How to Integrate Code Security into the DevOps Process to Code with Confidence

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DevOps is here to stay, but it is evolving in response to changing needs and paradigms. The DevOps market is forecast to grow at a CAGR of 20 percent from 2023 to 2032. This growth is driven by the rising demand for automation as well as the implementation of continuous integration and delivery (CI/CD) pipelines. Also, organizations are enticed to embrace DevOps to attain cost efficiency and enhance software deployment in light of the increasing prominence of cloud computing.

One of the factors that is advancing the evolution of DevOps is security. Cyber attacks are becoming more sophisticated, and they are targeting software development and supply chain processes. It’s a no-brainer for DevOps to integrate security into their processes with an emphasis on code security. 

Adopt ‘shift left’ practices

Shift left refers to the early implementation of security activities for the software development life cycle. Instead of doing security testing after the code is ready for execution, it is done throughout the code-building process wherever applicable. Ideally, security should be taken into account even during the planning and coding stages. 

A good start for the shift left approach is to define security requirements while working closely with stakeholders, the DevOps team, and security experts. Next, it is important to perform threat modeling exercises to spot potential vulnerabilities and attacks and prioritize the implementation of security controls. Additionally, there should be secure design reviews in the early development process as well as static and dynamic code analysis.

Observe secure coding practices

This may sound like a given, but many still have difficulties coding securely. Code security requires adherence to established practices and guidelines. For those who are unfamiliar with the concept of secure coding, a good starting point would be the OWASP Top 10 and CWE/SANS Top 25. Becoming familiar with the software flaws and issues discussed in these documents can help the DevOps team (in collaboration with the security team) come up with sets of practices or rules that enable secure coding.

Some of the common secure coding practices worth adopting are input validation, the parameterization of queries, and the implementation of strong authentication and authorization mechanisms. It is also advisable to encode output data before rendering to address the risk of XSS attacks. Additionally, all file uploads and communications should be properly regulated. Security should likewise be taken into account in session management practices and the handling of errors.

Observe the principle of least privilege

The policy of least privilege (PoLP) is part of secure coding practices. However, it is important to highlight it in a separate discussion, as it is one of the key principles in modern cybersecurity. Also known as the principle of minimal privilege, PoLP maintains that any access or resource request should only be granted the least or minimum level of privilege necessary to complete a task.

For example, when granting access to a set of data, if the request is only for a task that involves the copying of data, the system should not provide other privileges such as the ability to modify or delete data. Similarly, if the request is made by a user working for a specific project, the access granted should only be limited to the data for the specific project.

Providing more privileges than what is necessary can be risky. The user requesting access may use the expanded privileges to undertake harmful actions in an insider attack. Also, the user account may be compromised and used by a hacker for an attack such as the installation of malicious software or scripts, system alterations, and ransomware seeding.

Automate security testing

In DevOps, automated security testing refers to the incorporation of automated security tools into the continuous integration and continuous delivery pipeline. These security tools can undertake continuous static code analysis as well as dynamic application security testing (DAST) to make sure the code being developed is free from security issues. Additionally, these tools can conduct software composition analysis to ascertain that there are no vulnerabilities in the components used. For projects that involve containerization, there are container security solutions available to make it easy to continuously and automatically detect and rectify code security issues.

It is advisable to use automated security testing tools that can be seamlessly integrated into existing systems such as issue tracking tools like GitHub Issues. This is important to conveniently produce reports and tickets that would systematize the resolution of the vulnerabilities and issues found. Also, the reports produced by the automated security testing solutions should include risk ratings and recommendations on how to remediate the issues discovered. These functions make it easier to address problems more efficiently.

Embrace security-as-code

Security-as-code (SaC) is an approach in cybersecurity that embeds security features directly into the code. In other words, security-related configurations, controls, and policies are baked into the code instead of adding them later on as plug-ins or added components. This allows DevOps teams to enhance their agility in managing their security needs and easily scale their security configurations up or down in response to changing needs.

Security-as-code is a catch-all term for the use of different “as-code” approaches in integrating security. It encompasses the automated provisioning and configuration of security-related components in infrastructure-as-code (IaC), the representation of security policies and compliance requirements in configuration files (policy-as-code), security-testing-as-code, and compliance-as-code. These principles and practices help significantly reduce security risks while reducing the need for manual actions and virtually eliminating human errors.

Collaborate closely with the security team

Not many DevOps teams have adequate proficiency in cybersecurity to ensure code security. It would be necessary to work together with the security team to comprehensively address security concerns without compromising the speed and efficiency associated with DevOps practices. It is important to share insights and undertake in-depth discussions to holistically build a secure code. This usually entails joint training sessions, regular meetings, and the use of shared tools and consolidated dashboards.

Gather feedback and iterate

Lastly, it is important to monitor the progress of incorporating security into the DevOps process. Bringing security into the development and operations process while maintaining rapid deployments is not going to be a walk in the park. Expect challenges along the way, so it is crucial to keep track of the progress and introduce tweaks or adjustments to achieve the desired outcomes.

Be sure to get the feedback of everyone involved in the project, from the DevOps and security teams in particular, to continuously improve security practices. Take note of the learning experiences, especially with regard to situations that are specific to an organization or project. These experiences should guide the improved iteration of processes, tools, and controls.

In conclusion

As mentioned, DevOps continues to evolve, and security is one of the biggest factors that drive this evolution with code security as one of the primary goals. The strategies described above are among the most important steps in enhancing the DevOps process to support secure coding throughout the entire software development life cycle. They may entail additional time and effort and some period of acclimation (in adopting new practices), but in the long run, the security benefits easily outweigh the challenges.

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