The DevOps Guide to Application Security

What is DevSecOps?

DevOps is a relatively new term for a group of concepts that has quickly become common in the ICT sector. It describes the practice of creating a collaborative framework within which development engineers (dev) and IT operations (ops) combine their efforts across the systems development lifecycle to provide continuous improvement with high-quality software quality.

DevSecOps builds on this by considering application and infrastructure security as well.

Taking a DevSecOps approach is designed to bridge the gap between development and security teams and, where possible, automate security processes so they can be handled by the development team.

While DevOps brought a lot of innovation to software development, security was often unable to keep pace with new solutions being produced and released.

DevSecOps aims to address this by integrating security testing into the process from the start and building up the knowledge and skills of the development team, to enable them to test and fix issues internally.

DevSecOps helps organisations create a cooperative system where administrators are supplied with the tools and processes that improve security decision-making, and security staff that enable the tools to be used most effectively.

DevOps security challenges & how to overcome them

There are several challenges to implementing a DevSecOps approach within your organisation.

Often, a DevOps mindset is to release software as quickly as possible, then update, patch or fix it when required. Application security, on the other hand, should focus less on speed and more on testing.

These conflicting aims can cause issues if not addressed at the outset, and the only way to do this is by prioritising security at the start of the development cycle. This will enable greater collaboration.

If you want to embed security in DevOps properly, a better security testing approach will be required. Automating security tests, wherever possible, should help them run with greater speed and efficiency.

There are often knowledge gaps between DevOps and security which can hamper the implementation of a DevSecOps approach. So, it’s essential to recognise that developers are sometimes unlikely to fully understand the coding best practices involved in securely building an app.

Introducing structured training to equip developers with application security knowledge will help increase the efficiency of security checks, as developers will be able to recognise vulnerabilities and fix them as they go.

While the cloud provides DevOps teams with a low-cost, scalable developing and testing environment, it comes with its own set of security considerations and potential vulnerabilities.

It can be harder to establish a proper security perimeter in the cloud than in on-premise computing environments. And misconfigurations or vulnerabilities in the cloud can result in significant application security compromises.

Security teams should use tools that monitor cloud usage for vulnerabilities, while organisations should create appropriate policies and procedures that set the framework for network management,  encryption and access control.

Finally, the use of open-source libraries and frameworks within proprietary applications has increased exponentially on the back of the shift towards the DevOps approach.

Open-source frameworks provide DevOps teams with readymade coding that can make the development of the apps they are building easier. However, using open-source code poses security risks, especially if software is not updated on time or code isn’t sourced correctly.

This is especially true when source code is not properly vetted. Developers will often look for, and copy, code from the internet which contains major security flaws, without realising they are doing it.

While code libraries can be a safe source for code functions, developers should keep a watchful eye on ICT security news sites, as even the most trusted libraries or the ones they have no choice but to use can have bugs.

Here, the onus is on security teams to educate DevOps on best practices for securing the software supply chain.

DevSecOps best practice

There are several principles that organisations which want to integrate security into their DevOps should adopt. To realise the full benefits of a DevSecOps approach, the main objective should be to make security an integral part of the software development workflow, rather than a bolt-on.

Here are a few things to consider.


– Risk assessment

When planning to improve DevOps application security, your organisation’s security team should work with developers and business managers as early as possible to review your corporate objectives and your ICT goals and balance them against the level of risk your organisation is willing to take.

With ICT, there is always risk. Allowing your security team to identify the level of risk and recommend potential solutions is a good place to start.


– Automation

Speed and efficiency are the keys to a successful DevOps approach. For security to be part of this workflow, automation is vital. Security tests and controls need to be embedded throughout the development cycle.

Source-code analysis, integration and post-deployment monitoring and testing can all be automated, and there are a growing number of tools and applications available which do just that.


– Invest in the right tools

Application developers must have access to the tools they need to build security features into applications during the development phase.

This will enable developers to remain agile by letting them keep their preferred coding approach. It will also promote better continual testing throughout the development process, rather than adding it in at the end.


– Improve collaboration

Recognising the value your organisation’s security team can add to DevOps is the key to making your DevSecOps approach a success.

Your security team can optimise how and where encryption is implemented, which data paths are used or prohibited, and where data should be stored. They can also define what access controls should be put in place and ensure that new applications are well within your organisation’s existing security infrastructure.

Greater collaboration between your security and DevOps teams can also lead to skills and knowledge transfer.


– Protect your critical data

Proper data handling, especially if your developers, are using open-source software or code, is vital.  

Ensuring your data is secure and inaccessible will help keep your application security well ahead of possible issues, threats and vulnerabilities.


– Proper documentation

It’s important that a DevSecOps team knows what code libraries and what data enters and leaves any particular function or application, and what each coded function or application does.

Ideally, this information should be generated automatically where possible.

Without this, you won’t be able to adequately understand where security vulnerabilities occur or how they might affect your organisation.


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