An In-Depth Introduction to DevSecOps for Beginners

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DevOps has been revolutionary in transforming software development by increasing collaboration between developers and operations teams. However, as applications are released faster than ever, security vulnerabilities continue slipping through the cracks at an alarming rate.

According to surveys by Red Hat and IBM, 58% of companies experienced a data breach caused by a software vulnerability in 2019, costing over $4 million on average. For a DevOps organization deploying new builds multiple times per day, that level of insecurity is untenable.

Enter DevSecOps – the integration of security into DevOps. As a lead data analyst and DevOps practitioner, I‘ve seen firsthand how DevSecOps can help organizations release secure, resilient applications at speed. In this comprehensive guide, I‘ll provide an in-depth look at DevSecOps so you can understand how to implement it in your own organization.

The Rising Need for DevSecOps

Let‘s first look at some troubling statistics that demonstrate why taking security seriously is more important than ever:

  • Frequency of Deployments: The average DevOps team deploys new application versions 200x more frequently than traditional development teams.

  • Increasing Vulnerabilities: 88% growth in application vulnerabilities over the past two years.

  • Indirect Dependencies: 78% of vulnerabilities originate in indirect open source dependencies used in applications.

  • Lack of Secure Coding: 37% of developers do not implement any security practices during continuous integration.

  • Unsecured Containers: Over 50% of developers do not perform any security testing of Docker containers before deployment.

As you can see, the rapid pace of DevOps combined with lax security has created the perfect storm for vulnerabilities finding their way into production. Manually outsourcing security reviews to a separate security team simply isn‘t feasible with multiple deployments per day.

This is why DevOps teams must make security a priority and integrate it into their workflows. DevSecOps was created to address this pressing need.

What Exactly is DevSecOps?

DevSecOps injects security practices, tools, and culture throughout the entire DevOps lifecycle. It brings security left as early as possible, rather than just bolting it onto the end.

The core principles of DevSecOps are:

  • Shift Left Security – Address security issues earlier in the lifecycle when fixes are easier and faster.
  • Security as Code – Security requirements, configs, and controls should be automated through code like any other part of the application.
  • Shared Responsibility – Security is everyone‘s job, not just a separate security team‘s.
  • Continuous Security – Security is ongoing throughout the development lifecycle, not a one-time gate.
  • Risk Management – Holistically identify, assess, and reduce security risks across the entire organization.

What Are the Benefits of DevSecOps?

Adopting DevSecOps practices provides many advantages over traditional sporadic security reviews:

  • Fewer vulnerabilities make it into production applications.
  • More resilient infrastructure through "infrastructure as code" disciplines.
  • Improved regulatory compliance through continuous security and risk management.
  • Higher quality across the board by integrating security into development culture.
  • Increased collaboration and empathy between teams by aligning priorities and goals.

According to DevOps Institute surveys, high performing organizations using DevSecOps practices are able to:

  • Deploy applications 200x more frequently
  • Recover from incidents 24x faster
  • Achieve lead times 2,555x faster

As you can see, DevSecOps allows faster deployment speeds while also improving resilience – the best of both worlds.

Integrating Security into DevOps Workflows

Transitioning to DevSecOps involves injecting security practices throughout the entire DevOps toolchain:

Design Phase

  • Create architectural diagrams and threat models to identify risks like unprotected sensitive data, insufficient access controls, and more.
  • Define key security requirements around encryption, access controls, and other protections that get prioritized like any other requirement.

Develop Phase

  • Perform static analysis in code editors and IDEs to catch security flaws and bad practices early.
  • Do regular peer code reviews specifically looking for common vulnerabilities like SQL injection, cross-site scripting, insecure deserialization, etc.
  • Execute dynamic analysis on running code to identify vulnerabilities missed by static analysis.

Build Phase

  • Software composition analysis identifies vulnerable open source components and insecure dependencies.
  • Secrets management solutions securely store passwords, certificates, API keys, and control access.
  • Infrastructure as code templates are analyzed for security misconfigurations pre-deployment.

Test Phase

  • Automated security tests validate functionality of access controls, encryption, and other security requirements.
  • Dynamic scanning finds issues like information disclosure in running applications.
  • Penetration testing by white hat hackers mimics real-world attacks against the application.

Release Phase

  • Pre-production reviews act as a final checkpoint for serious vulnerabilities before going live.
  • Infrastructure hardening validates configurations adhere to security baselines.

Operate Phase

  • Runtime application self protection provides ongoing monitoring for suspicious activity and blocks attacks.
  • Security information and event management (SIEM) centralizes logging and threat data to detect multi-pronged attacks.

Monitor Phase

  • Anomaly detection through machine learning algorithms identifies unusual behavior indicative of security incidents.
  • Log analysis looks for related events across applications and infrastructure to dig up hidden threats.

By integrating these practices natively into existing workflows, security becomes a regular part of day-to-day operations rather than an afterthought.

Choosing the Right DevSecOps Tools

With a wealth of tools available, it can be challenging to determine which are right for your needs. Here are some of the most popular tools used for DevSecOps:

Static Analysis

  • SonarQube – finds bugs and vulnerabilities through static scanning of code.
  • Checkmarx – static analysis optimized for major languages like Java, C#, and Go.

Dynamic Analysis

  • Contrast Security – identifies vulnerabilities in running applications.
  • Acunetix – on-demand and automated dynamic scanning.

Software Composition Analysis

  • Black Duck – managed open source vulnerability detection.
  • Synk – analyzes open source dependencies and license risks.

Infrastructure as Code

  • Terraform – infrastructure provisioning and configuration management.
  • Ansible – simple orchestration and deployment automation.

Secrets Management

  • HashiCorp Vault – secure secret storage with tight access controls.
  • CyberArk Conjur – machine identity management and secrets protection.

Pen Testing

  • OWASP ZAP – find vulnerabilities in live web applications.
  • Nmap – open source utility for network discovery, vulnerability scanning, and more.

Threat Modeling

  • Microsoft Threat Modeling Tool – visualize and mitigate threats early in design.
  • IriusRisk – automated threat modeling tightly integrated with dev workflows.

The tools you choose will depend on your tech stack, risk profile, and organizational maturity with regards to security. Select ones that integrate cleanly into existing pipelines first before expanding.

Driving Cultural Change with DevSecOps

Transitioning to DevSecOps requires more than just adding new tools. To be effective, it demands a cultural shift toward shared responsibility for security between teams.

Here are some strategies I‘ve found useful for driving cultural change:

  • Take an incremental approach – start small to show value before expanding DevSecOps practices.
  • Identify champions to influence teams through key personnel rather than top-down mandates.
  • Promote knowledge sharing through cross-training in secure development, operations, and defense.
  • Establish shared metrics and objectives around security KPIs to bring teams together.
  • Gain executive support by demonstrating improved security and faster delivery times.

By developing empathy and aligning priorities between teams, you can evolve the culture to make DevSecOps second nature.

Getting Started with DevSecOps

Need help getting your DevSecOps initiative off the ground? Here are some proven ways to start:

  • Add basic static scanning into your CI/CD pipeline and mandate fixing identified vulnerabilities.
  • Perform periodic dynamic scanning to find common issues like XSS, weak authentication, etc.
  • Implement a secrets management solution to properly secure credentials, certificates, and keys.
  • Threat model one or two upcoming projects to identify risks early.
  • Pilot "infrastructure as code" on non-critical systems first to test it out.
  • Identify security champions within each team to build expertise across the organization.
  • Introduce security training focusing on OWASP Top 10 vulnerabilities to teach developers secure coding practices.

By demonstrating some quick wins in these areas, you can build support for greater investment in DevSecOps. Momentum and maturity will grow from there.

The Future of DevSecOps

Looking ahead, DevSecOps will only increase in importance as applications become more complex and threats more sophisticated. Automation and emerging technologies like policy as code, security orchestration, and machine learning will help make DevSecOps more scalable across large organizations.

The future is bright for more secure, resilient applications built on robust DevSecOps principles. I‘m excited to see DevSecOps cement itself as a core discipline and watch application security rise to the level it deserves.

Wrap Up

I hope this guide has enriched your understanding of DevSecOps – the why, how, and what of integrating security into DevOps. While the cultural shift can take time, the end results are incredibly positive. Faster innovation. Improved quality. And most importantly, more secure applications ready to thrive in a dangerous digital world.

If you have any other questions on getting started with DevSecOps, don‘t hesitate to reach out! I‘m always happy to discuss ways to improve application security. Here‘s to building more securely!


Written by Alexis Kestler

A female web designer and programmer - Now is a 36-year IT professional with over 15 years of experience living in NorCal. I enjoy keeping my feet wet in the world of technology through reading, working, and researching topics that pique my interest.