DevSecOps: A Complete Guide

May 24, 2021

Why should you learn about the basics of DevSecOps even if you’re not a software developer? The short answer is to improve security at your business or company. Organizations have long had a heavy focus on speeding up application development to deploy new software as soon as possible, but this frequently came at the cost of security.

Unfortunately, if an application was discovered to have security issues at this stage, it meant rewriting large amounts of code which could easily become a very convoluted, difficult, and time-consuming task for developers.

But DevSecOps metrics and methodologies have been an important update to the way developers approach the software development life cycle (SDLC). By embracing the rapid pace of DevOps with the cautious oversight of SecOps, they can be merged into one. This practice enables developers to build software that is safe before launch.

New approaches to software delivery, security, and infrastructure are predicted DevOps trends in 2021. A maturation of automation tools for infrastructure, alongside better security tools, is on the cards as well as digital transformation being embraced completely, meaning DevOps will gain more steam and visibility.

In this article, we’ll walk you through everything there is to know about DevSecOps, what it is, what it isn’t, and some top tips on how to implement DevOps security metrics in your software pipeline, why more developers are approaching their work this way and how the implementation of DevSecOps results in a better sense of teamwork among colleagues, faster SDLCs, enhanced productivity, and better security.

DevOps Security

The most common security recommendations to integrate into your DevOps practice to implement a DevSecOps approach to software development are to:

  1. Continually focus on security and build it into your applications
  2. Use automated and manual scanning processes to secure open-source and third-party components
  3. Always follow secure coding guidelines
  4. Validate all input data, responses, and content types
  5. Red flag unusual behavior and analyze it for potential signs of an attack
  6. Utilize both manual and automated security testing and protection
  7. Utilize a SAST tool to create safe and reliable code. 

The Need for DevSecOps

According to DevOps expert Barbara Ericson of Cloud Defense, “DevOps is mainly concerned with providing end-users with software applications faster by decreasing the failure rate of builds (releases). DevOps also emphasizes the tools that are needed to achieve this faster turnaround with measurable quality control.”

However, ‘DevSecOps’ also integrates software development and IT operations into a common role along with a security element. This combination underscores the balance between the three focuses when developing software, during which none comes at the expense of others. 

DevSecOps also picks up on potential security vulnerabilities to be caught and rectified before they are exploited, building business-driven software with built-in security services. This approach reduces the cost of compliance as well as delays for software releases. Before DevSecOps was widely implemented, companies usually checked their newly developed software towards the final stages of development before launch. 

Because of the culture of speedy deployment, applying patches to servers for security fixes became more common rather than fixing security issues at their core.

Today, treating security as an afterthought is a luxury that no one can afford. IT infrastructure is widespread, as is the use of technology in day-to-day essential activities such as shopping, banking, and health care. 

This means DevOps need to be scalable due to increasing demand and potential risks that can cause devastation if a data breach occurs.

Cybercrime has steadily increased over the years. A recent study reveals that 60% of UK-based businesses suffered a cyberattack at the end of 2020. This was accelerated by the remote working movement and global lockdowns.

Implementing DevSecOps is now no longer just good practice but a necessity to mitigate the potential of crippling data breaches and other hacking incidents.

DevSecOps shifts focus to security, ensuring that everyone involved in the software development pipeline is responsible for ensuring the utmost IT security. By intertwining a focus on cybersecurity at every level of the software development process, speed, as well as functionality and security, are prioritized.

DevSecOps vs DevOps

What is the difference between the old way of DevOps versus the new model of DevSecOps? First, let’s focus on the similarities. 

Both methodologies value the concept of teamwork and recognize how this can speed up the release of important new software. They both utilize the agile framework to emphasize a work culture driven by dynamic and continuous work processes, and communication and collaboration are emphasized at all levels. 

Both DevOps and DevSecOps use some degree of automation for simple tasks, freeing up time for developers to focus on more important aspects of the software. The concept of continuous processes applies to both practices, ensuring that the main objectives of development, operation, or security are met at each stage. This prevents bottlenecks in the pipeline and allows teams and technologies to work in unison. 

By working together, development, operational or security experts can write new applications and software updates in a timely fashion, monitor, log, and assess the codebase and security perimeter as well as roll out new and improved codebase with a central repository. 

The main difference between DevOps and DevSecOps is quite clear. The latter incorporates a renewed focus on security that was previously overlooked by other methodologies and frameworks. In the past, the speed at which a new application could be created and released was emphasized, only to be stuck in a frustrating silo as cybersecurity experts reviewed the code and pointed out security vulnerabilities. 

This former practice, which encouraged the creation of bottlenecks in the software development cycle, would put a lot of pressure on cybersecurity experts and developers to quickly fix glitches and bugs and glitches with the software. This often came at the price of the software’s functionality and security. 

The DevSecOps Pipelines

At its essence, a DevSecOps pipeline is a list of security practices and tools that are ingrained in every step of a software development pipeline. IT experts continually work together to build, test, and eventually launch secure software faster. 

By implementing DevSecOps, teams can ensure that they can detect security vulnerabilities early in the SDLC and create the best fixes for them before it is too late. This, in turn, improves the speed and agility in the entire life cycle. It also helps that everyone on the team is familiar with potential security issues and enables organizations to bounce back from security incidents with more speed.

Traditionally, a modern DevOps pipeline has a few distinct levels. These phases are referred to as the Plan, Code, Build, Test, Release, Deploy, Operate and Monitor stages. These phases remain unchanged with a DevSecOps mindset, with one exception: a focus on security is applied to every single level. 

This focus on security is manifested in several different ways. The first focus is referred to as threat modeling. Development teams brainstorm a variety of the most likely attack scenarios, taking inventory of the possible sensitive data that could be affected and coming up with possible solutions. It has the added benefit of educating everyone on the team of common security concerns.

Another focus is on scanning, which analyzes code to guarantee that it is free from common vulnerabilities. A good practice is to use both manual and automated scanning processes. 

Analyzation plays an important role in security as well. During this phase, the information, data, and metrics collected from the two previous states are given a further review. Teams prioritize security risks, listing which ones are the most and least severe, and which ones are more likely to happen than others.

The remediation phase allows the team involved in the SDLC to devise solutions to all the identified security risks. SAST can recommend solutions for many of the bugs and vulnerabilities in the code that have been detected through automation. 

Lastly, teams can monitor the software and track the identified vulnerabilities, as well as keep a log of the steps taken to mitigate potential security concerns. During the monitoring stage, the overall security of the software is constantly being assessed.

DevOps Security Tools

Thankfully, there are many tools in your kit that can be used to help development teams create code that is free from errors and vulnerabilities. These tools can make work easier for your team and promote the creation of cyber-secure software.

  • SAST Tools

SAST tools rely on automation to assess code for vulnerabilities. SAST is a great tool to use because it is highly scalable. One of the most important elements of SAST is the Source Composition Analysis, which enables automated scans of code to pinpoint vulnerabilities for OSS software, OWASP, code smells, vulnerabilities, bugs, libraries, and other similar artifacts that may have open security issues.

SAST tools follow internationally recognized coding standards to plant red flags where it detects vulnerability patterns. It can identify security vulnerabilities in many different types of code earlier, which can save money if the code needs to be reworked to prioritize cybersecurity. The real-time feedback provided by SAST tools allows developers to know the exact location of vulnerabilities and their cause, allowing them to act accordingly. 

  • DAST tools

A DAST tool dives deeper into the coding of a software application and analyzes execution logic and live data. A DAST tool has a more holistic approach, analyzing the application as it runs. It tests encryption algorithms, attempting to break them from the outside in a sort of “white hat” hacking approach. 

DAST helps validate permissions to ensure the security of different privilege levels. It can check for cross-site scripting, SQL injection, and other common software security vulnerabilities. It can catch hard application failures, as well as record application execution for post-mortem test failure analysis. Finally, it can ensure third-party interfaces are free from serious vulnerabilities. 

SAST and DAST work in tandem. These tools are essential to a comprehensive security testing process for an effective DevSecOps pipeline.

  • Container Scan

Container scanning is simply the process of continuously checking your containers with scanning tools to ensure that they are running as they should be. A container scan should, at the minimum, confirm the software supply chain is up and running and that your container infrastructure is properly configured and protected.

The best container scanning tools will compare your container components against their expanding databases of new vulnerabilities. They should also provide you with reports, impact analyses, and graphs of any licensing issues or vulnerabilities that have been discovered as well.

Conclusion

As we are living in a world that is becoming more dependent on technology by the day, development teams have a huge responsibility to the public to create secure software. 

The stakes are high when creating applications that can potentially host large databases of sensitive medical, financial, or otherwise personal information. 

Fortunately, with a DevSecOps mindset and the right DevOps tools and metrics in place, there are many ways you can approach building and coding software to ensure the utmost levels of security.

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