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Robert Hawk
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DevSecOps: The Importance of Building Security from the Beginning

Here are four important areas to tackle in order to master DevSecOps: code, privacy, predictability, and people.

The second part of a two-part post on DevSecOps. The first part is here.

In recent conversations surrounding the intersection of DevOps and security, you may have heard the term "shift left," which entails integrating security before (that is, to the left of) firewalls and other secondary measures. Shifting left is a proactive approach to risk that avoids spending valuable resources on threats that could have been prevented. Building security into your development processes and testing cycles from the beginning is the basis for DevSecOps, and these practices can save your organization countless hours, dollars, and headaches. Here are four important areas you should tackle in order to master this.

Perhaps 80% of security is properly writing, patching, and documenting code. Code can be a maintenance nightmare because its components throughout your system are so interdependent. Changing a single piece could break an entire application, for example, and this is not a viable foundation for DevSecOps. A modular approach to writing code allows you to easily bake in critical security measures from the get-go and amend the code when necessary for continuous improvement.

Never forget that tack-on elements like firewalls or antivirus software are only backup measures — you should not and cannot ever rely on them as your only defense! Security by design is about implementing a risk-based approach to development that focuses on continuous assessment, analysis, improvement, and validation to create safer practices and better safety nets. Think of high-quality code as a moat and drawbridge, and the tack-on elements like your foot soldiers. If your moat and drawbridge are in good standing order, you should only require your army in true emergency situations.

It's crucial to understand that security by design also entails privacy by design. With regulations like the EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) making headlines recently, lawmakers are finally enacting policies that affect technology use under the context of privacy. Your organization's security strategy should take into account the compliance requirements and laws that apply to you, and put processes in place — e.g, controls — for verification and validation of compliance.

Of course, different types of data will require different types and levels of protection, whether technical, physical, administrative, or all of the above. Organizations should know the laws and regulations governing the type or types of data they specifically deal with. If GDPR applies to your organization, for instance, you would appoint a dedicated data protection officer, create a detailed data map, implement continuous monitoring, etc. And remember that a proper privacy plan always accounts for the worst, so you'll need an action plan for recording, tracking, and reporting all privacy data complaints, incidents, and breaches in a timely fashion. 

Another major part of good security is predictability, and a new model of dynamic data systems via analytics-driven security incident and event management (SIEM) platforms is filling in the gaps. Static data only allow teams to make slow, reactive, and manual decisions; they need a simple way to correlate critical information across all security-related data to maintain and manage their security posture.

Rather than merely watching events after they occur, your organization should be equipped to anticipate their occurrence and rapidly implement measures to limit their vulnerability in real time. Modern SIEMs offer invaluable, contextualized threat intelligence — whether external or internal — to minimize or even avoid the damage from major incidents.

While SIEM systems have largely been thought of as security tools for intrusion detection, a sophisticated SIEM can actually act as the nerve center for monitoring within an organization. Alongside real-time communications and targeted notification delivery, using a SIEM system to monitor change management and automating pipelines for development is an excellent way to achieve the situational awareness needed in a DevSecOps environment.

And finally, we can't forget the people component. Creating a culture conducive to successful DevSecOps practices involves awareness, training, and full immersion. Know the privacy rules that affect your organization and enforce them through regular training sessions. Implement the right tools and processes and build toolchains that bring structure and standardization to collaboration within and between teams.

Unlike the bureaucracy of traditional security approaches, DevSecOps is a cooperative method that distributes the burden of security more evenly. The organization can operate more nimbly and with less friction and improve its handling of security issues on the whole. Finding success with DevSecOps may seem like a daunting challenge, but just remember that it all starts with gradual, piecewise changes and improvements at the ground floor of your organization's security practices.

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Robert Hawk is Privacy & Security Lead at xMatters. He has extensive experience in information systems security, computer security, cybersecurity, information assurance, as well as governance, risk, and compliance (GRC) management. He specializes in frameworks and standards ... View Full Bio
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