What is DevSecOps and Why is it Essential for Secure Software Delivery?

Traditional application security practices are not effective in the modern DevOps world. When security scans are run only at the end of the software delivery lifecycle (either right before or after a service is deployed), the ensuing process of compiling and fixing vulnerabilities creates massive overhead for developers. The overhead that degrades velocity and puts production deadlines at risk.

Regulatory pressure to ensure the integrity of all software components is also ramping up dramatically. Applications are built with an increasing number of open source software (OSS) components and other 3rd party artifacts, each of which can introduce new vulnerabilities to the application. Attackers seek to exploit these components’ vulnerabilities, which also puts the software’s consumers at risk.

Software represents the largest under-addressed attack surface that organizations face. Some interesting statistics to digest:

  • More than 80% of software vulnerabilities are introduced through open source software (OSS) and 3rd party components
  • Digital supply chain attacks are becoming more aggressive, sophisticated, and diverse. By 2025, 45% of organizations will have experienced at least one. (Gartner)
  • Total cost of software supply chain cyber attacks to businesses will exceed $80.6 billion globally by 2026, up from $45.8 billion in 2023 (Juniper Research)

The current threat environment, coupled with the drive to deliver applications faster, compels organizations to integrate security throughout the software development lifecycle in ways that don’t degrade developer productivity. This practice is formally known as DevSecOps.

Delivering secure software– the outcome of an effective DevSecOps program– is a huge undertaking. It requires significant cultural changes across multiple functions to drive shared responsibility, collaboration, transparency, and effective communication. It also requires the right set of tools, technologies, and use of automation and AI to secure applications at the speed of development. Implemented correctly, DevSecOps becomes a major success factor in delivering secure software. 

So What is DevSecOps?#

DevSecOps, short for development, security, and operations, is an approach to software development that integrates security practices throughout the entire software development lifecycle. It emphasizes collaboration and communication between development teams, security teams, and operations teams to ensure that security is built into every stage of the software development process.

Within the context of software development pipelines, DevSecOps aims to “shift security left”, which essentially means as early as possible in the development process. Quite frankly, it involves integrating security practices and tools into the development pipeline from the very beginning. By doing so, security becomes an integral part of the software development process rather than a late-stage add-on.

This approach makes it significantly easier for organizations to identify and resolve security vulnerabilities early on, and meet regulatory obligations. It’s also important to note that DevSecOps is built upon a culture of collaboration and shared responsibility. It breaks down silos and encourages cross-functional teams to work together towards a common goal of building more secure applications at high velocity. 

Guiding Principles for Delivering Secure Software #

At a high level, building and running an effective DevSecOps program means that your organization is able to operate a secure delivery platform, test for software vulnerabilities, prioritize and remediate vulnerabilities, prevent the release of insecure code, and ensure the integrity of software and all of its artifacts. Below are detailed descriptions of the elements and required capabilities to achieve a successful DevSecOps practice.

Establish a Collaborative Culture That Makes Security a Shared Responsibility#

The success of any DevSecOps practice is really in the hands of its stakeholders, so before setting out to acquire, configure and deploy new tools and technologies,

If your organization builds, sells, or consumes software (which today is every conceivable organization on the planet), then every single employee has an impact on the overall security posture– not just those with ‘security’ in their titles. At its core, DevSecOps is a culture of shared responsibility, and operating with a common security-oriented mindset determines how well DevSecOps processes fit into place and can drive better decision-making when choosing DevOps platforms, tooling, and individual security solutions.

Mindsets don’t change overnight, but alignment and a sense of security accountability can be achieved through the following: 

  • Commitment to regular internal security training– tailored to DevSecOps– that includes developers, DevOps engineers, and security engineers. Skills gaps and needs shouldn’t be underestimated. 
  • Developer adoption of secure coding methodologies and resources 
  • Security engineering contributes to application and environment architecture, design reviews. It’s always easier to identify and fix security issues early in the software development lifecycle. 

Break Down Functional Silos and Collaborate Continuously#

Since DevSecOps is a result of the confluence of software development, IT operations, and security, breaking down silos and actively collaborating on a continuous basis is critical for success. Typically, DevOps-centric organizations operating without any formal DevSecOps framework see security entering the picture like an unwelcome party crasher. 

Process changes or tooling that is suddenly imposed (as opposed to collaboratively chosen and instantiated) invariably results in development pipeline friction and unnecessary toil for developers. A common scenario involves security mandating additional application security checks without consideration for their placement within the pipeline, or for how much workload is required to process scanner output and remediate vulnerabilities, which inevitably falls to developers.

  • Driving collaboration and operating as a cohesive DevSecOps team involves: 
  • Defining and agreeing upon a set of measurable security objectives, such as mean time to remediation and % reduction in CVE alert noise. 
  • Involvement from software developers and DevOps teams throughout the evaluation and procurement processes for new security tools 
  • Ensuring no DevSecOps process has a single functional gatekeeper 
  • Iteratively optimizing tooling choices and security practices for developer productivity and velocity

Shift Security Left#

Implementing shift-left security is a crucial step in securing application code as it moves through development pipelines. This approach involves integrating security practices early in the software development lifecycle, starting from the initial stages of coding and extending throughout the entire development and deployment process. By shifting security testing further left, organizations can identify and address vulnerabilities at an early stage, reducing the risk of security breaches and ensuring the delivery of secure applications.

Shifting security left successfully starts with the integration and orchestration of different types of security scanners throughout development pipelines. There are several categories of application security tests that DevSecOps teams need to adopt and employ in order to catch and remediate vulnerabilities throughout the software development lifecycle. The techniques employed by each type of security scanner are complimentary. Combined, they are very effective in surfacing known security issues before an application hits production. 

How to Get Started #

If you’d like to learn the fundamentals of secure software delivery, who should be involved, and ultimately how to achieve a highly-effective DevSecOps practice, you should download the Definitive Guide to Secure Software Delivery. We’ll provide an overview of what’s required from a tools, technologies, and process perspective to deliver software that is more secure, faster.

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