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Application Security

9/26/2019
02:00 PM
John B. Dickson
John B. Dickson
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Bridging the Gap Between Security & DevOps

An inside look into the engineering mindset of DevOps from the vantage of a career security professional.

Last month, I had the eye-opening experience of attending my first pure-play DevOps conference, DevOps World, put on by CloudBees. Inconveniently one week after Black Hat, the conference could not have been more dissimilar. Suffice it to say it was a significant learning experience for a career security person. I learned about security through the eyes of DevOps engineers, many of whom spoke candidly in ways they might not have spoken with security people in the room in a corporate setting.

I felt at times like I was dropped behind enemy lines, surrounded by a foreign and seemingly hostile population. What I learned is important enough to pass on to my security colleagues. This is particularly the case for security teams working with pipeline owners to pull security testing into the CI/CD (continuous integration and continuous deliver) workflow.

The starting point for any meaningful conversation with DevOps is understanding how to best position security. Here's what I learned.

Admit You Have a Problem
Many DevOps engineers representing security-conscious organizations are looking for security platforms to help them release code to production faster. This leads to a false perception of the security teams as a hindrance to achieving production goals. The good news is that many security-aware DevOps engineers I spoke to are earnestly looking for ways to solve this problem. The bad news: They have no idea where to start. This represents an opportunity for security leaders to serve up recommendations for security tooling along with an honest conversation about security in CI/CD pipelines.

The ABCs of Security
From a security perspective, DevOps engineers have a learning curve around security tools and platforms. From my vantage point, anecdotally, they seem to have a broad familiarity with security products, and an ability to spout off a name or two of the leaders in the industry. However, most could not distinguish between code-scanning platforms versus platforms that handle container security or other facets of the security landscape. Educating DevOps engineers on security product classes is an opportunity for security teams to offer useful advice to pipeline owners. Here's the rub: Security practitioners will need to learn DevOps terminology and product names to engage in meaningful conversations with their developer peers.

"Get Security Off My Back"
There was definitely a negative vibe around security in many of the conversations we had at DevOps World. There is a certain momentum DevOps engineers have — backed up with business support — to move faster. Woe be the security person who tries to stem the tide. My recommendation is to accept the fact that this vibe exists in certain circles and use it to your advantage. Negotiate to have certain security scans built into the pipeline but be cognizant of the fact that security scans do slow down pipelines. Consider pre-release code scanning or post-release live testing as alternatives. This will promote confidence between the two teams, reassuring security that the latest build didn't introduce a scary vulnerability while demonstrating to DevOps that security didn't slow software releases for which they are responsible.

Don't Break the Build
In one session I sat through, a particularly passionate DevOps engineer flatly stated, "When in doubt, rip it out" while referencing security tools in the pipeline. Although this might represent one speaker in a moment of candor in front of a friendly audience of other DevOps enthusiasts, it betrays a particular train of thought that certain engineers with little exposure to security might have. Security professionals trying to win hearts and minds are well served to understand this emotion exists and allay these fears before they arise. That said, if you are lucky enough to have vulnerability scanners performing security checks in your pipeline, make sure to have an alternative workflow in case you break the build. You can't offer up a one-off manual process when automated application vulnerability tools exist that can be integrated into CI/CD pipelines.

Security professionals have a strong incentive to work to bridge the gap between security and DevOps. I hope these insights from DevOps World can help begin that process.

Related Content:

Check out The Edge, Dark Reading's new section for features, threat data, and in-depth perspectives. Today's top story: "The Beginner's Guide to Denial-of-Service Attacks: A Breakdown of Shutdowns"

John Dickson is an internationally recognized security leader, entrepreneur, and Principal at Denim Group Ltd. He has nearly 20 years of hands-on experience in intrusion detection, network security, and application security in the commercial, public, and military sectors. As ... View Full Bio
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