DevSecOps is a framework that incorporates practices blending development (Dev), IT operations (Ops) and security (Sec) processes into one, streamlined process. Using this approach, DevSecOps teams are able to ensure that security is integrated into the software development lifecycle, ensuring that software is built, deployed and maintained with a “security-first” mindset. In this tutorial, we delve into the best practices for implementing DevSecOps and security measures throughout every stage of the development process.

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What is DevSecOps

DevSecOps evolved from the DevOps methodology, which seeks to break down silos and communication barriers between developers and operations teams so that software can be created more rapidly and with more reliability. DevSecOps adds to the core principles of DevOps by integrating security teams and emphasizing collaboration among every stakeholder.

As cybersecurity threats continue to evolve and become more pervasive, DevSecOps becomes more popular, as organizations seek to mitigate these malicious actors. Part of the reasons companies are relying more and more upon DevSecOps is due to the fact that traditional security measures (such as occasional audits and static analysis processes) can no longer protect software architecture. DevSecOps replaces these traditional security practices by implementing automated testing, application performance monitoring and continuous integration.

What are the principles of DevSecOps?

Before we can discuss the best practices for implementing DevSecOps, we need to understand the core principles of DevSecOps. They include:

  • Automation: DevSecOps professionals use automation to eliminate manual tasks, which can be prone to human errors. These automations come in the form of security checks, scans, monitoring, logging and multiple types of tests, each of which are integrated into the development, build and deployment pipeline.
  • Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment: CI/CD pipelines automate the building, testing and deployment of code changes to a production environment. DevSecOps adds one further step to CI/CD pipelines by incorporating security checks along every stage of the pipeline.
  • Collaboration: DevSecOps emphasizes collaboration among development, operations and security teams. This is one of the most important DevSecOps principles.
  • Shift-Left Security: Shift-Left Security refers to the philosophy of “shifting left.” This means that security concerns must be addressed as early as feasible in the SDLC. The benefit of this principle is that it allows teams to catch and fix security and code integration issues before they become bigger problems or result in unreliable products.
Integrating security cycle on top of DevOps.
Image: Graphic&Illustration/Adobe Stock. Integrating security cycle on top of DevOps.

Best practices for implementing DevSecOps

Below are some of the best practices for implementing DevSecOps, including:

  • Integrate security into DevOps pipelines
  • Adopt Infrastructure as Code
  • Incorporate Automated Security Testing
  • Scan containers for vulnerabilities
  • Continuously monitor applications
  • Define security policies
  • Utilize Role-Based Access Control
  • Train-up for security practices
  • Conduct threat modeling
  • Secure third-party libraries
  • Secure testing environments
  • Documentation and compliance reporting
  • Implement security orchestration and automation

Integrate security into the DevOps pipeline

The core of DevSecOps practices is to integrate security tools and best practices directly into the CI/CD pipeline from the start. This involves creating security checks for code quality and code integration, vulnerability scanning and compliance testing within the automated pipeline. This makes security a continuous process during every phase of the SDLC.

Adopt Infrastructure as Code

Infrastructure as Codeis a method you can use to define and manage infrastructure configurations using code. Adopting this best practice helps you ensure that infrastructure is securely provisioned and configured from the very beginning. One way to do this is via the use of IaC tools such as Terraform and AWS CloudFormation, which make it easier to maintain infrastructure consistency and security.

Implement automated security testing

Automated security testing helps teams identify any vulnerabilities in both code and applications for every stage of development. One best practice for security implementation in this manner is to automate static code analysis, dynamic application security testing (also known as DAST), interactive application security testing (IAST), and unit tests. DevOps automation tools like OWASP ZAP and Fortify can be used to gather performance data and gain insights into any security issues.

Scan containers for vulnerabilities

As containerization continues to become more popular in software development organizations, you’ll want to make certain that container images get scanned for security vulnerabilities before they get deployed. Docker Security Scanning is one popular tool that you can use to identify and fix container image vulnerabilities. You’ll also want to incorporate security best practices into container orchestration platforms, such as Kubernetes, as well.

Continuously monitor applications

In order to detect and respond to security threats, DevSecOps professionals need to use continuous monitoring practices on software and infrastructure. DevOps monitoring and alerting tools can identify any odd behavior or possible vulnerabilities. Once detected, you can respond via your incident response plan to mitigate any threats.

Define security policies

Defining security compliance policies as code — and using automated tools to help enforce them — helps ensure that software and infrastructure adhere to security and compliance standards and regulations. Chef Compliance, in particular, is a great tool you can use to perform automated security compliance checks.

Utilize Role-Based Access Control

Another DevSecOps best practice that can be overlooked is the implementation of Role-Based Access Control, which dictates which users have access to specific resources and data. In general, you’ll want to make certain that any users have the least required privilege level based on their roles. Consider who needs access and why to any systems and assign privileges accordingly. Then, make a schedule to regularly review and update permissions to mitigate unauthorized access and data breaches.

Train-up for security practices

Ensuring every team member and key stakeholder is trained in security best practices is an important step to ensuring security is implemented through the SDLC. Where appropriate, train team members on secure coding tactics, common security threats and methods they can use to respond to any security incidents. Make it a philosophy that the team views security as a shared responsibility and not the responsibility of only the security team.

Conduct threat modeling

Conducting threat modeling exercises helps you identify potential security threats and vulnerabilities in applications and supporting infrastructure. Take a proactive approach to addressing security concerns during the design phase, so you can prevent security issues from arising in the first place.

Secure third-party libraries

Most software and infrastructures make use of third-party libraries, plugins and components. Don’t neglect these or assume that they are safe. Conduct regular updates and patch fixes for third-party add-ons and libraries and use dependency scanning tools to find and fix vulnerabilities in third-party solutions.

Security testing environments

It’s important to create separate testing environments that mirror production environments in order to conduct security tests that mimic real-world scenarios. This is key, as it can help you identify vulnerabilities that may not be as obvious in development and staging environments.

Documentation and compliance reporting

All security policies, processes, configurations, workflows and procedures need to be documented. Compliance checks and reporting should be performed on a scheduled, regular basis to ensure security controls are in place. These reports are necessary for audits and regulatory compliance so be sure to make this a routine process.

Implement security orchestration and automation

Finally, implement security orchestration and automation into your pipelines to streamline incident response processes. Automating incident responses makes it possible to contain and mitigate security risks and incidents more efficiently, reducing impact.

DevSecOps challenges

DevSecOps offers many benefits to organizations, but it isn’t without its challenges and risks, which include:

  • Cultural Shift: As with any methodology or framework, implementing DevSecOps will likely require a cultural shift in your organization. Teams will need to embrace methods of collaborating, communicating, and create new processes and workflows, all of which can be challenging.
  • Tool: Your team will need to incorporate many new security and DevOps tools and integrate them into their processes and workflows. This can lead to the team being overwhelmed and feeling frustrated — not to mention the required resources for training. Make sure you choose tools that integrate with other developer and project management tools the company already uses to minimize the number of programs your team will need to learn and use.
  • Skillset: DevSecOps requires development, operations and security skills. Assessing your team’s skills, upskilling them and hiring new roles can be a complicated process if not planned properly.
  • Complexity: Incorporating security at every stage of the pipeline can be complex and requires a comprehensive understanding of security principles.

Final thoughts on DevSecOps best practices

In this tutorial we learned that DevSecOps is an approach and framework organizations can adopt to build and deploy secure software rapidly and reliably. Integrating security from the beginning and into every stage of the development process lets companies proactively identify and fix security vulnerabilities before software is released, reducing the risk of security breaches and protecting data.

We also learned some DevSecOps best practices, which included automating security tests, training team members on all aspects of security and conducting threat models. As beneficial as DevSecOps practices are, implementing them isn’t without its challenges. Overcoming resistance to cultural change, upskilling teams and tool overwhelm/fatigue all need to be overcome for successful implementation. However, once those hurdles are overcome, your company will greatly benefit from higher quality software, faster development and release cycles and more secure products.

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