7 min read

Does your team perform security testing during development? If not, why not?

Cybercrime is on the rise, and formjacking, ransomware, and IoT attacks have increased alarmingly in the last year. This makes security a priority at every stage of development. In this kind of ominous environment, development teams around the globe should take a more proactive approach to threat detection.

This can be done in a number of ways. There are some basic techniques that development teams can use to protect their development environments. But ultimately, what is needed is an integration of threat identification and management into the development process itself. Integrated processes like this are referred to as DevSecOps, and in this guide, we’ll take you through some of the advantages of transitioning to DevSecOps.

Protect Your Development Environment

First, though, let’s look at some basic measures that can help to protect your development environment.

For both individuals and enterprises, online privacy is perhaps the most valuable currency of all. Proxy servers, Tor, and virtual private networks (VPN) have slowly crept into the lexicon of internet users as cost-effective privacy tools to consider if you want to avoid drawing the attention of hackers.

But what about enterprises? Should they use the same tools? They would prefer to avoid hackers as well. This answer is more complicated.

Encryption and authentication should be addressed early in the development process, especially given the common practice of using open source libraries for app coding. The advanced security protocols that power many popular consumer VPN services make it a good first step to protecting coding and any proprietary technology. Additional controls like using 2-factor authentication and limiting who has access will further protect the development environment and procedures.

Beyond these basic measures, though, it is also worth looking in detail at your entire development process and integrating security management at every stage. This is sometimes referred to as integrating DevOps and DevSecOps.

DevOps vs. DevSecOps: What’s the Difference?

DevOps and DevSecOps are not separate entities, but different facets of the development process. Traditionally, DevOps teams work to integrate software development and implementation in order to facilitate the rapid delivery of new business applications. Since this process omits security testing and solutions, many security flaws and vulnerabilities aren’t addressed early enough in the development process.

With a new approach, DevSecOps, this omission is addressed by automating security-related tasks and integrating controls and functions like composition analysis and configuration management into the development process.

Previously, DevSec focused only on automating security code testing, but it is gradually transitioning to incorporate an operations-centric approach. This helps in reconciling two environments that are opposite by nature. DevOps is forward-looking because it’s toward rapid deployment, while development security looks backward to analyze and predict future issues.

By prioritizing security analysis and automation, teams can still improve delivery speed without the need to retroactively find and deal with threats.

Best Practices: How DevSecOps Should Work

The goal of current DevSecOps best practices is to implement a shift towards real-time threat detection rather than undergoing a historical analysis. This enables more efficient application development that recognizes and deals with issues as they happen rather than waiting until there’s a problem.

This can be done by developing a more effective strategy while adopting DevSecOps practices. When all areas of concern are addressed, it results in:

Automatic code procurement: Automatic code procurement eliminates the problem of human error and incorporating weak or flawed coding. This benefits developers by allowing vulnerabilities and flaws to be discovered and corrected earlier in the process.

Uninterrupted security deployment: Uninterrupted security deployment through the use of automation tools that work in real time. This is done by creating a closed-loop testing and reporting and real-time threat resolution.

Leveraged security resources: Leveraged security resources through automation. Using automated DevSecOps typically address areas related to threat assessment, event monitoring, and code security. This frees your IT or security team to focus in other areas, like threat remediation and elimination.

There are five areas that need to be addressed in order for DevSecOps to be effective:

  1. Code analysis

By delivering code in smaller modules, teams are able to identify and address vulnerabilities faster.

  1. Management changes

Adapting the protocol for changes in management or admins allows users to improve on changes faster as well as enabling security teams to analyze their impact in real time. This eliminates the problem of getting calls about problems with system access after the application is deployed.

  1. Compliance

Addressing compliance with Payment Card Industry Digital Security Standard (PCI DSS) and the new General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) earlier, helps prevent audits and heavy fines. It also ensures that you have all of your reporting ready to go in the event of a compliance audit.

  1. Automating threat and vulnerability detection

Threats evolve and proliferate fast, so security should be agile enough to deal with emerging threats each time coding is updated or altered. Automating threat detection earlier in the development process improves response times considerably.

  1. Training programs

Comprehensive security response begins with proper IT security training. Developers should craft a training protocol that ensures all personnel who are responsible for security are up to date and on the same page. Organizations should bring security and IT staff into the process sooner. That means advising current team members of current procedures and ensuring that all new staff is thoroughly trained.

Finding the Right Tools for DevSecOps Success

Does a doctor operate with a chainsaw? Hopefully not.

Likewise, all of the above points are nearly impossible to achieve without the right tools to get the job done with precision.

What should your DevSec team keep in their toolbox?

Automation tools

Attack modeling tools

  • Attack modeling tools create models of possible attack matrices and map their implications. There are plenty of attack modeling tools available, but a good one for identifying cloud vulnerabilities is Infection Monkey, which simulates attacks against the parts of your infrastructure that run on major public cloud hosts like Google Cloud, AWS, and Azure, as well as most cloud storage providers like Dropbox and pCloud.

Visualization tools

  • Visualization tools are used for evolving, identifying, and sharing findings with the operations team. An example of this type of tool is PortVis, developed by a team led by professor Kwan-Liu Ma at the University of California, Davis. PortVis is designed to display activity by host or port in three different modes: a grid visualization, in which all network activity is displayed on a single grid; a volume visualization, which extends the grid to a three-dimensional volume; and a port visualization, which allows devs to visualize the activity on specific ports over time. Using this tool, different types of attack can be easily distinguished from each other.

Alerting tools 

  • Alerting tools prioritize threats and send alerts so that the most hazardous vulnerabilities can be addressed immediately. WhiteSource Bolt, for instance, is a useful tool of this type, designed to improve the security of open source components. It does this by checking these components against known security threats, and providing security alerts to devs. These alerts also auto-generate issues within GitHub. Here, devs can see details such as references for the CVE, its CVSS rating, a suggested fix, and there is even an option to assign the vulnerability to another team member using the milestones feature.

The Bottom Line

Combining DevOps and DevSec is not a meshing of two separate disciplines, but rather the natural transition of development to a more comprehensive approach that takes security into account earlier in the process, and does it in a more meaningful way.

This saves a lot of time and hassles by addressing enterprise security requirements before deployment rather than probing for flaws later. The sooner your team hops on board with DevSecOps, the better.

Author Bio

Gary Stevens is a front-end developer. He’s a full-time blockchain geek and a volunteer working for the Ethereum foundation as well as an active Github contributor.

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