What is DevSecOps: How to integrate security into DevOps

DevSecOps, or Development, Security and Operations, is a software development methodology that integrates security checks and practices into DevOps processes. Implementing DevSecOps requires organizations to adopt a security-first mindset and use automated security validation in their DevOps pipeline. This article looks at the evolution of methodologies towards DevSecOps and shows what tools can be used to ensure security in agile web application development.

This is an archive post from the Netsparker (now Invicti) blog. Please note that the content may not reflect current product names and features in the Invicti offering.

DevSecOps, or Development, Security and Operations, is a software development methodology that integrates security checks and practices into DevOps processes. Implementing DevSecOps requires organizations to adopt a security-first mindset at all stages of DevOps projects, and to deploy automated security validation tools in their development pipeline. This article looks at the evolution of methodologies towards DevSecOps and shows what tools can be used to ensure security in agile web application development.

What Is DevSecOps: How to Incorporate Security into DevOps

Challenges for traditional development methods

In traditional software development methodologies, the development process was divided into clear and separate stages, and the software product passed from one stage to the next in a linear fashion. In this waterfall model, work flowed only in one direction, and each stage had to be completed, tested, and approved before the next one could start. If bugs were found or other changes were required, the whole product would have to go back to an earlier stage, get approval, and then resume its journey downstream.

Everything started with requirements, followed by analysis, planning, and design. Then coders implemented the required product in code and handed it over for testing, with maintenance and operations as the final phase. For large projects, the whole process could take years to complete, especially if much of the codebase was developed entirely in-house. Security testing was done (if at all) by separate security teams that manually checked the finished application for vulnerabilities.

In the past few decades, the pace of software development has increased dramatically and web technologies and open-source software have completely transformed the landscape. Software requirements can change at any time and new features are needed quickly while growing business pressure is put on development even as IT budgets and human resources are cut to a bare minimum.

Application and data security has become a critical consideration. Web applications in particular often require rapid changes while being constantly exposed to a vast array of known and emerging security threats. Applications are commonly based on ready frameworks, and open-source libraries often make up the majority of the codebase. This enables much faster development by smaller teams, but comes with its own cybersecurity risks, since few developers can afford to review all third-party code before including it in a project.

What is DevOps and what makes it effective

Smaller teams are now expected to deliver results faster and at a lower cost, making automation a necessity, not a luxury. New features can be added to operational production software at any time, potentially many times a day, so development and IT operations can no longer work in isolation. Traditional waterfall workflows across separate teams are just too slow and inflexible.

Enter DevOps – an approach that takes the main principles of agile programming and applies them to the entire development and operations pipeline. Instead of a slow, manual and linear progression from initial requirements to a finished product release, the development process is a continuous and highly automated loop of modification, verification, and release, based on the principles of continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD). 

Instead of technology silos for each isolated phase, development and operations tools and processes are tightly integrated and interrelated. This allows development to keep up with changing business requirements, rapidly introduce new features, and quickly fix bugs as they are discovered – benefits that have led organizations to adopt DevOps practices for some of the world’s largest web applications.

What makes DevSecOps different from DevOps

While undoubtedly better suited to rapid release cycles than more traditional methodologies, DevOps still does not explicitly integrate security in its processes and security teams continue to work separately from developers. Security vulnerabilities are handled differently from other issues and development teams often treat them as someone else’s problem, leaving security to the security people. Apart from the obvious security implications, this limits the agility of DevOps processes because security issues are discovered and fixed manually, interfering with the automated flow of development and operations.

DevSecOps practices aim to incorporate security throughout the DevOps workflow, allowing agile development without compromising security. Compared to regular DevOps processes, DevSecOps requires some crucial cultural and technical changes:

  • Devs, operations teams and security professionals must all work together and all take equal responsibility for all issues in the project, including security defects.
  • Security checks and threat modeling must be integrated into all stages of development and operations so that organizations can minimize application vulnerabilities and still reap the benefits of agile development.
  • DevOps relies heavily on process automation, so security checks must also be automated to maintain efficiency.
  • Security issues must be found and resolved as early as possible to avoid delays and rework further downstream.

What tools work best for DevSecOps

DevSecOps requires dedicated security tools that can be integrated with the software development life cycle for automated and continuous web application security testing. Traditional penetration testing tools and basic vulnerability scanners are difficult to automate, which makes them unsuitable and inefficient for the purposes of DevSecOps. Available solutions can broadly be grouped into two categories:

  • Static Application Security Testing (SAST) products: Software security starts with secure code, and static source code analysis tools continue to be used in the development pipeline. These are the equivalent of compile-time checks in traditional software development and while still useful, they have several major disadvantages and limitations in a DevOps environment. Static tools have a hard time dealing with the extensive use of application frameworks, external libraries, and third-party APIs, which can lead to numerous distracting false positives. Static analysis is also useless for runtime errors, which in a DevOps environment can also include issues related to configuration and operations. The key advantage of static analysis is that any issues are precisely located in the code, which makes resolution much faster. Static tools are also easily integrated and automated, which is vital for DevSecOps.
  • Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) products: The equivalent of runtime checks in traditional development, dynamic tools provide a wider view of application security. DAST tools, such as automated web application security scanners and automated continuous penetration testing solutions, find vulnerabilities in a running application and are typically executed on each new build in a testing environment. Enterprise-class DAST solutions can be readily integrated into a CI/CD environment and check for a vast array of vulnerabilities, including misconfigurations, inadequate security controls, and other issues that don’t show up in static testing. The one disadvantage of dynamic testing is that code issues are flagged but not pinpointed, so resolving them may require more effort.

How Netsparker supports DevSecOps

The DevSecOps model allows organizations to deploy a wide variety of application security testing solutions in their software development lifecycle. Flexible enterprise-class tools for dynamic vulnerability scanning and penetration testing, such as the Netsparker Web Application Security Scanner, provide best-in-class accuracy and fully support process automation for easy integration with your existing development pipeline. With efficient and accurate testing, you can ensure a secure development lifecycle and seamless collaboration between teams to maximize the benefits of DevSecOps.

Zbigniew Banach

About the Author

Zbigniew Banach - Sr Technical Content Writer

Technical Content Writer at Invicti. Drawing on his experience as an IT journalist and technical translator, he does his best to bring web application security and cybersecurity in general to a wider audience.