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Applications drive business operations. Most organizations have developers who create and deploy software. For companies that develop software, securing their products and proving security is a way to build customer trust. However, threat actors increasingly target these applications because developers may not always be security professionals. For example, according to research, 56% of the largest incidents in the past five years can be traced to web application security issues. Organizations with development teams should understand what DevSecOps is and how to implement it.

What is DevSecOps?

Short for “development, security, and operations,” DevSecOps represents a “shift left” in the software development process that integrates security practices, changing the software development lifecycle (SDLC) into the secure software development lifecycle (S-SDLC).

DevSecOps teams use automation to build continuous security testing into the continuous integration/continuous development (CI/CD) pipeline so they can detect and remediate vulnerabilities. To enhance application security, DevOps teams work with security teams to the development cycle.

What is the difference between DevOps and DevSecOps?

DevSecOps is the next evolution of DevOps. As organizations increasingly rely on applications for daily business functions, threat actors target them.

What is DevOps?

DevOps is a set of practices intended to optimize application development by increasing operational predictability, efficiency, and maintainability. Instead of releasing one large application update, DevOps teams deploy smaller updates more frequently.

This process provides various benefits, including:

  • improved workflows
  • reduced new release failure rates
  • reduced mean time to recovery after failures
  • shorter time between application fixes

A traditional DevOps workflow looks like this:

  1. Plan
  2. Build
  3. Test for bugs
  4. Deploy
  5. Monitor for application failures
  6. Repeat steps 1 through 5

The process that the DevOps team follows fails to incorporate security. The security team would only find application security problems after the application has already been deployed to end-users. This means that threat actors have the opportunity to use the application as an attack vector.

DevOps versus DevSecOps

Although the two have similarities in terms of process, DevSecOps is a slightly different twist.

Collaboration

DevOps focuses on increasing productivity by bringing together Development and Operations teams.

DevSecOps works to enhance security by bringing together Development, Engineering, and Security teams.

Goals

DevOps exists to reduce the application development takes, focusing on continuous integration and automation for faster delivery times.

DevSecOps exists to incorporate security into the DevOps process, focusing on sharing security responsibilities while meeting delivery time.

What is a DevSecOps methodology?

Like DevOps, DevSecOps starts with a foundational principle of agile development. Fundamentally, the goal of agile development is to foster communication across all stakeholders involved in the application’s creation.

The themes underlying the agile development process are:

  • Continuous iteration: an application is never fully completed and can always be improved
  • Continuous development: an application is always in development and testing
  • Documentation: all documentation is stored in a repository as part of change management

DevSecOps starts with the steps as DevOps, then incorporates security as part of the testing phase:

  1. Plan
  2. Build
  3. Test for bugs and security issues
  4. Deploy
  5. Monitor
  6. Repeat steps 1 through 5

A DevSecOps methodology treats vulnerabilities as equal to or more important than bugs.  The development team builds security into its testing process to prevent vulnerabilities from being deployed to end users.

Why is DevSecOps important?

Many organizations develop their own applications. This means that they need to ensure security, even if the application is only deployed internally. According to the 2021 Data Breach Investigations Report, Basic Web Application Attacks accounted for 4,862 security incidents, of which 1,384 had confirmed data disclosure. Additionally, external actors accounted for 100% of the threat actors.

Adopting DevSecOps is important for several reasons, including:

  • Security: prevent vulnerabilities from going live with an application
  • Reduced costs: security architects spend less time on manual post-deployment configurations because they were automated during the process
  • Return on investment (ROI): enhanced security with operational costs provides a high ROI
  • Human error risk: automated code testing reduces mistakes people make
  • Quality assurance: automation and additional review enhances overall application quality

What is needed for DevSecOps?

Organizations looking to implement DevSecOps need to consider the people, processes, and technologies necessary.

People

The first step to implementing DevSecOps is finding people with the right skill sets. When looking for a DevSecOps engineer, organizations should consider the following qualifications:

  • Knowledge of DevOps processes
  • Experience with the programming languages that the organization uses
  • Strong interpersonal skills
  • Background knowledge of current security threats and best practices

Processes

To fully implement DevSecOps, the organization also needs to establish a set of processes for people to follow. As part of this, organizations should consider:

  • Threat modeling: consider all the potential actions that a threat actor could take and impact an attack would have
  • Version control: all changes need to be documented to ensure consistency and auditability
  • Compliance: ensuring that all applications comply with regulations and industry standards
  • Security architecture: establish principles for guiding software development toward security practices and incorporate appropriate coding principles into them

Technology

DevSecOps builds on the foundation DevOps, and both use automation to optimize processes. When implementing DevSecOps, organizations should consider:

  • Source code repository: a single source of all documentation, including best practices
  • Configuration management: automating configuration management ensures appropriate reporting, which can also lead to improved compliance outcomes
  • Orchestration: automating deployment dynamically
  • Patching: using threat intelligence feeds and automating vulnerability management
  • Dynamic Application Scanning Tool (DAST): scanning staging and production to prevent vulnerabilities
  • Static Application Scanning Tools (SAST): scanning and analyzing source code or compiled versions of code for potential misconfigurations and vulnerabilities

What are DevSecOps best practices?

As the organization implements DevSecOps, understanding best practices can help build a stronger, more resilient program.

Create a culture of security

Developers may not have intended to be security professionals. They want to build applications, and they often have service level agreements (SLAs) that lead to seeing security as a burden.

As the organization shifts to a DevSecOps model, organizations need to align these SLAs with security initiatives. DevSecOps teams need to view security as a benefit rather than a roadblock, and this mindset starts from the top. Fostering collaboration across DevOps and security teams builds a culture of security into all stages of the SDLC.

Encourage secure coding training

Secure coding training enables DevOps teams to learn best practices. Developers never intend to build applications that lead to data breaches. They often lack the background knowledge that they need to follow best practices.

For example, even though the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) has a set of best practices, research found that only 40%of Python and Java developers know the standard.

The training program should provide them with experience in the language that the organization uses and real-world vulnerabilities. This gives them the targeted experience with the vulnerabilities that they might find in the organization’s environment.

Choose the right automated security tools

Automation is key to implementing DevSecOps best practices. They ensure consistent, repeatable, and reliable processes. However, organizations can find choosing the right tools challenging.

Building out a toolset means understanding where in the process the organization wants to embed secure code training, DAST, and SAST. Some companies choose a training platform that helps developers while they work on their projects. Others integrate scanning technologies when code is merged from the developer branches to the main branch. Still others look for tools that enable them to create multiple checkpoints throughout the process. For example, they might use a secure coding training platform as well as an SAST.

[Related Reading: Create a Comprehensive Automated Incident Response Plan]

Set key performance indicators

Every program needs metrics for proving success and maturity. Building out key performance indicators means going back to review people, processes, and technology.

Some considerations include:

  • Delivery speed: has it slowed down by building security in?
  • Process adoption: are people following processes or are they confusing?
  • Security: how often are security vulnerabilities found after deployment when they should have been caught during development?
  • Effectiveness: is automation working as intended or does it need fine tuning?

Incorporate “lessons learned”

The continuous integration and continuous development philosophies underlying DevSecOps apply to measuring success as well. In security, people usually consider “lessons learned” as part of incident response. However, this practice can also apply to DevSecOps.

Not everything will work right the first time. A project may be delayed. A security vulnerability may be detected after an update is pushed live. Every perceived failure is also an opportunity. When discussing lessons learned, organizations should focus on continuously improving processes rather than blaming people for mistakes.

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DevSecOps helps secure an organization’s future

The future of business lies in applications. As organizations scale, they need to incorporate security as part of their development processes to protect their data and reputations. Implementing DevSecOps offers security and business benefits, giving companies a way to reduce operational costs while ensuring enhanced security.

For organizations developing Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications, DevSecOps is mission critical. Organizations need agile monitoring solutions that enable them to manage their environments. Finding the right tools that enable DevSecOps helps ensure robust security that can generate revenue and protect a software development company from being the “patient zero” for a supply chain attack.

Just like application development, security practices are in a continuous state of improvement. To protect sensitive data and reduce data breach risks, DevSecOps offers a way to build security directly into the organization’s daily development activities.

Antonio Sanchez
About the Author
Antonio Sanchez
Antonio Sanchez serves on the Product Marketing team at Alert Logic. He has over 20 years of experience in the IT industry focusing on cyber security, information management, and disaster recovery solutions to help organizations of all sizes manage threats and improve their security posture. Antonio is a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) and has held various leadership roles at Symantec, Forcepoint, and Dell.

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