7 Key Considerations When Implementing DevSecOps in Your Organization

Between July 2021 and June 2022, technology was the most targeted vertical for cyber intrusions. For organizations, Application Security (AppSec) has never been more important. If your organization is looking to improve security and efficiency and hold onto your competitive advantage, then implementing DevSecOps in your organization should be a priority. This post will look at the following 7 considerations when implementing DevSecOps in your organization, including why:

  • Top Management backing is critical.
  • A security culture must underpin everything your organization does
  • Why an ineffective security strategy may cause more harm than good
  • Security teams are drowning in noise (and what to do about it)
  • Ineffective defects management is costing you in so many ways
  • Improving coding practices is the fastest way to remediate security vulnerabilities
  • Security education and training are the only viable way forward.

Why Is Top Management Backing Critical?

Organizational change takes time. Naturally, this takes longer when there’s resistance from Top Management (in part or whole). By nature, people are traditionally reluctant and resistant to change and will kick back and even try to sabotage attempts to convert. Against such opposition, active and visible Top Management support is vital in pushing through such roadblocks and providing the necessary vision, funding, and resources to effect change.

A successful DevSecOps implementation takes time

Switching to DevSecOps isn’t necessarily an easy task and, as we’ll come onto shortly, involves several components, including devising and promoting a comprehensive security strategy, supporting efficiency, education and training improvements, and being the leading light in driving the organization’s security cultural shift forward.

It improves the overall software development process

Active top management backing of the security cultural shift helps demonstrate the organization’s importance on security. This support will only filter through and help motivate and drive employees in 3 key areas:

  • To understand that security is everyone’s responsibility (as it pertains to their roles and duties) and not just the responsibility of the security professionals
  • Security teams can no longer remain an afterthought at the end of a long delivery cycle and must become first-class citizens within the development lifecycle and organization as a whole.
  • Security diligence can and will make a difference in bolstering the organization’s security perimeter and helping to reduce overall security risk.

Why must a security culture underpin everything your organization does hereon?

A security culture is crucial to DevSecOps as it helps ensure that security is integrated into all aspects of the organization’s development and operations and throughout the entire Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC). This includes implementing security checks and controls from development, where you create secure code, through security testing, deployment, and ongoing maintenance of systems and applications.

A security culture reinforces the importance of security

Creating an environment where security is both integral, and a top priority to the organization helps people understand its importance, helps them step up to the mark and remain diligent, and aids in improving the organization’s overall security posture.

A shared understanding improves security processes

In addition, adopting a security culture not only fosters a shared understanding of security’s importance but has also helped organizations improve collaboration and communication. In turn, this has led to more efficient and effective processes, has helped break down barriers between development teams and security teams, and has helped to establish and maintain trust between those groups.

Why will an ineffective security strategy cause more harm than good?

Establishing inadequate security standards and measures will increase your risk of security breaches and subsequent data loss. Research shows that 60% of businesses will succumb to just a single data breach. Even if your organization was fortunate to survive a breach, the repercussions that inevitably follow, including customer trust, may prove irrecoverable.

An inability to effectively respond 

An ineffective DevSecOps strategy may result in a lack of necessary processes and tools that will hamper the security team’s ability to both detect and respond to security threats and vulnerabilities. This inability to respond may also increase the risk of further security breaches and compound problems around organizational operations and productivity.

It stifles collaboration and communication

Within DevSecOps, and as part of your overall strategy, the entire organization must understand the importance of security and how to respond to and address security issues. The best way to achieve this is to remove the barriers to effective collaboration and communication: get teams out of siloes, get them on the same page with the same goal, and get them working together.

Why are security teams drowning in noise?

In their attempt to Shift-left, organizations deployed security scanning tools. Unfortunately, though this provided an illusion of shifting left, results dictated otherwise. Indeed, 99% of one poll of IT-qualified security stakeholders stated that the high volumes of security testing alerts caused problems for their IT security teams. Moreover, 93% of the same survey said their teams could not address all security alerts on the same day. A security solution is anything but a solution when it’s making hard work for your teams. Typical problems include having too many security tools and systems combined with the volume and intensity of security attacks and the fast-paced nature of DevSecOps.

Too many security tools and systems lead to overwhelm

Many security scanning tools are single-point solutions, i.e., they’re built for a single purpose and don’t integrate well. Unfortunately, this lack of integration makes security automation difficult. Moreover, organizations must deploy many of these tools to cover all bases and potential avenues of attack. Sadly, these tools are complex and difficult to use. Sadly, the overwhelming number of security alerts and notifications they dispense means security teams cannot effectively analyze, assess, and respond.

On average, enterprises deploy 45 cybersecurity-related tools on their networks. The widespread use of too many tools may contribute to an inability not only to detect but also to defend from active attacks.”

The volume and intensity of attacks

Without security automation and effective AppSec, the high volume of attacks are universally overwhelming for every IT security team. Indeed, 83% said their security staff experienced “alert fatigue.” Naturally, lacking the resources and capability to prioritize and address even the most important issues effectively means they are only ever scratching the surface of the underlying problem. Manual processes are slow, tiring, and complex, and it’s not hard to imagine the strain on your security experts’ morale and well-being. When combined, it’s hardly surprising that the majority of security professionals are looking to quit.

The fast-paced nature of DevSecOps

The days of mostly manual processes in software development are numbered. DevOps has accelerated like gangbusters since their merge, and security hasn’t been able to keep pace. The sheer volume of alerts and notifications that inundate security teams today is a nightmare. If they’re struggling today, throwing another complex, expensive, and noise-inducing security scanning tool at the problem will only make it worse for them tomorrow.

Ineffective defects management

All software is buggy. “It’s par for the course”, as my golfing colleague would say. That’s why defect management is a key component of software development. Ensuring the quality and reliability of your software is vital, especially as DevOps processes become more efficient and the dev pace has accelerated as it has. Tracking and measuring are key to efficiently managing defects and are becoming increasingly important. Without it, you risk alienating both customer experience and satisfaction, hindering overall development speed (including upgrading existing and introducing new features), and masking transparency and accountability within the dev process.

Alienating the customer and experience is never a good idea

When software doesn’t function as intended, it’s annoying (and that’s an understatement). However, when the critical processes break down, it’s elevated to an entirely new level. Whatever the defect, when it impacts the quality and reliability of software, it mars the customer’s experience and can dramatically affect customer satisfaction, trust, and cost. Gartner hit the nail on the head in 2018 when they wrote,

Customer experience (CX) is the new marketing battlefront.”

Hindering overall development speed and feature upgrades

Ineffective defects management slows development speed and impacts your ability to fix, upgrade existing, or implement new features. When such delays affect product updates and service releases, it will harm your overall productivity and competitiveness and may negatively affect customer relations.

Masking transparency and accountability within the development process:

Transparency and accountability are essential in ensuring that defects are detected and addressed in a timely manner. These necessitate clear communication around the issue at hand, designating a responsible person to fix the defect, and, if required, appropriate steps to remediate the defect. Maintaining correct defect records provides full traceability that benefits continual improvement, avoids duplication of effort, and aids in measuring your overall process’ and lifecycle effectiveness.

Poor coding practices

Given that 95% of vulnerabilities are introduced during development, poor coding practices are a significant concern all-round. It’s fair to say that vulnerabilities are AppSecs Achille’s Heel and, as such, must be addressed and remediated promptly.

Unfortunately, remediating them is often tricky and usually time-consuming. Worse is the further in the Software Development LifeCycle (SDLC) they are discovered, the more resources are required to fix them, and the more complex they are. However, you can add multiple business benefits by improving the quality and reliability of your code, increasing the quality and reliability of your software, and speeding up your development processes.

Poor coding affects the quality and reliability of your software

Buggy software doesn’t do anyone any favors. Yet poor and insecure source code is prevalent throughout software development. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a solution to getting your development team to own their own coding mistakes. Most developers aren’t interested in security training, find it a chore, don’t see it as being in their remit, and have always left such matters to the security team. Few would argue that the system must change. Either that or your dissatisfied customers might answer with their feet…

A Quick Question?

A quick question for you, if you could eliminate your vulnerabilities at source and could guarantee to deliver secure software, would you? (Note: remediating vulnerabilities at source is one of the key components that underpins the GuardRails’ AppSec solution. More details are at the end of this blog post and here).

“Within 6 months of using GuardRails, our pen test findings have been reduced by 50%.”

Stepanus Mangunsong, Security Engineer at Bank Raya

A slow development process increases your time to market

Poor coding practices slow your software development speed and have a knock-on effect on the entire process. Worse is the number of vulnerabilities and security flaws that enter into and proceed through the lifecycle. Ideally, all will be detected and remediated at some point, but the further into the lifecycle they go, the more resources and agencies needed to get involved in remediating them increases. 

Expense of Security Fixes

Poor coding impacts production, operational, and on-going maintenance costs

Unfortunately, software developers are busy people and organizations have a capped set of resources. Poor coding not only impacts the cost of initially creating the software, but also it makes difficult to maintain and update on an ongoing basis. Equally, if your devs are being taken off of current projects to remediate bugs on older projects, then the delays and effects are often compounded.

Security education

Is a key component of any DevSecOps culture, and the organization must emphasize and disseminate this importance. There can’t be any weak links, and it’s vital that your entire team understands this and that you promote and stay on top of their security education. Your staff is often the first line of defense in identifying and addressing potential security risks and threats. Accordingly, it’s important not to underestimate how understanding the increased risk of security breaches, emerging threats, and how best to respond to security incidents can assist.

An increased risk of security breaches

Team members need to be knowledgeable about and aware of basic and current security practices and protocols. It pains us to say it, but the ‘classic’ Dancing Pigs quote from Edward Felton still rings true today:

“Given a choice between dancing pigs and security, users will pick dancing pigs every time.”

It also shows the constant need for staff to remain vigilant. Promoting such vigilance helps foster a shared understanding of the importance of security, improving communication and collaboration throughout the organization, and the necessity of addressing security issues and the awareness of emerging threats.

An understanding and awareness of emerging threats

The risk of cyber-attacks, data breaches, and emerging threats is an on-going concern. Emerging threats include malware, phishing scams, advanced persistent threats, etc. To be able to safely and effectively defend against these threats, staff must first be made aware of them. Any lack of security awareness will simultaneously increase your attack surface and weaken your defense perimeter, and leave you exposed to cyber-threats. To counter this, we recommend frequent emerging threats awareness training and education.

How best to respond to security incidents

Effective security incident response procedures will minimize the damage caused by any security breach, help limit the overall attack spread, aid you in restoring normal operations, and reduce the risk of future incidents. However, it’s vital not to underestimate how the response must be well-practiced, drilled, and practical. Moreover, having such procedures in place will also help in other areas, including training/educational purposes, damage limitation, enhancing the organization’s reputation, and increasing the trust and confidence of stakeholders.

Other pieces of interest:

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