The 7 DevSecOps Concepts & Principles To Ace for True DevSecOps

Freshen up how you build security into the software pipeline. In this article, we’re looking at the seven core principles of DevSecOps:

  1. Shift left security
  2. Holistic automation
  3. Continuous security testing
  4. Collaborative culture & communication
  5. Security as code
  6. Observability
  7. Continuous improvement

Let’s get started.

Brief DevSecOps overview

DevSecOps is an evolution of the DevOps methodology evolving the way developers, IT operations, QA and InfoSec teams approach security in the software development lifecycle (SDLC). Despite the focus of DevOps teams toward improving software quality, security often remains an afterthought.

In reality, security serves a critical goal toward software quality that must be baked into the SDLC process — early and thoroughly all phases of the SDLC lifecycle. Therefore, we can think of DevSecOps as an integration of culture, responsibility and best practices for security throughout the SDLC pipeline. These include all activities:

  • Software planning and design
  • Development and testing
  • Delivery
  • Deployment

(Read our full DevSecOps explainer.)

DevSecOps concepts & principles

So, just how do we integrate security? Let’s review the key principles of DevSecOps that teams should be working into their SDLC workflows.

1. Shift left security

DevSecOps teams work with cybersecurity experts early during the SDLC process, a major shift from traditional DevOps. In DevSecOps, cybersecurity becomes a shared responsibility of all members of the DevSecOps teams. That means that software design and implementation follows security best practices, considering areas like:

When shifting security left (towards the beginning of the SDLC), every software build is configured for security — optimized for performance, cost, time to market and other key business goals. This enables the team to identify early the security risk and exposure, enabling a secure build for every integration into the CI/CD pipeline.

(Read more about shift left security.)

2. Holistic automation

Adopt end-to-end automation for extensive testing and CI/CD processing. Within DevSecOps, automation is adopted as a strategic and well-informed decision— instead of merely automating any and all manual processes. After all, automating waste processes only compromises software quality.

In such cases, any rework to address quality issues tend to come at the expense of security performance. This practice goes against the concept of DevSecOps.

Instead, DevSecOps teams ensure that cybersecurity testing is thoroughly integrated into the automation processing, checking for:

  • Software dependencies
  • How every change impacts the overall security performance of the software application

(Read more about AppSec aka application security.)

3. Continuous security testing

The practice of Continuous Testing is extended by introducing automated testing functions that analyze build quality for security vulnerabilities. Within DevSecOps, Devs and QA teams collectively adopt the responsibility for improving software quality by continuously testing every build — in fact, the process is integrated into the CI/CD pipeline. These include:

You can also develop a threat model and establish security policies early during the SDLC process. Automated remediation tools may be adopted to address frequent vulnerabilities that are introduced as Devs and QA teams follow rapid release cycles and fast sprints at the pace of DevOps.

4. Collaborative culture & communication

Organizations are expected to make it easier for DevSecOps team members to collaborate and communicate. In a traditional enterprise IT setting, Devs, QA, Ops and InfoSec teams tend to work in silos, each team adopting their own policies and objectives. These goals are often conflicting and ultimately require a superseding policy that dictates the priority objectives.

From a DevSecOps perspective, this is impractical: An unknown consequence, security malpractice or un-informed decision can have a lasting negative impact on the overall software quality and performance.

5. Security as code

To make it easier for Devs and QA teams to configure and develop customized automation workflows for security testing, users can treat security policies, procedures and controls as code.

Security as Code ensures that continuous and automated security testing does not introduce unnecessary cost and delays to the SDLC processing. Security testing processes run alongside functional testing within the automated CI/CD workflows — Devs and QA teams can automatically work on the results and improve security performance with the programmable approach to security, as the tools, metrics, testing scope and configurations are reused. The testing procedure also follows consistent policies, which are agreed upon during the security planning and initial design phase.

6. Traceability, auditability & visibility

One of the most important goals of DevSecOps is to deliver insights that help create a reliable environment for achieving the desired security performance of the SDLC pipeline. In order to achieve this goal, DevSecOps follows three characteristics:

  • Traceability: Carefully tracking configuration items for compliance and to understand how security issues and policies are handled. 
  • Auditability: Ensuring that the process is well-documented. Administrative controls, policy implementation and security decisions should be tracked for audits and accountability.
  • Visibility: Strong monitoring and observability capabilities are adopted to achieve a holistic and end-to-end view of the security performance across the SDLC pipeline.

The work that sums up these concepts is observability. Learn more about observability and how it plays into DevSecOps.

7. Continuous improvement

Since security threats continue to evolve and new development sprints can be exposed to different security risks, DevSecOps aims to iteratively improve the security capability by incorporating feedback on a continuous basis. This feedback comes from…

  • Multiple functional teams
  • Executives and business decision makers
  • External partners
  • End-users in the real-world environment

Make provision in the beginning to ensure that security related feedback can be incorporated across iterative sprints and release cycles.

DevSecOps enables speedier, reliable software delivery

By following DevSecOps principles, enterprise IT teams can achieve two important goals: speed of SDLC release cycles and reliable software delivery in context of the evolving security risks, changing user expectations and strong regulations applicable to different industries and geographic locations.

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Muhammad Raza
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Muhammad Raza

Muhammad Raza is a technology writer who specializes in cybersecurity, software development and machine learning and AI.