Many software development teams are beginning to implement DevSecOps methodologies into their broader development philosophies. But while DevSecOps can provide a multitude of serious benefits when implemented correctly, it's also crucial to know what the best practices for DevSecOps are and how to leverage them. This guide will break the best DevSecOps practices down for your benefit.
What is DevSecOps?
In a nutshell, DevSecOps is the marriage of both DevOps and SecOps practices and methodologies into a single unified framework. Where DevOps is primarily focused on streamlining efficiency and automating code production to ensure faster coding time, and SecOps is more concerned with security, DevSecOps utilizes both frameworks to help programming teams produce safer, better code over the long run.
It’s best not the think of things in terms like “DevOps vs DevSecOps”. In reality, DevSecOps is an evolution of DevOps.
Basically, DevSecOps will have teams implement both security and development streamlining processes together, taking both methodologies’ goals into account. In this way, coding and production can still be streamlined and efficient, but security practices are considered from the beginning instead of after a lot of code has already been written.
Producing software this way often means a more streamlined development pipeline. Any security issues that might exist are caught early and can be taken care of before software is pushed out to a client or customer.
Because DevSecOps is relatively complex, it usually requires significant collaboration between both development and security or quality assurance teams. This also means that DevSecOps methodologies may take some time to adopt, and often require training for both developers and security teams. However, the potential rewards for successfully adopting DevSecOps strategies far outweigh the initial costs in time.
DevSecOps approaches provide a number of key benefits to those who adopt them correctly:
- DevSecOps methodologies normally result in more secure products. Security issues are identified early in the development process and long-term security flaws are eliminated before they can impact the customer or become difficult to root out
- DevSecOps methodologies also foster a strong collaboration between development and security teams which, in turn, usually results in a faster time to market. Software development pipelines can become even more efficient and streamlined as a result of DevSecOps strategies
- A DevSecOps framework usually results in significant cost savings for a company that uses it. Bugs and security vulnerabilities can be identified early and continuously throughout the development process, meaning less time and money must be spent on fixing bugs after the software is largely put together. Any security fixes that involve less code are necessarily less expensive and complicated
- Lastly, DevSecOps methodologies help companies and development teams improve their compliance with industry regulations like the GDPR and HIPAA. That’s because DevSecOps approaches check for security compliance at every step of the development pipeline, which means companies are at a lower risk of violations and the fines that come with them
Despite all of these benefits, many developers are initially resistant to DevSecOps. They’re not used to coding securely, let alone considering security issues whatsoever. Furthermore, quality assurance and development teams are often used to working on their projects in relatively isolated teams – they may only interact with one another infrequently and may even have some disdain for the other side's focus.
With the right DevSecOps practices, you can smooth over these potential road bumps and help your developers and QA personnel create a more secure, streamlined development lifecycle that everyone benefits from.
Best DevSecOps Practices
When transitioning to a DevSecOps framework, software development teams would be wise to consider and implement these best practices. Such practices will minimize the growing pains of adopting DevSecOps methodologies and lead to better results earlier in the process.
First and foremost is automation prioritization. As with “normal” DevOps, DevSecOps methodologies often emphasize speed and streamlining through the use of automated tools as much as possible. However, DevOps security usually leaves something to be desired.
Automated security testing is also a great idea, especially since there are many automated application security testing tools on the market.
These include Static Application Security Testing or SAST tools, Dynamic Application Security Testing or DAST tools, and Interactive Application Security Testing or IAST tools. All three of these types of tools can be utilized in conjunction with one another to examine code both on the inside and from an exterior perspective.
Even better, automated security testing tools come in both commercial and open-source varieties. The important thing to remember is that no one tool can offer comprehensive coverage. Multiple tools will likely need to be used throughout the development process.
Furthermore, automated security tools must be used in the right way in order for development teams to benefit the most from their application. For instance, SAST tests should only be performed on particular areas of interest in code or in recent changes for best results. That’s because trying to run an automated scan on the entire application’s source code can take up a lot of time and negate the primary benefit of automated security testing.
Similarly, DAST testing should be implemented throughout your software development lifecycle. DAST tools often run in real-time and can help point out flaws or vulnerabilities in code as they are written. This allows developers to automatically correct for potential vulnerabilities before they become a problem, teaching them more about how to write secure code all the while.
The bottom line is this: software development security best practices always include automated tools. Such tools are extremely effective for production streamlining, but it has to be implemented thoughtfully and correctly.
Leverage Certain DevSecOps Tools
As mentioned above, there are plenty of automated development or security tools that DevSecOps frameworks can make great use of. Indeed, certain DevSecOps tools can really streamline your development process and help you reach automation benchmarks across the board.
For instance, certain application security workflow management tools can collect and correlate results from both manual and automated testing tools. Such security workflow management tools can then create a single data set of results for easy digestion and understanding by your security and development teams.
Or you can prioritize tools that can cross-reference the results from different types of security tools. This, in turn, can help point out potential trouble areas where your developers are frequently leaving security vulnerabilities and where you might need to pay more attention in the future.
Alternatively, there are plenty of security workflow tools that can harness smart automation and give you much greater control over your development process, while also leaving a lot of the rote work to automated tools. Or you can utilize certain tools to run extensive tests across multiple build servers without hampering or otherwise slowing down your development process.
Basically, it’s important to keep up with regular DevSecOps developments and modern tools and implement new ones as they come out. They’re the best way to make sure that your team is progressing and harnessing DevSecOps’ efficiency the same way as your competitors.
Encourage Collaboration Between Your Development and Security Teams
DevSecOps, at its core, is the marriage of DevOps and SecOps methodologies. That means you’ll also need to encourage lots of collaboration between your development and security teams.
Of course, this is often easier said than done. Many development teams have difficulties with the way that security teams handle their analysis – in fact, lots of developers prioritize focusing on the next build instead of reminiscing about issues that might have haunted them with the last code release.
The ideal way to address these communication problems and encourage collaboration is to help developers themselves address any identified security issues. Don’t leave security fixes just to your quality assurance team (which is usually smaller than your development team anyway, and thus has less manpower to take advantage of).
As mentioned above, you can leverage application security workflow management tools. These integrate pretty easily with many types of popular development tools – one example is Azure DevOps. By leveraging these types of tools, developers can continue coding and developing but also simultaneously address security issues without putting more work on your quality assurance team’s plate.
You can alternatively give your security team a little more administrative or management power. Allow them to assign certain security tasks to developers and track their progress. One bonus of this approach is that developers will passively become better at identifying and taking care of security vulnerabilities over time.
But make sure that both teams understand who’s in charge of what – strong leadership skills may be required in order to prevent arguments or stress from dominating these efforts.
Include Educational Materials/Sessions to Teach the Best DevSecOps Practices
Speaking of collaboration – one of the best practices for DevSecOps is to include plenty of educational materials or seminars for both your developers and security teams. Remember, lots of development teams have a bad habit of thinking of a security team as a roadblock or something that just slows them down from developing the perfect app. Similarly, security teams can think of developers as coding cowboys that don’t spare a second thought about the vulnerabilities they may be writing into an application.
To encourage collaboration to make sure that everyone is on the same DevSecOps page, management should always prioritize ongoing education. This involves:
- educating your developers about secure coding practices
- teaching your developers why those coding practices are important
- going over the role that security has in a development cycle
- educating your security team about the struggles development teams often face regarding deadlines
When creating educational materials for holding educational seminars, you should focus on two goals: helping your developers write more secure code from the get-go so there aren’t as many issues to fix, and helping your developers learn how to correct the security issues without overloading your security team.
If you do this correctly, both developers and security personnel will have a greater understanding of the DevSecOps framework and likely be a little more relaxed about each other’s place in the developing lifecycle.
Remember to hold educational conferences or offer more educational material frequently. DevSecOps practices and tools are always evolving, and what’s up to date this month could be out of date in just a few weeks depending on industry trends and new developments.
Implement and Utilize Threat Modeling
One of the best practices for DevSecOps teams is the implementation of threat modeling. In a nutshell, threat modeling involves:
- identifying and prioritizing different threats and vulnerabilities depending on their potential severity
- discovering solutions to mitigate those vulnerabilities
- forecasting or predicting potential issues that might go wrong if vulnerabilities are left unchecked
By utilizing threat modeling, DevSecOps teams can more readily identify potential vulnerabilities before they ever crop up during the development lifecycle. They’ll also have ready-made solutions for certain key coding issues or security problems, which means they will likely spend less time coming up with solutions from scratch. All they have to do is implement their previously proposed solutions.
Threat modeling can be difficult to implement, at least at first, since it’s a manual process instead of another automated tool you can just set and forget. But threat modeling is super important both for general security and so your team can gain a more accurate understanding of the threats facing their application and developing lifecycle.
It’s a great idea to have developers and security team members work together on a shared or living document. This allows both teams to collaborate more directly. It will also educate your developers about how attackers might approach their app as the security team explains one or more vulnerabilities.
Again, this all ties back to greater collaboration and understanding between the two types of teams. Developers and security team personnel will likely have a greater understanding of the challenges that each side faces, and thus will work together to create a stronger DevSecOps approach.
Use Issue Trackers
As your development team becomes more sophisticated with DevSecOps practices and issues are caught (and hopefully corrected) more frequently, you should make heavy use of issue tracking tools that can be accessed by both quality assurance and development teams. As issues are identified, you’ll quickly build up a history of common mistakes and can then formulate that data into targeted feedback for your developers.
Say that your developers are constantly catching SQL injection errors with their code. Once you build up enough history of these issues by using an issue tracker, you can then call for a refocusing on coding practices that can help eliminate these errors so the automated security tools catch them less frequently.
Furthermore, issue trackers are very helpful since they can help you prevent delays with project momentum by helping you avoid having to rework wide sections of code later down the development cycle. Issue trackers are beneficial for your quality assurance team anyway since they help them keep track of all of the jobs on their plate.
The good news is that many issue trackers can be set to run automatically, meaning you don't need to assign more manual work to anyone on your development team. Issue trackers can run passively in the background, gather data, and give you the information you need to constantly iterate on and improve your DevSecOps practices and methodologies over time.
In other words, issue trackers are one of the best ways to make sure that your DevSecOps practices are always getting better. Just like modern software approaches constantly focus on feedback, iteration, and improvement, issue trackers are key to improving your DevSecOps framework.
Beware Code Dependency – Conduct Checks Regularly
We’ve spoken a lot about how important it is to utilize third-party apps and development and security tools in order to better automate your development process. But one thing you'll want to avoid is code dependency: this occurs when your team starts to use third-party software components and relies on open-source software to a potentially debilitating extent.
This is more and more common with big enterprises these days, especially since there is a glut of high-quality open-source software out there just ready to be used. The only problem is that open source software may not be updated forever, meaning your team could eventually run into a compatibility problem, and many third-party components could have unknown vulnerabilities.
If you use a third-party software component that has a security issue, then embed that component into your own application, that vulnerability gets passed to your development lifecycle.
This means your security and development teams will need to find time to review any open source library code that they plan to use in an application. It’s also a good idea to read through any documentation or automated processes so they fully understand the code before implementing it into their own application.
It’s no stretch to say that this is a serious issue for many enterprises. In fact, there’s some research that shows that third-party library component vulnerabilities account for up to 21% of eventual application vulnerabilities. Those are security risks that aren’t the fault of your developers – they were inherited by the tools they decided to use to streamline their development processes!
What can you do? Make double-checking and investigating third-party software a cornerstone part of your development and security review processes. You should also consider avoiding code dependency wherever possible by relying on in-house software or modifying open-source component code to make it more secure or better suit your unique needs.
Implement Security Checks One at a Time
When adopting DevSecOps practices, lots of developers or security teams will implement various testing tools simultaneously. For example, an enterprise's development team might implement a static testing tool for their CI/CD chains. As they do so, the relatively inexperienced development team turns on security checks for all kinds of security issues. Not only does this slow down the development process, but it also leads to security problems for their overseeing QA team.
Basically, they bite off more than they can chew. It’s a much better practice to only turn on one or two security checks at a time. This way, developers are able to grasp particular security vulnerabilities or things to look for fully before moving on to another topic. Furthermore, this is a better way to get your developers used to having security rules incorporated into their routines or workflow without overwhelming them.
Here’s a better example – a development team could introduce a SAST tool in their development workflow and only utilize the security checks for catching specific errors, like SQL injection issues. As the developers learn about the tool and see how it catches SQL injection errors, they’ll adopt more quickly and see the value that can provide to the development pipeline.
This is more effective in a practical sense as well as a better strategy for encouraging developers to adopt DevSecOps practices wholesale.
Like with any complex process, DevSecOps tool adoption should happen in chunks or in manageable pieces. Don’t try to change the way everything works over a single night. Break things down into digestible components and you’ll have much better success.
Implement the Best DevSecOps Practices Progressively, Not All At Once
This DevSecOps best practice focuses more on the grand goal than a specific problem. With any of the specific DevSecOps practices mentioned above, it’s crucial that you implement them progressively and one at a time instead of overwhelming your development teams.
Yes, it’s true that you’ll want your development team to implement DevSecOps methodologies as fast as possible. But if you go too fast, your developers are more likely to reject DevSecOps practices or take a long time to actually implement the security rules and routines you want them to utilize.
Similarly, pushing too many tools and new security rules onto your developers' laps could cause them to create their own security issues or leave vulnerabilities that should theoretically be caught through the successful implementation of DevSecOps methodologies.
In other words, going too fast and pushing too many complex changes in a development team’s workflow could end up negating the whole point of adopting DevSecOps practices in the first place.
All in all, the best DevSecOps practices will be learned and mastered as you implement this framework into your development lifecycle and workflows. Be sure to consider all of the practices above and attempt to implement them one at a time to keep things manageable for your development team. Good luck!