From DevOps to DevSecOps: The Security Challenges of DevOps

From DevOps to DevSecOps: The Security Challenges of DevOps

June 11, 2019


Reading time
5 mins

DevOps has transformed modern software development by unifying development and operations workflows and tools into a single pipeline. By automating workflows developers are able to shorten development cycles. Software is released faster to push out more regular updates, features, and fixes.

While DevOps has been undoubtedly successful, one stumbling block is that it doesn’t prioritize application security. Research in 2018 found that 60 percent of organizations haven’t integrated security into DevOps workflows.

With cybersecurity incidents on the rise, many of which occur through exploiting vulnerable software, there is a pressing need to reframe the DevOps idea as DevSecOps. This DevSecOps guide expands more on the idea and definition of DevSecOps.

Thinking of security in DevOps reflects a critical shift in how application creators are approaching their organizations. I’ll go into the main challenges of integrating security into DevOps and also speak to how you can overcome such challenges.

Examining the Security Challenges of DevOps

Here are five main security challenges of DevOps and thoughts on how to overcome them.

  1. Conflicting Objectives

The main goal for developers and operations, which is facilitated by DevOps practices and tools, is to release software as quickly as possible through frequent updates, features, and fixes. However, the mindset of application security teams is less focused on speed and efficiency and much more focused on thorough testing.

It’s easy to see that these conflicting objectives for DevOps and application security testers can create conflict. The only effective way to address this conflict is to shift security left and prioritize it early on in the development cycle. This ensures security concerns are still addressed but at an early enough stage that facilitates greater collaboration rather than conflict.

  1. Slow Security Testing

The need for an updated, shift-left approach to security doesn’t necessarily translate to proper integration between DevOps and security. If security is ever to be properly embedded in DevOps, a new, faster approach to security testing is required.

Older methods of development, such as the waterfall model, typically involved longer development cycles that took months to complete. These longer cycles gave security teams more time to extensively test and verify software and send it back to developers if code changes were necessary.

The modern DevOps environment has no leeway for laborious, traditional security tests. Security teams need to draw inspiration from the DevOps emphasis on speed. A possible solution is to dramatically increase automation in security tests so that they run with greater speed and efficiency.

  1. Lack of Security Knowledge

There are knowledge gaps on both the DevOps and security side of things that can act as barriers to achieving a functional and efficient DevSecOps approach to building applications. The most glaring shortfall is in developer security knowledge. According to this industry infographic, just 2.8 percent of undergraduate computer science programs require a security module.

Organizations need to recognize that their developers are unlikely to fully understand the best practices for coding and building an app in a secure way. To fully embed security into DevOps, there should be training programs that equip developers with application security knowledge. Overcoming this challenge will increase the efficiency of security checks as developers begin to recognize vulnerabilities and fix them on the fly.

  1. Cloud Security Complications

Cloud computing provides a way for DevOps teams to use low-cost, scalable computing environments for developing, testing, and even running their apps. However, the cloud comes with its own set of security considerations and potential vulnerabilities.

It is more difficult to establish a proper security perimeter in the cloud compared to on-premises computing environments. Furthermore, minor misconfigurations or vulnerabilities in the cloud can quickly lead to huge compromises in application security.

Security teams should be using tools that monitor cloud usage for vulnerabilities. There also needs to be proper policies and procedures documentation that give guidelines on network policies, encryption, and privileged access controls.

  1. Software Supply Chain Vulnerabilities

The use of open source libraries and frameworks within proprietary applications has exploded in line with the growth of the DevOps movement. Open source projects provide DevOps teams with ready-made code snippets that can enhance the functionality of the apps they build.

However, the statistics on open source vulnerabilities are a concern. According to recent research, 41% of apps contained high-risk open source vulnerabilities. Open source code is not inherently unsecured but problems arise when software is not updated or the code not properly sourced.

The solution? Security teams can educate DevOps on how to secure the software supply chain. Some best practices include applying updates or patches that fix open source vulnerabilities as soon as they become available. Developers should also be advised to only source libraries and frameworks from trusted repositories.

The Path to DevSecOps

There are several challenges when you transition your organization from a DevOps to DevSecOps environment. By understanding these challenges and their proposed solutions, you may be better prepared to achieve a smoother transition that prioritizes application security from the outset.

Tags: Security,

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