’t too many significant changes.

However, that’s not the case when you try to get your ops and security teams to collaborate. When ops engineers find any abnormality, they don’t immediately think of a security breach. For them, things like software misconfiguration or infrastructure problems are the usual suspects. But for security teams, an anomaly instinctively means a potential breach. Thus, ops engineers might have to rethink how they analyze environments.

DevSecOps Benefits

DevSecOps can increase your product sales. The most important and obvious benefit of a DevSecOps approach is that you’ll improve your overall security. As mentioned earlier, you can identify vulnerabilities at a very early stage in your pipeline, thus making it exponentially easier to fix it. And since continuous monitoring is in place, it enhances your threat-hunting capabilities. Business-wise, the more secure a product, the easier it is to sell.

Discovering vulnerabilities in the beginning stages of SDLC means you can significantly lower the costs incurred to fix them. Multiple teams coming together to work on security improves accountability. Such collaboration also facilitates coming up with quick and effective security response strategies and more robust security design patterns.

DevSecOps minimizes the frequency of security bottlenecks as well. There’s no need to wait for the development cycle to finish before running security checks. These two factors accelerate the speed of product delivery.

Another arena where DevSecOps is of high importance is in ensuring compliance with industry-standard regulations. Regulations like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) mean one has to be extremely cautious about data handling. DevSecOps provides managers with a holistic overview of such measures, thus providing a better framework for easier compliance.

It’s Time to Revolutionize Your Security

There’s no doubt that DevSecOps revolutionizes the way organizations handle security. However, due to a variety of reasons—such as a lack of awareness of what DevSecOps is, an unsolicited culture shift for employees, budget constraints, and sometimes just the ambiguity of the term—many mid- and low-level organizations are still skeptical about shifting to DevSecOps.

The technical, as well as the business benefits that organizations can reap from implementing DevSecOps, are very promising. Although you’ll most certainly come across some hiccups when you start, implementing DevSecOps can do a world of good for your organization in the long run. That’s why hiring a good solution provider like Plutora can make all the difference.

Mark Robinson Mark Robinson

Mark graduated from the SRR Engineering College and started his career as an engineer in the manufacturing industry. But he also has years of content writing experience as a freelancer under his belt, so he understands the importance of effective communication in the tech world. Off work, Mark is a sports enthusiast who loves to play chess.