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OVERVIEW

Container Security: What Is DevSecOps?

Historically, securing applications and infrastructure required collaboration between a number of stakeholders – such as developers (who write applications), IT operations engineers (who deploy and manage apps), and information security analysts (who are experts in cybersecurity). Businesses are increasingly turning to DevSecOps to bring all of these stakeholders together and achieve efficient collaboration between them.

By establishing a common set of goals, methodologies, and tools that various types of engineers can use to help optimize security, DevSecOps helps teams achieve better security outcomes with less effort.

Keep reading for a deep dive into what DevSecOps means, how it works, and which best practices enable DevSecOps.

What Is It?

DevSecOps is a strategy that makes security the collective responsibility of all stakeholders who play a role in the software delivery lifecycle.

The core goal of DevSecOps is to ensure that security is integrated into every stage of software delivery, as opposed to being left in a “silo” or treated as an afterthought. In practice, that means that security assessment and optimization begins during the coding process (which is the first stage in software delivery) and continues through the testing, staging, deployment, and management processes.

DevSecOps vs. DevOps

DevSecOps builds on the principles at the core of DevOps. DevOps encourages developers and IT operations engineers to take collective ownership of software delivery at all stages of the development cycle in order to avoid miscommunications and delays that could reduce application quality or undercut the user experience. DevOps also aims to turn the processes of software planning, coding, building, testing, deployment and management into a continuous “infinity loop.”

However, DevOps on its own doesn’t extend to security. When the DevOps philosophy emerged in the later 2000s, it focused on integrating just development and IT operations.

DevSecOps, then, expands upon DevOps by adding security to the equation. Businesses that embrace DevSecOps strive to optimize collaboration between not just developers and IT Ops teams, but also security experts. And ultimately, they work toward breaking down the barriers between and disseminating knowledge between development, Ops and security so that these areas fuse together into a single domain of shared expertise.

Use Cases for DevSecOps

DevSecOps can benefit virtually any business that relies on software, regardless of its size or industry. For example, here are some common use cases for DevSecOps across different sectors:

  • Healthcare: Healthcare businesses are subject to strict compliance and data privacy requirements. By making security a priority across the software delivery lifecycle, DevSecOps can help healthcare organizations to meet these requirements and identify risks that place data privacy in jeopardy.
  • Finance: Financial services companies, too, face tight compliance requirements. In addition, many rely on a complex mix of legacy and modern software resources. DevSecOps can help businesses in the finance industry to optimize security across all components of their IT estates – from the mainframes that many banks and insurance companies still rely on to the cloud-native Kubernetes clusters that they use to host more modern workloads.
  • Retail: In the highly competitive retail industry, achieving a top-notch customer experience is paramount. So is protecting sensitive data like customer identities and payment information. DevSecOps can help on both fronts because it allows retailers to build and deploy highly secure applications. At the same time, DevSecOps also minimizes the risk of application performance or reliability issues that tend to occur when security is “bolted on” to applications after they’re built, rather than being integrated into applications from the beginning. When you try to add security in after the fact, you’re more likely to introduce problems that impact user experience.

DevSecOps adoption certainly isn’t limited to these sectors, but these industries are prime examples of how DevSecOps can deliver valuable security benefits across a range of varying contexts and use cases.

The Benefits

No matter what type of business you run, DevSecOps offers a core set of benefits that improve security outcomes:

  • Proactive security: DevSecOps makes it easier to get ahead of security issues. It helps businesses move beyond a detect-respond model by designing application architectures that are secure from the start, and by priming not just security teams, but also developers and IT engineers to bring their perspectives to bear on how best to prevent security risks.
  • Collective ownership over security: With DevSecOps, responsibility for both security successes and failures is shared collectively by all stakeholders. From a cultural perspective, that’s healthier than having developers, IT engineers, and security teams point fingers at each other when a breach occurs – or take credit for security wins that they didn’t actually achieve entirely on their own.
  • Streamlined application delivery: When businesses use DevSecOps to bake security into application delivery from the start, they reduce the risk that security tools or processes will slow down application delivery. For instance, DevSecOps means that security analysts won’t ask developers to rewrite application code in order to detect a security flaw that did not come to light until just before the application was supposed to be deployed. With DevSecOps, those types of issues can be addressed earlier, leading to more reliable and consistent application delivery cycles.
  • Repeatable security processes: By providing a systematic way for various stakeholders to approach security, DevSecOps helps to make security processes repeatable and reliable. Put another way, DevSecOps transforms security from an ad hoc, case-by-case operation into a systematic set of processes that can be applied to any application delivery cycle across any part of the business.
  • SBOM visibility: By helping multiple stakeholders within the security process to work together effectively, DevSecOps can help businesses to generate Software Bills of Materials, or SBOMs, which document all of the components and resources that go into creating software, at all stages of the software delivery process.

How Does DevSecOps Work?

DevSecOps isn’t a rigid set of practices or tools. Instead, it’s a concept or philosophy that governs the way businesses approach security. The way that teams put DevSecOps into action will vary depending on factors like the types of applications and infrastructure they need to support and the specific types of risks or compliance mandates they face. For that reason, there’s no universal answer to “How does DevSecOps work?”

There are, however, actionable approaches that can help teams to get started with DevSecOps. Typically, if you want to make DevSecOps work at your business, you’ll want to define the following elements:

  • Set DevSecOps goals: First, determine why you’re adopting DevSecOps and what, specifically, you’re hoping to get out of it. Is it fewer software delivery delays triggered by security issues, for instance, or a reduction in total breaches? The goals of DevSecOps will vary from one business to another, so you’ll want to establish yours in order to get started with DevSecOps.
  • Create a DevSecOps framework: A DevSecOps framework defines the specific procedures and rules that will govern your approach to DevSecOps. For instance, your DevSecOps framework might establish policies relating to how Infrastructure as Code (IaC) templates are configured to avoid security gaps within them. Or, it might define which automated security tests an application needs to pass before it is deployed.
  • Launch DevSecOps processes: Once you have a DevSecOps framework in place, you can put it into action by assigning specific team members to take charge of specific DevSecOps processes.
  • Measure DevSecOps: Once a DevSecOps initiative is underway, it’s a best practice to measure the success of the initiative on a continuous basis. Collect metrics to determine how well you’re meeting your DevSecOps goals and to measure changes in DevSecOps effectiveness over time.

Security Tooling

Because each organization’s DevSecOps journey is unique, there is no universal set of DevSecOps tools that every business requires. However, in general, most DevSecOps initiatives will benefit from the following core categories of DevSecOps tools:

  • Static application security testing (SAST): SAST solutions help to identify flaws and vulnerabilities in application source code and binaries by scanning and assessing the contents of an application. SAST is most useful in the earlier stages of software delivery to catch risks before an application moves toward deployment.
  • Software composition analysis (SCA): SCA tools help to identify the components of third-party software, such as open source packages or modules that you use. For DevSecOps, SCA is an important type of tool for ensuring that third-party dependencies are secure before they are integrated into other applications.
  • Dynamic application security testing (DAST): DAST tools run security tests against live applications to detect vulnerabilities and weaknesses that teams may have missed when reviewing static versions of the applications.
  • Interactive application security testing (IAST): IAST is a newer category of security tool that combines elements of both SAST and DAST. In general, IAST tools use dynamic security testing to identify risks (which makes them similar to DAST), but they also attempt to trace risks back to the source code that triggers them (which makes them similar to SAST).

DevSecOps teams that support particular types of environments may want to deploy additional tools. For example, for cloud workloads, Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) tools are useful for detecting configuration mistakes that could introduce security risks into cloud environments. Likewise, for workloads deployed on Kubernetes, DevSecOps teams should leverage security tools capable of detecting risks unique to the Kubernetes architecture, such as over-privileged containers.

DevSecOps Best Practices

No matter which specific DevSecOps tools or methodologies you use, best practices like the following can help your team to get the most out of DevSecOps:

  • Automate, automate, automate: Automation isn’t a strict requirement of DevSecOps. But the more you automate DevSecOps processes, the easier it becomes for multiple stakeholders to collaborate efficiently around security.
  • Keep release cycles manageable: Application release cycles that involve too many changes can make DevSecOps harder because there is more code to secure and analyze. In general, DevSecOps is smoother and more effective when release cycles remain short and sweet.
  • Apply DevSecOps to your supply chain: It’s not just internally developed applications that can introduce security risks. Any third-party code that you integrate into your applications or that you deploy in a standalone fashion in your IT environments can also be the source of security problems. For that reason, it’s a best practice to apply the same rigorous DevSecOps processes to external software resources – those in your “supply chain” – as well as to code you write in-house.
  • Tailor DevSecOps to your environments: As noted above, DevSecOps tools and methodologies can vary widely depending on exactly which workloads you support. Instead of treating DevSecOps as a generic practice, be sure to tailor it to your specific needs.

Conclusion

DevSecOps practices vary widely, but they all support the core goal of ensuring that security is both effective and efficient. That’s a critical advantage in a world where software release cycles move more quickly than ever, and where the number of security threats that businesses face is constantly increasing. No matter exactly how you choose to approach DevSecOps, embracing it is a critical step toward better security outcomes.