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SecDevOps: What it is and why it matters

May 05, 2023

Developing software can feel like an exercise in miracle multitasking. Not only do you need to deliver a great product to the user, but you also need the security skills to prevent vulnerabilities and breaches. As a result, some teams prioritize risk prevention over fast turnarounds. However, you can get the best of both worlds with SecDevOps. 

SecDevOps is a software development method that places security first. It relies on automation and a few best practices that keep production moving quickly. While this idea of "security as strategy" draws a lot of interest, putting it into practice takes careful planning.

To help your team implement SecDevOps, we'll explain what it is and how it works.

What is SecDevOps?

SecDevOps is a software development approach focused on security. You could say it "moves security to the left" as the first step in a project's life cycle. While other methods test security intermittently, SecDevOps places risk prevention first for more resilient programs and a streamlined production pipeline.

Instead of placing the burden of security on one team, SecDevOps makes it a shared responsibility. Everyone from senior devs to new hires learns the basic skills of a security analyst. With that in mind, SecDevOps ensures that each team member:

  • Follows security best practices

  • Understands security principles

  • Relies on modern tools and automation to maintain efficiency

  • Doesn’t waste time fixing vulnerabilities they missed earlier on

While leaning into security may sound like a trade-off, the pros outweigh the cons. After all, SecDevOps isn’t a compromise—it’s a response to modern security problems. This approach relies on two main pillars: security as code (SaC) and infrastructure as code (IaC). 

SecDevOps explained: SecDevOps is a software development approach that prioritizes security

Security as code (SaC)

SaC works modern risk-prevention tools into your production pipeline. AI-powered code checks and vulnerability scans replace manual reviews, producing more efficient work. For example, it encourages devs to review altered bits of code instead of entire code bases. 

SecDevOps teams mainly review code with:

  • Dynamic application security testing (DAST): Tests that simulate outside attacks on a program

  • Static application security testing (SAST): Tests that assess source code for built-in vulnerabilities

Infrastructure as code (IaC)

SecDevOps goes beyond code reviews and hones in on your IT infrastructure. Specifically, it streamlines the process of updating your infrastructure. SecDevOps applies coding principles to your data centers to:

  • Prevent security issues early on 

  • Maintain productivity on operations teams

  • Deliver consistent, reliable programs

  • Create a flexible, adaptive environment for devs

  • Allow team members to make changes without compromising overall systems

Difference between SecDevOps vs. DevSecOps

You’ve probably heard the term “DevSecOps” thrown around with SecDevOps. While they’re both methods that prioritize security, they go about it in different ways:

  • DevSecOps adds security measures to every stage of a project. Because “Dev” comes before “Sec,” efficiency remains the main goal. It can also maintain silos between narrowly focused teams. 

  • SecDevOps pushes a security-first mindset on the project level. Contrary to some expectations, this emphasis on security doesn’t come at efficiency’s expense. In some cases, it can actually boost productivity by squaring away security risks before they cause problems. 

A chart explaining the differences between DevOps, SevSecOps, and SecDevOps

Why is SecDevOps important?

As programs become more complex and vulnerable to outside attack, security is more important than ever. At the same time, organizations have become more reliant on software to manage operations. This creates a high-demand market for quick software production. 

This context led to DevOps, which broke down silos between operations and dev teams for faster production. SecDevOps inherited this efficiency but built upon it with more emphasis on security. While this sounds like a trade-off, risk prevention helps preserve the DevOps promise of delivering value quickly by avoiding security slowdowns.

SecDevOps gives end users the best of both worlds: security and efficiency. SecDevOps teams manage this by:

  • Improving security integrations to limit breaches

  • Avoiding extra costs and slowdowns from security issues late in production

  • Using an optimized workflow throughout production

  • Boosting collaboration and accountability

  • Automating repetitive tasks while avoiding automation issues

  • Proactively gauging security threats instead of reacting to them

  • Holding employees to strict security guidelines

  • Preventing delays from security test rejections

How does SecDevOps work?

Wrapping your head around SecDevOps is one thing—putting it into practice is another. The exact workflow varies by team, but SecDevOps sets a general pattern. Devs begin by anticipating security issues, starting work in a testing environment, and going through reviews before full production. 

To help explain how SecDevOps protects your data, let’s go through a workflow.

A chart explaining the five main steps in the SecDevOps workflow

1. Anticipate risk in the planning phase

Before a dev starts coding, they need to consider potential risks. You can avoid future costs or development slowdowns by preventing these vulnerabilities in advance. To get ahead of security issues, ask:

  • Have incident response systems been set in place?

  • Does the program protect user data?

  • Does the code use tools with known security problems?

  • Do you see outside methods of accessing the system?

  • Does the code leverage authentication and authorization?

  • Is the user’s input sanitized to prevent security attacks?

  • Does the code properly protect data related to any industry or federal data standards like GDPR or HIPAA?

2. Begin work in a test environment

Your actual coding starts in a test environment. This means ensuring all devs work within a version control management system. These systems help track changes to code over time. By highlighting who changed a line of code and when, it can help teams keep track of collaboration.

Note: As devs progress, they should stay alert for security risks. They can't anticipate all threats before this stage, so they may have to build more defenses over time.

3. Conduct a manual code review

After putting together their initial build, devs hand off their work for review. At this stage, managers or senior developers check the code for bugs and vulnerabilities. After identifying any problems, the dev can make security configurations to fix them.

While SecDevOps focuses on security, it encourages general optimization. Outside of risk prevention, code review checklists should also consider: 

  • Feature requirements

  • Readability

  • Maintainability 

  • Performance and speed

  • Naming conventions

4. Run automated tests

On top of manual reviews, use automation to scan for potential safety issues. These scans act as a stress test for your code and measure its ability to resist breaches. In many cases, AI-run tests can spot small issues more efficiently than manual reviews. Here are a few examples of tests you can run:

  • Static application security testing to gauge code’s overall quality

  • Dynamic application security testing to measure resistance to outside attack

  • Application containers for vulnerable dependency analysis

  • Software composition analysis (SCA) to find more automation opportunities and make a software bill of materials (SBOM)

5. Move to production

Once the code passes each test, you can move your app to a production environment. Bear in mind that you want to consider security as the project continues, so devs should conduct additional reviews and go through more than one automated scan. To go the extra mile, set up a security monitoring system during production.

SecDevOps benefits

In a sea of approaches to choose from, SecDevOps has its competitors. While it isn't the only viable method, SecDevOps offers distinct benefits, and a few benefits of DevOps even carry into SecDevOps. To help you see the appeal of SecDevOps, we'll explain its advantages:

  • Breaks down silos: SecDevOps breaks down barriers between security, development, and operations teams. This lack of silos ensures security stays everyone's responsibility, while enabling them to perform their unique tasks.

  • Improves customer satisfaction: Emphasizing security improves the customer experience. More resilient programs reduce the need for support after a breach, build trust around your brand, and improve customer retention.

  • Earn savings from identifying vulnerabilities early: Getting ahead of potential breaches saves you the time and energy cost of fixing them later. You also have opportunity costs to consider Instead of developing the next high-value feature, security problems make devs retrace risk-prevention steps on older features. 

  • Increases automation opportunities: Machines are uniquely suited to handle repetitive, time-intensive tasks. Compared to a dev, they can cover more ground without sacrificing the quality of their tests. 

  • Learn dynamic responses to changing needs: Training your devs on security leads to more adaptable programmers who can meet future needs better than siloed team members. The security expertise they gain on one project helps them rise to new risk-prevention challenges in future work. 

SecDevOps challenges and solutions

While SecDevOps has considerable benefits, it also presents a few hurdles. For some teams, prioritizing security takes some restructuring. To help you along, we’ll break down the biggest challenges and their solutions. 

A list of common SecDevOps challenges and their solutions

Updating core processes

Transitioning to SecDevOps means rethinking your core processes. After all, different methodologies focus on their own priorities and workflows. Prioritizing security requires a cultural and operational shift not all businesses know how to tackle. 

Solution: Incorporate automation

Devs can reduce their production and security workload by leaning into automated tools. AI lets devs focus on the broad strokes of a security-first approach, while automated tests get into the weeds. Ultimately, automation optimizes dev efforts, helping them cover more ground, work faster, and ensure nothing is missed.

Recruiting security engineers

There are fewer security engineers than developers in the current workforce. Pair that with the high-security demands of SecDevOps, and businesses have a problem. At its worst, a security shortage can reduce the resources needed to review your code and infrastructure.

Solution: Cross-train developers

With extra training, your software devs can learn cybersecurity skills. In completely owning their code, teams can integrate security checks into their production process. Fewer hands involved with the same amount of production means more efficient operations. 

Changing production environments

In an office setting with on-site data storage, protecting data is straightforward. But when you have a remote workforce and cloud storage to juggle, you need more security. SecDevOps requires secure access to your data, and faulty data storage can prevent that from the word go.

Solution: Invest in extra security

Don’t spare any expense in beefing up your security. Invest in company-wide software and work devices for the best coverage. While there is an up-front cost attached, it’s lower than expenses from security issues down the line. 

How to implement SecDevOps

If you're working within a DevOps pipeline, switching to SecDevOps is simple. By putting security considerations at the first stage of development, you're well on your way.

Teams looking to implement SecDevOps from the ground up aren't out of luck, either. Prioritizing security in your operations only takes three elements:

  • A security-focused culture

  • SecDevOps training on main processes

  • The proper tools in each dev’s hands

1. Promote a security-focused culture

Embracing SecDevOps may take a cultural shift. Instead of prioritizing fast turnarounds, you have to put risk prevention first. While this doesn’t come at the expense of productivity, you may have to rethink efficiency. Instead of rushing into production, you’ll need to clear potential bottlenecks out of the way first. 

You need to promote a security-minded culture to make the most of SecDevOps. Here are a few tips to help evolve your culture for that switch:

  • Encourage further training and learning to make critical security decisions.

  • Cultivate collaboration and transparency among staff.

  • Hire employees who embrace a secure company culture.

2. Offer SecDevOps training for core processes

Since SecDevOps is relatively new, not all devs will find it intuitive. With a couple of new processes, your team can quickly find its footing. Even though the transition might take time and involve a lot of feedback, a few core business changes can lead to dramatically improved outcomes. 

To ingrain security into core processes, you can:

  • Offer constructive, solution-oriented feedback when security issues arise.

  • Regularly check and refine security processes to make sure they meet your customer’s needs and compliance standards.

  • Set team benchmarks to make sure everyone meets security goals. 

  • Offer clear, accessible documentation to guide devs when problems occur.

3. Equip employees with the right tools

Backed with the right culture and processes, your team needs the right tools for secure development. You'll want to ensure your tools identify issues before they lead to major vulnerabilities. This may take an increased emphasis on automation and improved infrastructure. At the same time, you want to avoid weighing down staff with alert fatigue. 

Many tools from DevOps carry over to SecDevOps. The kinds of security-oriented tools you need include:

  • Static application security testing (SAST)and dynamic application security testing (DAST)

  • Security-focused scripts and plug-ins 

  • System monitoring tools

Image depicting three key things you need to implement SecDevOps in your organization

SecDevOps best practices

SecDevOps places security steps into each employee's workflow. When risk prevention is the top priority, company policies and practices need to reflect that. Without a centralized security team, every employee should follow these best practices. We'll break down the main ones below. 

Set clear security policies for staff

When talking about SecDevOps, the word “security: gets thrown around a lot. Even though security makes sense as a general tenet, each business will embrace it differently. With that in mind, set clear definitions and security policies for your developers. These rules should oversee:

  • Testing guidelines

  • Encryption rules

  • Coding best practices

  • Code review standards

  • Work device policies

Clear guidelines won’t only stand in the way of data breaches—they give your devs clear standards to follow. The less confusion they have about their expectations, the better your end product will be. 

Factor secure development into training

Whether you're hiring veteran developers or newcomers, training is key to SecDevOps. Even experienced devs may need to adjust to a focus on security. While you don't need to train security experts, every new hire should undergo basic security training. The training should emphasize: 

  • Digital security best practices

  • How to implement security into daily workflows

  • How to use basic security tools

  • Standardized practices within your business

  • Team and individual expectations

Make security a business-wide priority

With SecDevOps, you can’t relegate security to one expert or team—each team member needs to consider how they can prevent vulnerabilities. Integrate security concerns into training, regular processes, and reviews. Personal accountability will get you far, but SecDevOps demands organization-wide commitment. 

Managers and senior developers should monitor systems for suspicious activity. This security-first mindset will spread more easily if leadership leads by example. You can also foster this culture of security by:

  • Starting each project by outlining security concerns

  • Locking down systems when they’re not in use

  • Integrating security checks into daily workflows

  • Consistently using security tools

  • Sacrificing production speed for greater resilience

Incorporate version control practices and tools

Version control, or the practice of managing and tracking software changes, is crucial. Developers must leverage version control when working on scripts, templates, and apps. While version control helps manage code changes and edits, it can also limit risk. Specifically, it: 

  • Provides evidence of audits for legal compliance

  • Points out when vulnerabilities entered a program

  • Traces suspicious additions or changes to code

  • Highlights features and builds open to data breaches

Automate standard processes

While DevOps focuses on automation to boost productivity, SecDevOps uses it to mitigate risk. Automated processes and tools can speed up workflows without compromising security. Specifically, automation covers repeatable tasks and frees up devs for more intricate ones. Automation can assist with:

  • Code reviews

  • Cutting latency issues

  • Identifying vulnerabilities

  • Rote work

Incorporate SecDevOps with Pluralsight Flow

Incorporating SecDevOps into your business takes commitment and careful collaboration. On the upside, you won’t only avoid costs from security breaches—SecDevOps will break down silos, maintain fast production, and spread knowledge about risk prevention. 

If you’d like to speed up the switch to SecDevOps, Pluralsight Flow can help. Flow enables teams to ship reliable, scalable, and secure code on time by ensuring teams work together effectively and have the right data-driven metrics. To find out more, schedule a demo with our team today.

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