Shift Left Without Fear: The Role of Security in Enabling DevOps

It’s the age of DevOps, and we all want to shift left, which refers to the idea of performing processes earlier in the CI/CD cycle. That includes security checks and audits. By starting security operations earlier in the delivery pipeline, it becomes easier to find problems, and teams have more time to address them before pushing code into production.
The challenge, of course, is building a shift-left security operation that allows you to perform security operations early without slowing down delivery speed. Let’s take a look at how to square that circle.

Defining Shift-Left Security
A popular term in DevOps culture is “shift left.” But what does shift left mean? Shifting left refers to the effort by a DevOps team to implement measures to ensure application quality at an early point in the software development life cycle. In the case of application security, this means implementing measures to ensure security concerns are taken into consideration while the application is being developed, rather than at the end of the process.

The overall goal of shift-left security is to identify and resolve potential vulnerabilities earlier in the development life cycle, when these issues are less expensive to fix. Doing so will help to mitigate the risk potential security concerns pose to both the delivery schedule and your end -users.

DevSecOps: Integrating Security Into the Development Process
Let’s be honest: Faster and more frequent development cycles aren’t going away. Slowing delivery speed to analyze and bulletproof the application at the end of the development process is no longer a viable format for implementing security. DevOps and CI/CD need to be embraced and enabled by the security staff.

For security teams to enable the DevOps process, collaboration is key. Through this collaboration, the process of DevOps transforms into something known as DevSecOps. In DevSecOps, security personnel work closely with the rest of the DevOps organization to help those who create and deliver the application to gain a better understanding of what is needed to address security concerns as early in the development life cycle as possible.

The following tips serve as a jumping-off point for implementing this collaboration:

Make security the responsibility of the entire DevOps team: Impress upon the development and operations staff that security is now the responsibility of the entire organization. Simply addressing potential vulnerabilities post-development will eat up too much time and increase the risk that something will be missed. Buying into this process is an essential part of implementing successful collaboration between the security team and the rest of the organization. An example of this would be impressing upon developers to code with security in mind.
Facilitate regular discussions about application security throughout the development process: It is the responsibility of the security folks to keep security considerations at the forefront of a developer’s mind while they develop new features. Use the agile process to your advantage. Backlog meetings can involve security folks to ensure the creation of user stories includes consideration for security concerns. Your daily standup meetings are another place to include security personnel. This will provide security staff with an opportunity to speak up when the work described by the developer requires—or might require—considerations related to security that have yet to be addressed. Doing so will help to ensure the ball is not dropped, allowing for potential issues to be rectified before they even exist.
Use test automation and continuous integration to your advantage: When it comes to addressing security concerns throughout the development process, continuous testing is your best friend. And, in cases where it makes sense, the DevOps team should integrate automated test scripts for the detection of security and into their continuous integration process. Such tests can include developer-written scripts to test for vulnerabilities in the code base and tools for static code analysis. Another part of your continuous testing strategy could involve the use of tools for infrastructure monitoring.
The data produced by these strategies can then be analyzed by security folks. And from this analysis, recommendations can be made to the DevOps team regarding the path forward to close potential gaps in security before they ever reach production and can be exploited.

Understanding the Role of Security Personnel in the Development Process
Security folks are often not coders, and development personnel are often not security experts. And while it may be frustrating at times, the solution to managing this disconnect is in the collaboration described above. Situations will arise where developers need to develop with various technologies to build a quality product. It’s possible that these technologies will lend themselves to security concerns that require security expertise. The job of security personnel shouldn’t always be to fight back against the use of these technologies. The security team should act as facilitators—take what development and operations staff intend to do and foresee the potential impacts that innovation will have on security—then take these potential impacts and provide insight into what needs to be done to reduce the risks.

In the past, security often was considered as an afterthought in the development of an application and its infrastructure. The movement toward faster development cycles and more frequent application releases has forced development organizations to think about security differently. Nowadays, so much can change in an application in a short time. This has forced DevOps organizations to integrate security into the development pipeline to make security a continuous consideration in the development life cycle. With this integration, the responsibilities of security personnel have shifted. Security teams now need to be enablers of the DevOps culture, empowering DevOps processes with security in mind.