A Guide to Introducing Security into DevOps

    At its core, DevOps is a philosophy that emphasizes communication and collaboration between development and operations teams and continuous testing and release of new features on a regular basis. And while most people associate DevOps with cloud computing, many experts note that implementing DevOps in any type of environment is essential for today’s competitive businesses. 

    But there’s a potential downside that many organizations have not yet addressed: security isn’t a part of regular DevOps procedures, meaning developers could deploy vulnerable applications to production at any time.

    Research from WhiteHat Security found that more than 60 million Americans have fallen victim to fraud or identity theft stemming from a breach of their personal information. In addition, consumers rely on dozens of mobile apps to shop, bank, travel and play. But what most don’t know is that an abundance of Android apps has privacy shortcomings that put their data at risk. In the same report, a review of 250 popular Android mobile apps from leading brands reveals that 70% leak sensitive personal data. 

    Security is one of the most prominent challenges organizations face today when implementing DevOps. Unfortunately, it’s easy to forget about safety until disaster strikes and then spend millions of dollars (and countless hours) recovering from the incident. Modern dev-focused organizations are constantly working to make their software more secure, but they’re also looking for ways to speed up delivery. 

    DevOps Security Challenges

    The introduction of automation and continuous delivery has provided significant efficiency gains, leaving teams vulnerable. With security integrated throughout development, testing, and deployment processes, DevSecOps can find application vulnerabilities. Failure to recognize that security is an essential component of development, testing, and deployment will introduce flaws into each stage of the application development cycle.

    While security is a primary focus of many enterprises, it doesn’t always fit easily into a DevOps environment. Traditional security processes may not be compatible with rapid releases, and developers often lack experience understanding and addressing security concerns. This can lead to gaps in security posture, which are addressed only after release. In general, security skills tend to be scarce resources.  

    Also read: Best DevOps Monitoring Tools for 2022

    Benefits of Securing DevOps

    A crucial component of any DevOps strategy is security, but what are its benefits? A few include: 

    • Increased automation and speed 
    • improved communication and efficiency
    • Lower costs for software patching 

    DevSecOps was coined to describe a more deliberate approach to security—as a complement to, rather than a substitute for, DevOps. Security specialists should be involved in all stages of development, from design through testing, packaging, and release. 

    This team-based, collaborative approach allows security engineers to develop effective methods for ensuring data protection and compliance with regulations (such as GDPR). And it will enable developers to learn about best practices for eliminating vulnerabilities at their inception. Also, when incidents do occur, companies can recover faster with better process documentation. 

    By implementing a DevSecOps environment, enterprises and developers gain faster detection times and better preparedness for dealing with security issues that inevitably happen at some point during the project lifecycle. These reasons alone are a great reason to secure your DevOps processes. But there’s even more incentive for incorporating security measures within your DevOps cycle—companies that use automated tools have been shown to have fewer instances of software defects than enterprises relying on manual processes. 

    How Can Security be Integrated into DevOps? 

    Practically speaking, achieving robust, integrated security requires proactively identifying vulnerabilities throughout all stages of application lifecycle management (ALM). Ultimately all these steps need to come together in production to achieve protection. There needs to be a culture shift so that security becomes part of each cycle, rather than something you start worrying about at QA or production. 

    However, If secure coding practices like least privilege, input validation, threat modeling, and secure design principles are followed during ALM activities (requirements gathering/analysis/design/development), less technical effort should be required post-release. 

    An actively secured production environment 

    Security monitoring must occur whether code is being developed by internal staff or outsourced to vendors and contractors. Security personnel responsible for defending applications against attacks should know what is running in production and understand how applications work while they’re still under development. When developers receive copies of live production data sets before starting work on new features, they can better anticipate where user data might exist unprotected and how best to address potential security issues before introducing new functionality into existing applications. 

    Auditing developers’ activity 

    Time spent debugging an application is time lost doing feature development and bug fixing, leaving even minor errors in place could compound over time into crippling flaws. To ensure the quality of an application in production, security auditors need to comb through its source code and dependencies to spot potential errors. 

    Reducing the application attack surface 

    Applications can accrue attack surfaces as systems of connected nodes. By proactively identifying unused portions of code early on, developers have an opportunity to either remove unnecessary system calls from code libraries and frameworks or find alternate ways to complete a task that doesn’t require accessing data that isn’t already available via an API. 

    Automating security testing 

    The surest way to improve secure coding standards is automation. Simply put, developers are unlikely to change security habits unless they are forced to conform to standards with an added incentive of time savings or efficiency gains. Developing an application that conforms to current secure coding standards is faster and easier when you know what behavior your team expects and devices are configured appropriately. 

    Encouraging cross-team communication 

    DevOps practice should foster collaboration between software engineers and information security specialists. Ideally, code is always kept in a state of good repair, both inside and outside of development. Once developers establish themselves as allies to security team members and vice versa, developers can serve as a reliable first line of defense against application vulnerabilities. 

    Ensuring compliance 

    It’s far more efficient to identify open-source licenses and copyright infringement issues during development than after deployment. At that point, it will be too late for errors to be corrected without impacting customers. However, detecting security bugs and issues during development is a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, catching problems sooner rather than later is desirable because it gives developers more time to fix vulnerabilities in an orderly manner. On the other hand, every severe breach provides developers another opportunity to take security seriously and apply sound coding practices throughout their application’s life cycle.

    Also read: Top DevOps Trends to Watch

    Steps to Introduce Security Into DevOps

    DevOps is a paradigm shift that has proven helpful in many organizations due to its efficiency and speed. An often-overlooked aspect of successful implementation is ensuring everyone involved understands how security can add protection without slowing down progress or spending extra time on documentation. Here are some steps you can take to integrate security without slowing things down

    • Start with awareness and end with action: know your tools, understand how they work and how they fit in with your organization’s security strategy, and be prepared to take action when necessary. 
    • Test thoroughly: Whether your company uses Agile, waterfall, SCRUM, or any other software development methodology, it’s essential to test your code before deployment and keep the separate test, staging, and production environments.
    • Don’t forget disaster recovery plans: While backups are crucial for rolling back incidents like data loss, most companies cannot recover from cyberattacks because their response plans were never created or appropriately practiced. Think about data protection—at rest, in transit, and during processing
    • Start as early as possible: Not every project component will require secure design, but it pays off to start early on those components that do need it. 
    • Make sure you have all elements covered: A practical approach to security needs considers software, hardware, application configurations, communications protocols, and more.
    • Review code regularly for potential vulnerabilities and use regular patching and configuration updating methods.

    Why Should You Care About DevSecOps?

    The goal of integrating security with DevOps is to make it part of development from inception through completion. Tools and techniques can ensure that security is an integral element at each stage. Securing your DevOps environment requires that you address four key areas: configuration management (CM), configuration validation, vulnerability scanning, and pen testing/threat modeling. 

    This ensures a secure coding process and one that complies with regulations such as HIPAA, PCI-DSS, FISMA, and others. It also allows for continuous monitoring of compliance and risk levels, so you know when potential issues arise. Once a problem is detected, you can take corrective measures quickly before damage occurs or regulatory non-compliance issues occur. 

    To do all of these things effectively, software teams need a toolset that will allow them to automate routine tasks such as vulnerability scanning and penetration testing. Organizations also need regular training in ISO 27001/2 cybersecurity best practices and how they can impact their business. Without proper training, employees may unwittingly introduce security vulnerabilities that could end up causing significant harm if not detected early on in testing cycles. 

    Read next: Best DevOps Certifications to Have Now

    Aminu Abdullahi
    Aminu Abdullahi
    Aminu Abdullahi is an award-winning public speaker and a passionate writer. He writes to edutain (educate + entertain) his reader about business, technology, growth, and everything in-between. He is the co-author of the e-book, The Ultimate Creativity Playbook. Aminu loves to inspire greatness in the people around him through his actions and inactions.

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