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DevSecOps: A beginner's guide

December 04, 2023 By Aaron Linskens

7 minute read time

Modern software development parallels a traditional manufacturing supply chain, with code repositories serving as digital warehouses for software components and applications that comprise a software supply chain.

Amid the perpetual evolution of software supply chain threats, the integration of security into DevOps processes emerges as a cornerstone for robust defense. As an extension of the DevOps philosophy, DevSecOps transcends silos and places emphasis on collaboration between development, operations, and security teams across the entire software development life cycle (SDLC). The aim is to ensure security is not an afterthought but an integral and proactive aspect of the development process.

In this blog post, we highlight the fundamentals of DevSecOps tailored for beginners, exploring its principles, practices, and the transformative shift it represents in approaching security within the SDLC.

What are a few core principles of DevSecOps?

With DevSecOps, security is not just a phase — it's interwoven into every strand of the SDLC. The "Sec" in DevSecOps underscores the pivotal role security plays in an organization's software development operations, marking a transformative shift in approach.

DevSecOps operates on a foundation of core principles, each contributing to the creation of a robust framework for secure and efficient software delivery. Let's delve into these principles and unravel how they pave the way for a successful implementation of DevSecOps.

Shift Left

As a fundamental pillar of DevSecOps, the principle of Shift Left diverges from conventional practices by advocating for the early and continuous integration of security considerations. Rather than deferring security reviews to the final stages of development, DevSecOps promotes proactive security measures from the first line of code.

This approach, contrasted with Secure Right, prioritizes early detection of code flaws and bugs to reduce the risk of critical issues compounding further along in the SDLC. In essence, Shift Left in DevSecOps echoes the teachings of management consultant W. Edwards Deming, stressing the importance of building quality into the product from the start and minimizing reliance on later-stage inspections.

Continuous improvement

DevSecOps recognizes the dynamic nature of security threats and the evolving risks in each development sprint. This demands an ongoing commitment to improvement through iterative cycles. Feedback from various sources, such as functional teams, executives, partners, and end-users, fuels this continuous enhancement.

Establishing an initial framework that seamlessly incorporates security-related feedback throughout iterative sprints and release cycles is essential. By proactively accommodating continuous refinement, DevSecOps ensures that security evolves in harmony with the ever-changing threat landscape, business requirements, and user needs.

A culture of accountability

Collaboration and shared responsibility form the core of every mature DevSecOps practice. Establishing a culture of accountability involves translating principles into action. Effective communication and collaboration are indispensable for the successful implementation of DevSecOps.

Cultivating a shared responsibility culture ensures that security becomes a collective concern. This entails establishing clear accountability and a framework for measuring and achieving security goals, fostering a proactive security stance within the organization.

What are a few best practices of DevSecOps?

Holistic thinking, iterative action, appropriate automation

In an era where modern software is assembled more than developed, a mature DevSecOps practice must adopt a holistic perspective. Automation, crucial for efficiency, should follow the standardization of technologies and processes.

Thinking holistically involves considering the sum of individual parts, emphasizing simplification, repeatability, and speed through prudent automation.

Continuous security testing

Continuous security testing is a key DevSecOps practice that involves ongoing assessment of code and applications. Automated security tests, conducted consistently and yielding standardized results, instill greater confidence compared to sporadic tests performed by various individuals under diverse conditions, leading to non-standardized outcomes.

Specific security testing methodologies, such as Static Application Security Testing (SAST) and Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST), play pivotal roles, offering real-time insights into vulnerabilities.

Dependency management

Software dependencies drive continuous integration and deployment, essential for development efficiency but introducing security risks. Dependency mapping serves as a crucial strategy for revealing relationships within software supply chains. This visual representation empowers developer teams to manage the SDLC effectively and enhance overall security.

Many organizations struggle to conduct a comprehensive inventory of software supply chain components, elevating the risk of vulnerabilities. Software supply chain attacks targeting dependencies, especially open source code, continue to escalate. The surge in attacks highlights the urgent need for proactive measures. Gartner's prediction of a three-fold increase in organizations experiencing software supply chain attacks by 2025 reinforces the critical need for action.

What are a few benefits of DevSecOps?

Security is not merely a necessity — it's a competitive differentiator. DevSecOps, when integrated early in the SDLC, not only enhances security but also leads to development cost savings. High-performing teams spend less time remediating security issues, providing a compelling business case for embracing DevSecOps.

Implementation of DevSecOps unfolds a plethora of benefits, with two advantages standing out:

  • Increased speed of SDLC release cycles: Integrating security from the project’s inception enhances the efficiency of development cycles. This proactive approach allows for faster releases without compromising on security measures.
  • Achieving reliable software delivery: DevSecOps ensures that software isn't just swiftly delivered but is also reliable and secure. This reliability fosters trust among users and stakeholders, contributing to the long-term success of software applications.

DevSecOps transcends being a mere set of principles and practices. It signifies a shift in culture and mindset to embed security into every facet of software development. Understanding DevSecOps is the foundational step towards embarking on a more secure, efficient, and culturally transformed software development journey.

Elevating security with Sonatype in DevSecOps

Navigating the balance between robust security processes and the demand for swift software delivery is a common challenge for many organizations. Management of open source components adds another layer of complexity, often leading to suboptimal choices without a streamlined governance strategy.

Sonatype tools offer a comprehensive approach, empowering you to:

  • Unify teams for efficient collaboration: Bring developers, security professionals, and IT operations together for streamlined collaboration.
  • Enforce policy and manage open source risk: Leverage built-in automation and integrations to enforce policies, mitigating open source risk across the entire SDLC.
  • Accelerate innovation with security focus: Enhance productivity by integrating security seamlessly throughout the development process, allowing teams to innovate without compromising safety.

Shift Left with real-time insights

Sonatype Lifecycle seamlessly integrates component intelligence into developers' daily tools, such as IDEs or source control. This allows developers to instantly identify if their chosen component violates any open source software policies.

With real-time insights, developers can efficiently choose the best components and transition to an approved version with just a few clicks. Sonatype Lifecycle supports popular environments like Eclipse, IntelliJ, Visual Studio, VS Code, GitHub, GitLab, Atlassian Bitbucket, and more.

Guardrails, not gates

Sonatype Lifecycle begins with a robust, flexible policy engine, granting application security professionals comprehensive control.

Application security features include customized policies based on application type and organization, enforcing them at every SDLC phase. Policies cover security vulnerabilities, licenses, and technical debt, sending warnings, creating Jira tickets, or even failing builds based on severity.

Automate builds, streamline releases, and measure success

Integrating with existing DevOps tools on the Sonatype Platform, operations teams streamline the build and release process, ensuring security. Sonatype Lifecycle's success metrics provide actionable data, offering insights into resolution speed, trends, and mean time to resolution (MTTR).

These key performance indicators serve as valuable tools for senior management, showcasing the success of the DevSecOps strategy and overall security framework effectiveness.

Beyond methodology: Securing the future with DevSecOps

DevSecOps represents more than a methodology; it's a fundamental necessity in the contemporary SDLC. This holistic approach seamlessly integrates security, enabling teams to craft and deliver high-quality, secure software even with constrained resources. In an era defined by rampant cyber threats, embracing DevSecOps is not just a choice — it's an imperative for safeguarding the integrity and resilience of the modern SDLC.

Tags: shift left, Devops, DevSecOps journey, DevZone, Sonatype Lifecycle

Written by Aaron Linskens

Aaron is a technical writer on Sonatype's Marketing team. He works at a crossroads of technical writing, developer advocacy, software development, and open source. He aims to get developers and non-technical collaborators to work well together via experimentation, feedback, and iteration so they can build the right software.