As software development teams move towards a DevOps culture, security is becoming an increasingly important aspect of the development process. DevSecOps is a practice that integrates security into the DevOps workflow. The aim is to build secure, reliable and compliant applications from the outset of the development process, rather than addressing security as an afterthought.
This blog post explores the DevSecOps best practices that development teams can use to ensure that security is ingrained in the development process, leading to better products with reduced security risks and faster time-to-market.
1. Embrace Security as a Shared Responsibility
Embracing security as a shared responsibility is a fundamental aspect of DevSecOps. According to GitLab’s 2022 Global DevSecOps Survey, there isn’t enough clarity around who owns security. 43% of sec team members admitted to full ownership of security (a 12% jump from 2021), but a resounding majority (53%) said everyone was responsible, a 25% increase from 2021.
Implementing security training and awareness programs can help build a culture of security within the development team. DevSecOps encourages developers to take ownership of security, rather than relying solely on security professionals. By integrating security testing into their daily workflow, developers become more familiar with security best practices and are more likely to produce secure code. Having a security advocate on the development team who is responsible for ensuring security is being prioritized within the development process can also help make sure the team is staying informed and up-to-date on DevSecOps best practices.
Creating clear channels of communication between development and security teams is also important. Teams should establish a process to quickly share vulnerabilities, incidents, or changes that need to be addressed.
2. Shift Security Testing Left
Shifting security left goes hand in hand with following DevSecOps best practices. Shifting security left means moving security testing earlier in the development cycle. Shifting left ensures that security is integrated into the development process from the start and helps teams catch security issues earlier in the development cycle, reducing the cost and time required to address them, and producing secure software faster.
For example, security testing can be integrated into the continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipeline by enabling automated testing of security features as part of the deployment process. This helps ensure that the application is deployed with the latest security features and patches.
According to GitLab’s 2023 Global DevSecOps Report Series, 74% of security professionals said they have either shifted security left or plan to in the next three years.
3. Conduct threat modeling
Threat modeling is a process that identifies and evaluates the risks and vulnerabilities of an application. It involves identifying potential threats, analyzing the impact of those threats, and identifying mitigation strategies. Threat modeling helps developers identify potential vulnerabilities and design applications that are “secure by design”.
For example, let's say a team of developers is creating a new e-commerce website that will handle sensitive user information such as credit card details, personal information, and transaction data. Threat modeling would involve examining the different ways in which an attacker could attempt to gain access to this information and the potential impact of a successful attack.
The developers would start by identifying potential threats such as SQL injection, cross-site scripting, and brute-force attacks. They would then analyze the impact of these threats, considering factors such as the loss of user data, financial losses, reputational damage, and legal consequences.
Next, the developers would work to identify mitigation strategies to address each of the identified threats. These strategies could include implementing input validation to prevent SQL injection, using encryption to protect sensitive data, and implementing rate limiting to prevent brute-force attacks. By implementing these mitigation strategies, the developers can reduce the likelihood of a successful attack and minimize the impact of any attacks that do occur.
Threat modeling is an iterative process, meaning that it is ongoing throughout the development lifecycle. As new threats emerge or as the application evolves, developers must continue to identify and evaluate potential risks and vulnerabilities.
4. Automate security testing
Automating security testing ensures that security checks are consistently applied and helps to reduce the risk of human error. Automated security testing can be performed much more quickly and efficiently than manual testing. According to a 2021 State of DevSecOps survey, 75% of respondents reported that manual security and compliance processes slow down code release, while 96% of respondents agreed that they would benefit from the automation of security and compliance processes.
Automated security testing tools can perform more comprehensive and consistent security checks than human testers. This reduces the risk of human error and can provide a more accurate assessment of the security posture of the software.
Automating security testing also enables organizations to scale their security efforts as their software and infrastructure grow. As the number of code commits and deployments increase, it can be difficult for human testers to keep up with the volume of changes. Automated testing can help ensure that every new build and deployment is tested thoroughly for security vulnerabilities, without adding significant time or cost to the development process.
5. Stay up-to-date with security patches
Keeping software systems and dependencies up-to-date with the latest security patches and updates is critical to maintaining a secure application. Developers should regularly check for software and dependency updates and apply them promptly. Failure to do so could leave the application vulnerable to known security risks.
For example, let's say a team is using a popular open-source library in their application. If a security vulnerability is discovered in that library, the developers should promptly update to the latest version of the library that contains the fix. Failure to do so could leave the application vulnerable to attacks exploiting that vulnerability.
Similarly, operating system updates, database updates, and other third-party software used by the application should also be regularly updated to ensure that the latest security patches and updates are applied. This includes updating any software used in the development and testing environments as well, as these can also be potential attack vectors if left unpatched.
Organizations should have a well-defined process for managing software updates and patches. This includes regularly reviewing available updates and prioritizing them based on their criticality, impact on the application, and the risk posed by not applying the update.
6. Make security testing a part of your entire process
Securing software doesn’t stop after release. In addition to shifting security testing left, it's important to continue to monitor and test in production. This way, you can make sure you’re picking up any problems with your software that may come up in the future.
Monitoring security involves tracking an application's performance, behavior, and security events to detect and respond to any security incidents. Developers can use security monitoring tools to monitor their applications for potential security incidents, such as unauthorized access attempts or suspicious activity.
In addition to automated security monitoring tools, organizations should also establish a process for responding to security incidents. This process should include clear procedures for identifying and triaging security incidents, as well as protocols for escalating incidents to the appropriate personnel and stakeholders.
7. Embrace Compliance—But Go Beyond It
There are several industry standards and regulations that organizations have to comply with to ensure that their applications are secure. For example, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) sets standards for how healthcare data should be accessed and stored.
Developers working in relevant industries should understand their industry’s standards and regulations and ensure that their applications meet the necessary requirements. This includes implementing appropriate security controls and conducting regular security assessments and audits to validate compliance.
However, checking off these compliance requirements doesn’t necessarily mean that your applications are secure. Following the DevSecOps best practices laid out in this article will give you a more comprehensive assessment of your risk.
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