I think you will agree with me when I say:

It is really hard to efficiently combine security and DevOps, since the security departments usually lag behind and considerably slow down the entire DevOps workflow.

Or is it?

Well, it turns out that you can effectively bake security into DevOps without having to sacrifice the speed of delivery of your software.

And that’s what today’s post is about.

I will provide a detailed overview of what Security DevOps, or DevSecOps is and share with you all nine time-proven practices to efficiently safeguard your DevOps environment against vulnerabilities and security threats.

What Is DevSecOps?

DevSecOps (short for Development, Security, and Operations) is a software engineering practice and culture that aims to combine Dev, QA, Sec, and Ops departments to fuse security into DevOps.

To put it another way, DevSecOps is all about empowering DevOps through security and security through DevOps, where:

  • DevOps professionals safeguard their processes and technology by implementing best practices of IT security departments in the entire DevOps lifecycle;
  • And, the security embrace DevOps principles, such as automation to keep up with the software delivery cycle.

Of course, DevSecOps is easier said than done.

It is challenging to achieve efficient collaboration between Dev and Ops, but when you add the security element into the picture, the software release cycle can easily turn into a hassle.

Combining security and DevOps may be complex, because:

  • IT security cannot keep up with DevOps’ demands to speed of delivery; that is, infosec teams cannot review code as fast as DevOps want to release it
  • DevOps are culturally biased against the IT security teams, since they do not want to slow down the development process to add a security layer on top
  • DevOps are proponents of cloud, which causes security considerations (e.g. misconfigurations, sharing of secrets, human error, etc.) to infosec teams
  • DevOps heavily rely on containers, which can be challenging to check for potential security issues (i.e. containers are impenetrable and can be instantly spun on any OS)
  • DevOps are used to sharing secrets with human and non-human participants of the development process, which increases the probability that they can be stolen by bad actors.

However, DevOps and security teams have to look for common ground:

If security is not indoctrinated in every part of the DevOps lifecycle, sooner or later the team will lose business- and customer-sensitive data, or unintentionally provide bad actors with privileged access to crucial elements of their software.

Here are a few factors to consider when implementing security DevOps:

  • Speed and security. While DevOps professionals may complain that adding security elements will slow down the software delivery process, this should not be the case. When it comes to DevSecOps, there should be no tradeoff between speed and security.
  • Automation. Infosec teams are generally concerned about adopting automation practices. However, they should bear in mind that security automation helps achieve both speed and security while allowing for more frequent security checks.
  • Shift Left approach. DevOps should be ready that infosec teams will start to shift-left their security processes toward the inception and design phases, which may temporarily cause issues in the DevOps practices.
  • Self-education of developers. Since introducing security to DevOps is technologically challenging, developers must have a say in the process. Not only should they help Dev and Ops integrate security into their practices, but also acquire software security skills.
  • Security checks of existing processes. All DevOps processes and technologies have to be manually and automatically reviewed before implementing security elements into the DevOps lifecycle. You have to fix the internal issues and get rid of non-fixable technologies and processes.
  • DevSecOps collaboration. Dev, Sec, and Ops need to work together to ensure that security checks and automated tests are fused into the DevOps lifecycle. Additionally, infosec teams need to help both Dev and Ops understand their security practices for efficient implementation.

The question now is, how can I keep track of that to ensure the secure DevOps transformation?

Go no further!

Best Practices to Implement Security into DevOps

According to Pete Chestna, Director of Dev Engagement at Veracode, DevSecOps is achieved when:

  • Automated tests are regularly run to check for errors and vulnerabilities
  • Bugs are detected at early stages of the software delivery cycle
  • External attacks are dealt with professionally, without false alarms
  • Dev and Ops teams are equipped with trained Sec professionals
  • Ops visibility is always maintained

The following best practices will help you bring security to DevOps and effectively achieve the state of DevSecOps in your IT organization.

1. Prepare Your DevOps Team to Incorporate Security

DevOps should recognize the importance of adding security to their processes.

Their buy-in is absolutely required because they will have to follow new governance policies, learn new tools, and adopt cybersecurity best practices. They will have to get their hands dirty with managing vulnerabilities, reviewing code for security flaws, looking after configurations, access credentials, privileges, and more.

And that is not easy to do.

Make sure that your Dev and Ops teams are ready for the shift to DevSecOps.

2. Simplify Security Policies for Dev and Ops

Cybersecurity policies can be somewhat obscure to the Dev and Ops teams.

Your job here is to ensure that the infosec team provides both Dev and Ops departments with simple and transparent procedures. They should not think twice to understand what this or that rule means.

Simple security policies will help all participants follow them to develop higher-quality code.

3. Embrace Automation

Security DevOps cannot be achieved without automation.

Here are a few reasons why:

  • DevOps is highly automated, and security teams will not be able to keep up without automation
  • Automation reduces the amount of manual activities, which minimizes human error

Simply put, you need to create a DevSecOps toolchain where the code is analyzed, configurations are checked, credentials are stored and protected, vulnerabilities are detected and remediated automatically.

4. Build an Inventory of Tools, Accounts, and Devices

Embedding security into DevOps is a comprehensive process. You will have to create a full inventory of accounts, tools, and devices that employees use in the DevOps lifecycle.

Once this is done, the infosec team needs to check if they comply with the cybersecurity policy. Should there be any potential threats and vulnerabilities, make sure to plug the hole.

Bear in mind that you should add new tools, accounts, and devices to the inventory all the time. All pieces of DevSecOps have to be constantly validated to avoid security breaches.

5. Find and Remove Vulnerabilities Continuously

In DevSecOps, vulnerabilities are detected and remediated in a continuous manner.

To achieve that, you need to utilize a continuous vulnerability management mechanism.

The mechanism as such allows to find, analyze, and fix vulnerabilities in code preemptively, before it gets pushed to production, to enable more secure, higher-quality deploys.

In the meantime, it allows to continuously test and validate the code for potential exploits and weaknesses in the operational environment to further fix them with patches.

6. Detect and Fix Misconfigurations

Misconfigurations can be easily exploited by bad actors to penetrate code, hack servers, and get access to the cloud.

That is why, DevOps and security need to continuously monitor configurations for existing and potential vulnerabilities. They should rely on automated continuous configuration while managing physical, virtual, and cloud assets.

7. Implement Credentials Management Tools

Embedded access credentials are another weak spot for hackers to strike. They simply fish out access data from code, files, and tools to manipulate applications at their will.

DevSecOps presupposes that access credentials are never embedded in the code and are kept separately in the password management tool. Credentials are also never saved on devices, in the cloud, or in any accounts.

In DevSecOps, developers may not know access credentials at all. Whenever they need them, they simply request credentials’ use from the password management tool. The credentials can be updated only by those who have privileged access.

8. Manage Access Rights

Like access credentials, improperly managed access rights can help hackers breach into your code and data. Make sure that you use privileged access management tools in your DevOps.

Other than that, bear in mind the following:

  • Set up least privilege access rights by default
  • Create a process for tracking and checking privileged sessions
  • Restrict developers’ and QA engineers’ access to their area of work
  • Regularly audit credentials, secrets, and access rights in your access management tool

In other words, you need to tightly embed a least privilege model into your DevOps lifecycle.

9. Start Segmenting Networks

Network segmentation prevents hackers from getting immediate access to the entire application and its servers. Should they hack into one segment of your app, they will have to deal with security layers of other segments, since the segments do not trust each other by default.

Note: If someone needs to access multiple segments, additional security measures have to be provided. For instance, you can host these segments on a selected server that requires complex authentication. Sessions as such must be closely monitored and analyzed as well.

Conclusion

DevOps security is a vital element of an efficient DevOps ecosystem.

While the state of DevSecOps might be hard to achieve, this should be done to increase code quality, reduce product outages, and improve user satisfaction.

Security DevOps allows to detect and remediate infrastructure vulnerabilities, code weaknesses, and operational flaws before they cause issues to the IT organization and customers.

Introducing security to the DevOps lifecycle allows IT organizations to protect every piece of their software from bad actors. This ensures the safety of business- and customer-sensitive data and allows for more efficient development processes.

What do you think about DevSecOps? Do you consider security an important element of your DevOps? Please share your feedback with me!