DevSecOps: Seven Tips for DevOps Security

Written by Gilad David Maayan

How do you develop and release software fast and furiously but still keep it all secure? Here’s how to turn your DevOps shop into a DevSecOps shop.

The DevOps model makes the process of software development faster, more efficient and far more agile. But it doesn’t do much in the way of making security a top priority. That’s a problem, as the DevOps-supported need to deploy fast and furiously often is in direct contradiction with security concerns.

But all is not lost. Organizations can, in fact, achieve secure deployments. They just need to integrate security practices into the pipeline. That’s DevSecOps, in a nutshell. Here’s how to turn your DevOps shop into a security-first DevSecOps shop.

devops devsecops

But first, a word about DevOps

A DevOps environment encourages operations (ops) and development engineers (dev) to share common processes, tools and techniques throughout the software development lifecycle. DevOps is a software development approach that aims to create a highly collaborative and responsive relationship between development and IT operations.

The DevOps method is inspired by the agile methodology for software development. Agile methods focus on collaboration, continuous testing, and integration as a way to increase the velocity of delivering software. 

In the early stages of agile adoption, teams consisted almost exclusively of developers. That model later involved quality assurance (teams) to improve the efficiency of the development. DevOps streamlines development practices by implementing cross-functional teams. 

The DevOps cycle

IThe stages of the DevOps process function as a loop monitoring and refining every committed code until ready for deployment. The phases of the loop include:

  • Plan and code Developers write the code and commit it to a central repository with version control.
  • Create Tools fetch automatically the source code from the repository to package it into executable applications.
  • Verify The testing is performed automatically as soon as code is committed to the repository and across the pipeline.
  • Deploy and configure Once the applications are tested, they are sent to operations to refine the configuration.
  • Monitor The application is continuously monitored. Every piece of code passes through the DevOps loop until ready for release. Throughout there is constant monitoring and feedback, information the team uses to update and refine the products.

Benefits of DevOps

Introducing a DevOps strategy provides benefits beyond the development process. Because organizations practicing DevOps spend less time on unplanned work and unnecessary revisions, teams are able to fix issues on the spot. Some of the other main benefits of implementing a DevOps model include:

  • Faster fixes Continuous feedback and testing enables DevOps teams to catch and fix flaws easier and faster.
  • Streamlined processes DevOps models use automation to streamline development and operations processes. 
  • Increased agility Continuous collaboration enables for fast development and delivery.
  • Cross-skilling DevOps teams are cross-functional, which allows engineers to learn common skills and tips from the other team members. 
  • Improved collaborationDevOps requires constant collaboration and communication between teams to ensure the efficiency of the IT department. 

Enter DevSecOps

DevOps security— DevSecOps — is the practice of safeguarding the DevOps environment by using practices, policies, tools, and processes. Ideally, security should be built-in across the software development lifecycle — from inception to maintenance.

DevOps security integrates the security team into DevOps. Including security practices and tools enables you to detect and respond quickly to security vulnerabilities and threats. This facilitates shorter development cycles and faster product releases while ensuring the production of secure code.

Challenges of DevOps Security

DevOps practices and tools often create particular security challenges. For instance, the focus on delivery speed sometimes leaves security teams in a mad rush as they try to catch up and perform security tests. 

If DevOps and security processes are not aligned, you might end up with an insecure code that contains vulnerabilities. Other challenges that can arise from implementing a DevOps security model include:

  • Team resistance—Development teams often think that introducing security will stall the development process. However, it is easier to catch and patch security issues early in the development cycle than having to implement fixes later.
  • Cloud environments—Because most DevOps environments deploy on the cloud, they share the security challenges of a cloud environment. For example, most development teams leverage open-source code which can present security issues such as misconfiguration errors or application vulnerabilities.
  • The risks of containerization The adoption of container technology and their management tools such as Kubernetes enables DevOps teams to increase productivity and efficiency. However, this causes new security challenges. The lightweight and portable nature of containers make them easy to transport and run across any kind of machine or environment. If they are not properly scanned for vulnerabilities, the containers’ portability can pose a security risk, such as containers injected with malware.
  • Poor controls DevOps environments require access control and secrets’ management because of their dynamic work pace. Both individuals and automation tools can gain access to credential keys. Therefore, tightening the security around privileges is a must to avoid unauthorized access.

Tips for Successful DevOps Security

Security teams need to have a proper strategy to approach DevOps security, in order to avoid common pitfalls and challenges. For instance, one of the keys to successfully implementing security in a DevOps environment is assigning clear ownership and responsibility. Other best practices include:

  1. Adopting a DevSecOps model The collaboration inherent to the model ensures that security is integrated across the entire DevOps lifecycle. The core values of collaboration and shared responsibility present in DevOps, are also present in the DevSecOps workflow. This approach requires that the entire organization adheres to security practices. You should, for example, train security teams to work with APIs or developers to automate security tests.
  2. Automation Automating any process you do more than once will at once help scale operations and dramatically prevent human error.
  3. Developing security policies Have clear and detailed security policies in place. This can help ensure everyone in the organization is on the same page.
  4. Transition slowly When introducing security tools and procedures, start slowly, introducing one tool at a time. This can prevent teams from rushing to implement the tools and controls without understanding them fully.
  5. Assign a single person with security accountability When you reduce responsibility to a single person you prevent the teams from forgetting or overlooking security controls and requirements.
  6. Vulnerability management Implement an automated system for scanning, assess and remediate vulnerabilities. This can help security teams ensure the application is secure before releasing it into production. Implementing other tests such as penetration testing can provide an added layer of security, identifying weaknesses early in the cycle.
  7. Threat modeling— Threat modeling simulates attacks with the aim to test the team’s response. You can then assess the risks your application can face and how your team can respond to a security incident.

The bottom line

Integrating security into DevOps is no easy feat. Teams are often reluctant to change. But there are security considerations for lack of integration. A DevSecOp approach prevents most of these challenges by increasing the collaboration and communication between teams. The best practices mentioned in this article can help you create a DevOps security strategy that works well for your team.

For aNewDomain, I’m Gilad David Maayan.