What is SecDevOps and Why Is It So Important?

This is the guest article by Aaron Cure from Cypress Data Defense

Software applications are complex and can be vulnerable to a wide variety of security issues. Possible issues range from bad code and security misconfigurations to authorization failure.

To solve these issues, every team member should consider the security implications of what they are working on. SecDevOps is a new movement for just that purpose.

It allows you to include security directly in your development and deployment workflows, minimizing vulnerabilities. In this post, you’ll learn more about SecDevOps and why it’s so important.

What is SecDevOps?

DevOps offers a ton of benefits on its own – it’s fast, it’s tough, and it’s automated. However, the limitation is in integrating security because with faster deployment comes smaller windows of opportunity to find and fix security vulnerabilities.

When you build applications with the goal of quick deployment (the DevOps approach), you’re potentially leaving them vulnerable to massive security holes if you cannot integrate security into the build and release process. That’s where SecDevOps (or DevSecOps or DevOpsSec) enters the picture.

As the name suggests, this is the process of integrating security right into the development and deployment workflows. Also known as rugged DevOps, SecDevOps is a set of best practices used to insert secure coding deep inside the DevOps development and deployment processes.

It gets developers to think more about security principles and standards as they build their applications. Security processes and checks enter the lifecycle at a very early stage to keep up with the rapid DevOps release approach.

There are two distinct parts in SecDevOps:
  • Security as Code (SaC) – This is when you build security into the tools and practices in the DevOps pipeline. This means developed applications are automatically scanned by static application security testing (SAST) and dynamic application security testing (DAST) tools. As such, the priority is on automation rather than on manual processes (although manual processes are needed for security-critical areas of the application). Security as Code is an essential part of the DevOps tool chains and workflows. These tools and their automation must fit within the Continuous Delivery framework.
  • Infrastructure as Code (IaC) – This refers to the set of DevOps tools used for setting up and updating infrastructure components to ensure a hardened and controlled deployment environment. This often includes the use of tools like Puppet, Ansible, and Chef.Rather than making manual configuration changes or making adjustments using one-off scripts, IaC involves using the same code development rules to manage operations infrastructure. As such, a problem in the system means deploying a configuration controlled server rather than trying to patch and update deployed servers.
SecDevOps uses continuous and automated security testing even before the application goes into production. It implements issue tracking to ensure the early identification of any defects. It also leverages automation and testing to ensure more effective security tests throughout the software development lifecycle.

How Does SecDevOps Work?

SecDevOps focuses on shifting security to the left. This means that rather than adopting an incident response system, everyone is responsible for security right from the start, including in the planning stages. This is a huge difference from traditional waterfall models in which security comes at the end of the lifecycle.

Developers need to include security in all decisions and throughout the lifecycle processes. They use threat models and maintain a test-driven development environment that includes security test cases. You will need to ensure that continuous integration and automated security testing are part of the workflow.

SecDevOps requires a thorough understanding of how the application works to identify how it can be vulnerable. This gives you a clearer idea of how you can protect it from security threats. This is often done by using threat models throughout the development lifecycle.

Let’s take a look at the typical SecDevOps workflow to better understand how it works.

Developers work within a version control management system. This allows them to keep track of any changes in software development projects, making collaboration on those projects easier. Developers can readily separate their tasks using branches as they work together on code.
  • First, a developer will create code within the system.
  • They will then commit changes to the system.
  • Next, another developer will retrieve the code from the system for analysis. This step involves analyzing the static code to identify security defects or bugs.
After this stage, the typical SecDevOps workflow will progress like this:
  1. Using IaC tools like Puppet, Chef, and Ansible to create an environment that allows the deployment of the application and applying security configurations to the system
  2. Executing a test automation suite against the newly deployed application, encompassing backend, integration, API, security, and UI tests.
  3. Performing automated dynamic testing of the deployed application in a test environment.
  4. Deploying the application to a production environment after passing these tests
  5. Continuous monitoring of the production environment for any active security threats.

Effective Approaches Towards SecDevOps

SecDevOps merges security, development, and operations so that they work together to achieve a common goal by making improvements in their processes, tooling and team collaborations. But integrating security in your DevOps workflow may be a little intimidating because of cultural resistance, lack of proper collaboration between teams, or time constraints.

While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach that every organization could use to build a SecDevOps program, there are some tips and effective approaches that might be helpful.

Begin With Secure Development and Training

This does not mean that you have to force your developers to learn advanced security tools or become security experts. But you should consider introducing them to security practices that will help safeguard your software. You should conduct security training especially designed for your developers so that they are able to easily understand and implement effective security practices.

Additionally, you can create deployment pipelines that allow for limited code deliveries in the production environment by using Red/Black deployments. This way you can shift into the updated code running on the new infrastructure without any impact on transactions, sessions or user experience.

Embrace The Idea of People-Centric Security

Implementing security should not be the sole responsibility of just one team. Your organization should embrace a people-centric security culture to ensure that every individual takes responsibility for complying with security mandates. Beyond security training, encourage developers, testers, and other employees to be personally accountable for security.

Monitoring your systems is critical to maintaining security, but it also has to come from within a person and each member should take ownership of it. For this, you need to foster a culture of security as a core competence which is integrated right from the beginning of an employee’s journey with your organization. Employees should take care of security right from locking their systems properly when they’re not using it to integrating the right tools in their day-to-day workflow.

Use Effective Version Control Tools and Practices

Ensure that you use proven version control tools and practices for all application software, templates, blueprints, and scripts used in DevOps environments.

Empower Your Team By Automating Regular Functionalities

Automation is the cornerstone of DevOps. It helps eliminate latency issues, reduces delivery time, and aids in the early identification of vulnerabilities and potential issues. By automating regular code tests, you can empower your team to focus on tasks that require more attention.

Developers often employ reusable code to develop code faster, but security teams struggle to keep up with the pace of developers. Especially in DevOps where the aim is to deliver products at a rapid pace, security teams are stuck with time-consuming manual tasks. In an attempt to adhere to the motto of faster delivery of DevOps, organizations tend to overlook product security facets.

Automation tools and processes can help speed up the workflow of security teams bridging the gap between them and the developers. Regular tasks can be automated with the right set of tools. This will ensure a secure and rapid deployment of products.

The Benefits of SecDevOps

In SecDevOps, the security team clearly defines the necessary policies at the start. These policies might include coding standards, testing guidelines, instructions for static and dynamic analysis, rules to avoid poor encryption and insecure APIs, etc. They also define criteria that would force manual intervention by the security team (e.g., changes in authentication or in the authorization model, or other security-critical areas).

With security being part of the development process, the team becomes more proficient at it. This ensures that there are minimal security vulnerabilities at the end of the pipeline. If any vulnerability does survive, it’s easy to conduct an investigation, and update and improve the process.

A root cause analysis further helps you make necessary improvements to security policies and guidelines. In other words, you will be improving the outcome after each cycle. Iterative improvements further ensure less disruptive late-cycle escalations.

Some of the most notable benefits of SecDevOps are:
  1. Greater speed and agility for security teams
  2. An ability to rapidly respond to changes and needs
  3. Better collaboration and communication among teams
  4. More opportunities for automated builds as well as quality and security testing
  5. Early identification of vulnerabilities in code
  6. Automation to free up team member assets to work on high-value tasks

Final Thoughts

SecDevOps is igniting passion and fueling innovation as security teams are constantly discovering new ways to work. It nurtures organizational growth as departments work collaboratively instead of forming adversarial relationships.

Highly regarded companies like Netflix and Google are already doing exceptional work in making security a necessary part of their DevOps culture. Your team can follow suit by shifting security to the left and embracing SecDevOps.

AaronCure - HeadshotAaron Cure is the Principal Security Consultant at Cypress Data Defense and an instructor and contributing author for the Dev544 Secure Coding in .NET course. After 10 years in the U.S. Army, he decided to switch his focus to developing security tools and performing secure code reviews, penetration testing, static source code analysis, and security research.

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