Developers and Security Teams Under Pressure to Collaborate

The challenges and benefits to getting two traditionally adversarial groups on the same page.

Kelly Sheridan, Former Senior Editor, Dark Reading

June 26, 2019

4 Min Read

AWS re:Inforce – BOSTON – The path to secure development involves closer collaboration between the security and developer teams, a duo with a traditionally rocky relationship.

Application security, DevOps, and DevSecOps were all terms frequently heard this week at Amazon Web Services' re:Inforce, its first-ever security conference. AWS has been very developer focused, pointed out Chris Eng, chief research officer at Veracode. It's positive to see a focus on security's role in development, which he said has been a growing issue for four to five years.

Looking back 10- to 15 years, there has been a clear way security and development worked: engineers built code and handed it over to security when it was ready. By the time security came back with fixes, developers would be in a time crunch; rarely was there time to address them all. "There was a very rigorous, very structured set of handoffs," said Brian Riley, Liberty Mutual's senior director of global cyber risk management. "We're in a different world now."

Indeed, the transition to cloud broke down those choke points. DevOps evolved along with the cloud, driving the speed of new software releases and requiring security to review applications more frequently. This caused "a huge adjustment" for those who did application security a long time ago, Eng explained, because it shifted responsibility for security teams who assessed code.

"There's a tradeoff between depth and speed," he continued. "If I have a shorter amount of time to review something, there's a greater chance I'm going to miss something."

Developers must understand the types of things security will be looking for, he continued. Security, which has a reputation for holding progress back with constant fixes, has to meet the developer teams where they are and try not to disrupt what they're already doing. Security practitioners are traditionally uncomfortable with accepting risk. As the process of software development continues to accelerate, they will have to learn how to let some things go.

It was the move to cloud that prompted Riley, a former developer to collaborate with the dev team. "It challenged me, as a longtime security professional, to realize I had to get a lot closer to development," he explained. "I needed to be where the developers were." It wasn't – and still isn't – where security teams operate. Riley cited "drawn-out battles" between security and dev teams: security often says "that's not controlled;" devs respond with "this could be better."

"Historically, it's adversarial," Eng said of the longtime relationship between developers and security practitioners. "It's had to move from adversarial to more cooperative."

Security Champions: Bridging the Gap

Eng pointed to a growing pattern of "security champions," or developers with an aptitude in security who become an extension of the infosec team. These individuals are trained to conduct code reviews themselves as opposed to sending it off to security. The idea is to shift responsibility and lessen the workload for security teams, which are also focused on tasks outside secure development and often don't have the number of employees they need.

Of course, the appointment of security champions doesn't always sit well with security teams, he added. They need to hand off responsibility for code reviews to someone else; however, if something goes wrong, they're still to blame. Many are afraid of shifting this responsibility.

"There's a need to be more comfortable with losing a little bit of control," Eng said. If a dev team can handle 80% of security work, he added, it's helpful to the development process.

Overall, it also helps when developers have a security background, as it improves understanding between the two teams and, consequently, their working relationship. It's often not required for developers to have a security background, but it is a plus if they're interested in the space. Veracode does quarterly boot camps and exercises to train developers in cybersecurity.

This evolving collaboration signifies growing the decentralization of security, Eng said. Over time, he predicts, the back-and-forth between security and development will be erased.

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About the Author(s)

Kelly Sheridan

Former Senior Editor, Dark Reading

Kelly Sheridan was formerly a Staff Editor at Dark Reading, where she focused on cybersecurity news and analysis. She is a business technology journalist who previously reported for InformationWeek, where she covered Microsoft, and Insurance & Technology, where she covered financial services. Sheridan earned her BA in English at Villanova University. You can follow her on Twitter @kellymsheridan.

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