How Does DevSecOps Fit Into Your Digital Transformation?

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“Going digital” is a huge challenge in the best of times, but thanks to increasingly competitive markets, more technically savvy customers, and a few… black swan events sprinkled around, it can feel more complicated than ever. But companies are making it work. If there’s one thing that the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us, it’s that we can all adapt when we need to, but that doesn’t make the process any easier.

30 years after the invention of the World Wide Web changed the trajectory of history, companies that have yet to embrace the digital world are discovering that digital transformation is a process, not a set of piecemeal tools. That process is one that must be undertaken at every level of the organization. From inventory management to supply chains to operations, a holistic approach to digital transformation is required to ensure both success and longevity, and one that—more often than not—can require a combination of the right tools, the right people, and the right skill sets to succeed.

What About Security?

Unfortunately, with technical challenges come security ones too. Gone are the days where you only have to worry about locking up your physical assets. Once everything is digital, it’s not burglars you have to worry about, but the entire internet.

Here’s the thing, though… security is hard.

Like guarding a castle with a thousand doors, securing an application and its underlying infrastructure can often feel like a losing proposition. You must make sure that every door is shut and locked while also ensuring that the wood is not compromised, the hinges are bolted on tight, and — perhaps most importantly — the builders didn’t make any mistakes when crafting each and every one of them.

Oh, and you must do this every day.

When you stop to consider that all a would-be attacker needs to do is find the one door you missed, this paints a bleak picture; but it’s the world that many companies are finding themselves in as they embark on their own paths of digital transformation. Thanks to the near-ubiquity of high-profile data breaches, customers are demanding better security posture from even the most technologically adjacent companies, which puts many of them just one hack away from winning or losing everything. This market pressure has many companies scrambling to adapt, but in a competitive hiring market, talent shortages can make it difficult to keep up — not to mention the time and cost associated with re-training existing employees in “the way of security.”

Enter DevSecOps

Despite how poorly it rolls off the tongue, DevSecOps is an excellent solution for companies that need to adapt now without compromising on security or productivity. Positioned as the incorporation of security controls into your development and operational processes, DevSecOps is less a button you push as it is a process to be introduced at every level of the product development lifecycle — something that is especially important as you travel further down the path of digital transformation. When implemented properly, DevSecOps can automate security checks and train employees on the fly, alleviating the pressure to hire and re-train everybody all at the same time.

How Does It Work?

By integrating automated checks into the development pipeline, companies can verify the security of both their application and their application infrastructure before it is ever exposed to customers. These types of checks can come in the form of code analysis, container scanning, infrastructure configuration validation, and even peer reviews. Rather than waiting for security audits to happen after all the work has been done — potentially slowing down release cycles and causing large amounts of repeated work — developers can identify problems directly within previously established CI/CD workflows and fix them while the code is still fresh. This shift in ownership embeds security hygiene into the DNA of a company’s digital culture, increasing their security posture while reducing single-points-of-failure.

Shifting Left

One of the cornerstone philosophies of DevSecOps is “shift-left.” If we imagine the software development lifecycle as a straight line moving from left to right, shift-left means that testing (security included) should be done as far “left” in the development process as possible — or, in other words, early and often. The earlier issues are caught, the faster they get fixed, and the less impact they have on both the customers and the organization. With a shift-left strategy, frequently caught issues create great opportunities for more targeted training and iteration.

Staying Safe

While automated scans are pivotal to a well-defined DevSecOps pipeline, it’s worth noting here that they don’t have to happen only during the development cycle. Vulnerabilities are discovered in new and existing pieces of software all the time, which means that what was secure yesterday may not be so today. By leveraging the same automated DevSecOps tools across your entire infrastructure that you might use within your development environment, you can identify vulnerabilities much more quickly and feed the results directly back into the release pipeline for faster remediation.

Caveats

While DevSecOps can reduce your security overhead, it’s important to remember that it is not just a set of tools, but a process that requires careful consideration and planning. Without buy-in from the entire organization, maintaining a high-quality security posture can be difficult at best. Developers must be willing and able to shift their security and application testing further left in the process, while operations and product teams need to be prepared to react to problems in production environments. By giving teams accountability and ownership of not just their code, but also the overall security and quality of the product, you can empower them to fix problems without getting bogged down in long test cycles or interdepartmental politics.

Taking It Further

Embarking on a digital transformation is hard enough without having to rethink your entire security strategy. By weaving security into the fabric of your company’s digital identity, you can catch problems earlier, faster, and with far less overhead than if you took a more traditional, outside-in approach to security.

DevSecOps is an excellent way to increase your security posture while also reducing cycle times. You can release more frequently without increasing risk, which can go a long way towards adapting to a constantly changing digital environment. Supporting cross-functional teams with automation and clear accountability ensures that vulnerabilities and bugs get caught as early as possible, and by spreading security ownership throughout the entire organization, you can train your team on the fly while focusing your recruiting efforts on key hires to help shepherd the entire process forward.


Zachary Flower is a freelance web developer, writer, and polymath. He has an eye for simplicity and usability, and strives to build products with both the end user and business goals in mind. Zach is a regular contributor at Fixate IO.


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