Organizations adopt DevOps to improve their agility, but this methodology isn't complete if you don't account for risk. Integrating security into DevOps (DevSecOps for short), helps you build risk-averse, resilient, and compliant products.
IBM’s 2022 Cost of a Data Breach report demonstrates that average data breach costs increased by 13% from 2020 to 2022 (amounting to $9.44 million in the US). These costs vary based on industry, with healthcare, in particular, being the most vulnerable (experiencing a 42% increase since 2020).
If these statistics teach us anything, it’s that integrating security into DevOps is crucial. This integration isn't just about minimizing the impact of data breaches—DevSecOps also accelerates your development, reduces unnecessary expenses, and elevates the quality bar for your products.
In this article, we'll provide an introduction to the best practices, strategic initiatives, and tools for integrating security into DevOps, an approach known as DevSecOps. We'll also offer insights into how to overcome the common challenges that companies often encounter when implementing DevSecOps and how to seamlessly integrate security into DevOps workflows.
Why Do Companies Need Security for DevOps?
Security in DevOps is a methodology that adds cybersecurity practices to the software development stage of a project. This contrasts with the traditional development model, where most security tests are done at the end of production.
Cyber threats are evolving, and GitLab’s 2022 Global DevSecOps Survey revealed that 43% of surveyed security professionals feel unprepared for sophisticated attacks. In addition, over 62% of organizations surveyed in Cisco’s Cybersecurity Report reported that their business operations had been jeopardized after a security incident.
A stronger security focus can make your organization more prepared to deal with threats, both internal (human error and insider spies) and external (malware injections, social engineering, and DDoS attacks).
Better security can also improve your business in other ways:
- More efficient development. Nearly 75% of responders to the Security Compass 2021 State of DevSecOps report said that manual security and compliance checks delay time-to-market. DevSecOps practices such as automating tests, training employees, and regularly updating technology can improve threat detection and response by 3.5 times.
- Improved quality standards. Incorporating testing and monitoring throughout the product’s lifecycle means you can remediate issues faster. Fewer problems slip through the cracks, resulting in a more secure and resilient product.
- Cost savings. Identifying an issue early in development lowers the overall costs of development. A minor issue on release won’t force you to investigate the root cause and rework most of the code.
- Minimized costs of data breaches. Personally identifiable information accounts were the most common type of stolen data in 2021, according to IBM. Emphasizing security in DevOps minimizes the effects of data breaches, saving you from reputational damage, lost customers, and potential civil lawsuits.
- Regulatory compliance. Automated technical controls, container scans, and compliance checks help you build software that meets industry-specific security and data privacy laws such as PCI DSS, GDPR, and HIPAA.
Does DevSecOps sound like a good investment? Great! The next section covers how to get started.
10 Best DevOps Security Practices
As threats become more frequent and sophisticated, it makes sense to implement DevSecOps. Here are 10 strategies to get started.
1. Document your development strategy
Without a well-documented strategy, your DevOps process can grow far too complex, while your products become a collection of services with hidden vulnerabilities. Some of the points your strategy should cover:
- Existing processes. Companies map services, capabilities, and processes they use in software development and operations. It helps to use value stream mapping—a technique to visualize the value, costs, and owner of processes in your pipeline.
- Cross-team responsibilities. Ensure that security roles are integrated into your software development process and that significant changes will require the approval of several trusted stakeholders (usually from different departments).
- Data interaction rules. Describe the rules regarding data exchange processes, encryption for data in transit, and an acceptable level of privacy.
- Security audits. Technology assessments should be regularly carried out by the development and security teams.
- Technology refresh strategy. Cisco’s report shows that organizations that update their technologies regularly (quarterly or once a year) are 30% more likely to maintain their security DevOps program in line with business growth.
A strategy should also outline coding standards and guidelines. This ensures that your engineers know the rules for writing secure code and dealing with time-sensitive issues.
2. Create and test your incident response plan
An incident response plan outlines the steps your organization will take in the event of a security incident. The plan should include the following:
- Incident response teams
- Tools to be used to identify issues
- Techniques for containing damage and removing threats
- Procedures for restoring systems to the normal state
- Post-incident activities that would prevent such incidents from happening again
You must routinely test your incident response plan for proactive security in DevOps. As found in IBM’s 2022 report, companies that tested their plan saved about $2.66 million on an average data breach (compared to companies that didn’t test).
3. Add security to your CI/CD pipeline
DevSecOps teams incorporate security into centralized continuous integration (CI) and continuous delivery (CD) pipelines. This means your tools run a series of automated security, validation, and authentication tests every time code is committed.
Simply put, security checks become an active part of the development process, which reduces the resources and time needed for pre-release testing. It also helps restore your services faster after security incidents. As Accelerate’s 2022 State of DevOps report shows, teams with mature CI/CD usually have shorter lead times for service restoration.
4. Shift to trunk-based development
In trunk-based software development, engineers work on batches of code and regularly merge results into the trunk (usually at least once a day). All code is integrated directly into the main codebase (trunk) and tracked in version control. This makes it easier to monitor changes and identify security-related issues.
The trunk-based approach focuses on smaller, more frequent code releases, which decreases the time needed to deploy security patches. Accelerate’s report has also found that this approach decreases error proneness and changes failure rate, resulting in less unplanned work.
5. Automate your testing
Mature organizations use automation technologies to identify, resolve, and predict security issues. According to GitLab’s 2022 survey, 47% of DevOps and DevSecOps teams fully automate their testing (up from 25% since 2021).
The most frequently-used automated technologies include license compliance checks (used by 61% of respondents), dependency scans (used by 56%), DAST (55%), and SATS (53%). In addition, about 24% of GitLab’s surveyed security professionals use AI and machine learning to power code reviews, software testing, and verification checks.
IBM’s 2022 report shows that organizations with fully deployed AI automation contained data breaches 28 days faster than those without fully automated tools ($3.05 million in cost savings). On top of that, Cisco found that advanced automation can somewhat substitute for less experienced security staff.
6. Use SIEM for continuous monitoring
Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) solutions centralize data logging. Integrating these tools into your DevOps pipeline lets you monitor your systems for unauthorized access, malware infections, and other suspicious activity.
Data breaches and issues are detected in real-time, which allows you to mitigate threats before they cause harm. In addition to internal systems, you can configure SIEM to monitor public sources regarding possible vulnerabilities in your software or its third-party components.
7. Carry out threat modeling and simulations
Proactive team testing also contributes to security in DevOps. There are several methods professional teams use:
- Threat modeling. Security teams design an attack from the hacker’s point of view, considering optimal entry and exit points, architecture, and data flows.
- “Purple team” exercises. Companies divide employees into two teams: those who emulate data breaches (red) and those who remediate attacks (blue).
- Chaos engineering. Employees are tested against unpredictable scenarios and conditions to find hidden vulnerabilities.
Cisco’s report shows that companies that conduct threat modeling have a 2.5x higher chance to maintain business resiliency. And according to Gartner, chaos engineering practices can reduce unplanned downtime by 20%.
8. Implement zero trust with RBAC and POLP
Combining zero-trust access with the principle of least privilege (POLP) and role-based access control (RBAC) can maximize security for DevOps.
In the zero-trust model, all entities in a network are treated as insecure until properly authorized and authenticated. The network itself can be segmented to limit access to confidential data. Notably, IBM’s 2022 report showed that organizations with zero trust spend about $1 million less on an average data breach.
Both RBAC and POLP help implement a zero-trust approach. RBAC means restricting employee access to data and resources based on their role and responsibilities. This model is often used alongside POLP, which gives users the bare minimum rights necessary for them to do their job.
9. Establish a culture of collaboration
Just like DevOps, DevSecOps implies a culture shift for teams. In a mature DevSecOps environment, employees feel responsible for the product and simultaneously don't fear this responsibility. Teams like these are more likely to report problems as soon as they’re identified and encouraged to learn from mistakes.
Accelerate’s 2022 report revealed that organizations fostering cultures of high trust and low blame tend to achieve superior organizational performance. Moreover, within such settings, there is a 1.6-fold increase in the likelihood of embracing cutting-edge security practices.
In addition, companies ought to champion transparency and collaboration. DevOps specialists should engage in the development process right from the outset. Developers and security teams can exchange insights on secure coding practices, breach prevention, and other pertinent security concerns.
10. Establish backup and recovery processes
Pathfinder’s 2022 Data Protection and Disaster Recovery report found that outages lead to lost data (experienced in 34% of outages), productivity bottlenecks (57%), and lost revenue (26%). Strong data backup and recovery processes protect your data against system failures, ransomware, and other disasters, thus minimizing business downtime.
Finally, it’s essential to periodically test your disaster recovery technologies. The frequency will depend on how often you modify applications and infrastructure components that could impact recoverability.
These DevSecOps best practices mostly depend on technology. Let’s talk about the tech stack you can adopt.
Tools and Technologies for DevSecOps
In this section, we’ll explore different types of tools that can help your team avoid mistakes and bugs that lead to security problems.
DevSecOps build tools run unit testing, component analysis, and dependency scans to code committed to the source repository.
- Jenkins—an open-source automation tool that supports unit, integration, and functional testing. It also lets you build your security pipeline for DevOps.
- GitLab CI/CD—a tool to automatically scan and test code before it's deployed into production (functionality can be extended with third-party plugins).
Static Application Security Testing (SAST) analyzes code to identify insecure coding practices, quality issues, and configuration problems.
- GitHub Code Scanning—a free, open-source analysis service that scans public repositories using CodeQL and GitHub Actions.
Dynamic Application Security Testing detects runtime vulnerabilities against a list of known issues (like SQL injections, cross-site scripting attacks, and authorization exploits).
- OWASP ZAP—runs continuous automated vulnerability scanning and manual web application tests.
- StackHawk—can be integrated into the CI/CD pipeline to catch security bugs before they hit production.
SIEM tools help you analyze log data, correlate events, and configure alerts across your IT infrastructure.
- IBM Security QRadar—uses data analytics and machine learning to monitor your network. It lets you customize alerts to separate false positives and other noise from real security threats.
- Elastic—provides real-time threat detection, analysis, and data visualization to help security and DevOps teams respond to suspicious network activity.
These tools let you test your system’s resilience, determine if it performs as expected, and find security vulnerabilities.
- IriusRisk—a threat modeling platform that integrates with popular DevOps pipelines to help teams simulate attacks and analyze their impact.
- Chaos Monkey—Netflix’s internal proprietary tool that tests fault tolerance by injecting failures (such as shutting down cloud services) into your production environment.
The tools help configure software applications and IT infrastructure to meet your security standards.
- Ansible—a YAML-based tool for configuration management and software provisioning that doesn’t require extra software.
- Puppet—a tool that runs agents on target machines to retrieve system configuration information and uses declarative language to manage infrastructure.
Code quality tools help ensure that your teams deploy secure, maintainable, and error-free code that complies with industry standards.
- SpotBugs—automatically checks your code against a set of rules and generates reports about security issues.
- SonarQube—helps your teams check for code problems (potential technical debt, bugs, and design flaws) and areas that require attention to prevent refactoring.
Container security tools can mitigate vulnerabilities in containerized applications and underlying infrastructure.
- Docker Security Scanning—performs automatic vulnerability scans for Docker local images to help DevSecOps teams review the security state.
- Aqua Security—integrates with CI/CD pipelines to provide scans, compliance reporting, and runtime protection for containerized applications.
Now that we’ve described enough practices and tools, it’s time to consider the problems you may face when adding security to a DevOps workflow.
The Challenges of Integrating Security for DevOps
From cloud security risks to resistance to change, we’ll tell you how to deal with obstacles that can hinder the adoption of DevOps security best practices and technologies.
Cloud security risks
IBM’s research found that 45% of breaches in 2022 happened in the cloud. Unlike on-premise infrastructures, cloud environments usually share data and resources between tenants, which makes them more susceptible to attacks.
Partially migrating your environment to a private cloud with isolated resources can reduce your attack surface, and, therefore, your loss in the event of a breach. An average data breach in 2022 cost $3.80 million in the hybrid cloud, $4.24 million in the private cloud, and over $5 million in the public cloud (IBM research).
Siloed teams and departments within an organization hinder collaboration and trust-building. You can’t have effective DevSecOps if your developers and security teams are reluctant to report and resolve potential problems.
It can help to assign administrators to act as liaisons between teams. These can organize cross-team meetings to share ideas, prioritize security issues, and mediate conflicts.
Another option is to develop efficient success metrics for DevSecOps. Your key performance indicators should encourage employees to collaborate and make the product more secure instead of bogging them down with useless metrics.
Resistance to change
Teams can oppose new security practices if it disrupts their usual workflow. This resistance increases if workers don’t understand the rationale behind new tools.
It’s critical to make your employees feel their opinion is taken into account. You should also clearly communicate the goals of your DevSecOps initiative. Gartner found that being transparent about changes can improve employee engagement by 38% and reinforce their commitment to your company.
Integrating security for DevOps may down the development process. About 56% of respondents in Accelerate’s report say they spend more time on applications due to software security checks.
The solution is to automate as much security testing as possible and integrate checks into CI/CD. Then, with the right training and practices, teams can minimize disruptions during development and avoid costly delays later.
Lack of DevSecOps expertise
Research shows that some of the most sought-after skills in 2023 are DevOps (35%), cybersecurity (16%), and AI and machine learning (24%). Accelerate’s report highlights that only 11% of teams have high mastery of continuous integration and security practices.
Partnering with a qualified company can help you deal with a scarcity of DevSecOps experts and navigate other development challenges.
How Techstack Ensures Security for DevOps
At Techstack, we combine Scrum methodology, DevSecOps, and DevOps practices to ensure efficient and secure development from beginning to end.
A client in the hospitality industry hired us to develop ServeMe Menu, a delivery and pick-up application for cafes and restaurants. The solution had to be built fast—it was a matter of survival, because COVID had just thrown the whole industry into chaos. Both security and development time were crucial: the app had to process confidential information from businesses and clients, but it also needed to be ready in under a month. Our team used DevSecOps practices and OKRs to stay organized during development. Thanks to timely deployment, ServeMe attracted new cafes and restaurants, helping the client grow during the pandemic. It also had an excellent UX, which contributed to creating a bigger customer base and increased loyalty.
In summary, security for DevOps can prevent threats, improve resilience, and reduce the cost of data breaches. To implement DevSecOps successfully, you need to:
- Adopt best practices such as automated testing and SIEM
- Use the right tools for each DevSecOps task
- Head off typical challenges you may face in the shift to DevSecOps
Do you lack experience, methodologies, or tools? This won’t be a problem if you partner with a reliable company. The Techstack team offers consulting on the latest DevOps practices and security tools. Be proactive — drop us a line to ensure your software follows the highest quality standards.