DevSecOps: A Renewed Commitment to Secure Delivery, Part 1

Security has never been as high a priority than it is today, as companies fear they’ll be the next headline, the next victim of a data breach. Executives also worry about applications meeting the high standards of compliance–either with global regulations such as GDPR, state-oriented privacy laws or the many specific ones covering finance, health care, energy and other industries.

It’s a bit of a challenge introducing new tools and processes into a longstanding software development life cycle, even when it’s for the sake of increasing security. That’s why companies need to first carefully review their development and production processes to fully understand how they create and release software before they can effectively integrate security into DevOps.

A reconstruction, so to speak, of application delivery allows companies to step back and smartly modernize their pipelines so there’s minimal human interaction or machine disconnect in newly secured DevOps processes. Involving IT security as a stakeholder in defining governance in a DevOps release pipeline is also crucial. Only then does the “Sec” fit nicely into DevSecOps. In this two-part series, we’ll look at the three critical components that shape a sound DevSecOps pipeline. They are easy to remember: processes, people and tools.

Vulnerabilities Call for a Maniacal Focus on Security

Although microservices, containers and cloud-native architectures enable companies to create and deliver applications more nimbly and faster than ever before, many of these innovative technologies also increase the probability of security flaws and vulnerabilities in products. Exposure to risk is much greater with applications being released at higher frequency and in higher quantity as smaller containerized deployment units, as opposed to development happening on a gated monolithic Java application.

For example, the provenance of images from public container registries can be compromised and thus a potential exposure point in development. Likewise for the proliferation of open source software that is often used as libraries and dependencies. Perennial tools, such as GitHub, have fostered sharing and open communities, sometimes with grave consequences to those contributors that publish sensitive data to public repositories. How many times have we heard about passwords being pushed to public repos for all the world to see?

With all those considerations in play and with so much at risk, companies now have a maniacal focus on securing DevOps. But before they can even start formally considering security, they should first review employee responsibilities, organizational accountability, delivery practices, governance and the other aspects that go into the design, development and delivery of digital products. For enterprises that are modernizing to cloud native platforms and technologies, it might be an opportune time to reexamine and freshen up approaches.

DevSecOps is indeed about people, processes and tools. Fully understand those three and you can build a secure delivery process that engenders trust and confidence in DevOps. Trust and confidence foster accountability and the notion that digital reputations are everyone’s responsibility.

Determine the Process for the Release Pipeline

Here, it’s about cementing a formal governance of processes, all the steps behind an application moving from one point to another. How does code graduate from local development and testing to the production station–and what happens in between? This is a fundamental tenet of the plain ol’ DevOps of yesteryear.

There are notable considerations in a cloud native pipeline. For instance, the promotion path might be described with Kubernetes namespaces and clusters (not the baremetal servers or VM environments of yesteryear). Another modern DevOps approach is to apply DevOps principles to the application and environment configuration artifacts. Also known as GitOps, it’s applying the use of version control, access management and lifecycle processes to yaml files, helm charts, monitoring scripts and other artifacts that are primarily a concern of operations. Extending DevOps to operations (or GitOps) mitigates risk in environment misconfigurations and configuration drift, an added benefit. Security, in this respect, is addressed through environmental compliance.

Aim to justify everything that happens in the release pipeline. Examine the value-add of steps and align them with the security risks they are trying to mitigate. Here are some examples:

Unit tests must pass in the build phase of the release pipeline to mitigate the risk of non-working code being pushed to the Development environment and entering the promotion path.
Vulnerability scanning must occur on all Docker images prior to go live to mitigate the risk of a security flaw or vulnerability being introduced in production.
All API interfaces must have a Swagger definition and a set of corresponding Pact/contract tests run in build phase to mitigate the risk of integration defects and corresponding outages.
Seek Answers, Document Everything and Include Security

By questioning everything, the answers will reveal what falls under the security lens and what eludes it. Ultimately, you want to document practices and processes so that they’re codified and held with reverence by everyone along the pipeline. IT security should have a seat at the table (alongside development, operations, product owner, QA) and be an equally important voice in examining the release pipeline. A core agile value is to have a product-focused approach to the release pipeline. Involving IT security will bring a healthy measure of risk mitigation into the pipeline, while still considering velocity in delivery.

But that’s just the process. As we’ll explore in the second part of this series, people and tools also make a difference.

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