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How to navigate DevOps principles: Analyzing Shift Left and Secure Right

September 06, 2023 By Aaron Linskens

5 minute read time

In the ever-evolving world of DevOps, two concepts, Shift Left and Secure Right, surfaced as catch-phrases that signal a shared desire to develop more secure and reliable software.

Yet a common misunderstanding prevails, particularly from a security standpoint, surrounding what these concepts truly entail. All too often, organizations unintentionally burden development teams with additional work in pursuit of these shifts, essentially undermining the fundamental principle of DevOps: shared responsibility.

At the core of the DevOps mindset lies the belief that development and IT operations teams share joint accountability for the success of building and deploying software. Enter DevSecOps, an extension of this collaboration that introduces security in the form of an application security (AppSec) team.

Regardless of if you adopt Shift Left or Secure Right in DevOps or DevSecOps, neither shift should involve one team simply passing security tasks to another. Both aim to streamline processes and increase communication among teams, but these approaches take divergent routes to achieve these goals.

In this blog post, we explore Shift Left and Secure Right. We aim to shed light on these concepts’ core principles and their pivotal roles in achieving high-quality, secure software delivery. We analyze how Shift Left and Secure Right align with DevOps and DevSecOps, ultimately empowering you to make informed decisions about their integration into your workflows.

Why would your organization make this shift?

To understand the significance of Shift Left and Secure Right, first visualize a software development life cycle (SDLC) in the shape of a continuous loop that can be divided in half.

On the left side, your development team operates in the early phases of the SDLC. They engage in planning, coding, and pre-production testing, all with the goal of crafting software aligned with design specifications. This is the domain of creativity and innovation, where developers bring ideas to life.

On the right side, your IT operations team takes charge of production releases, ensuring software aligns seamlessly with your organization’s business goals and maintains high standards of reliability. This is where software is entrusted to fulfill its intended purpose, maintaining performance and stability.

Allocation of resources and adjustment of priorities to either side of this SDLC loop will yield different outcomes. If you subscribe to the DevSecOps mindset, the positioning of an AppSec team somewhere within or along this loop adds another variable to these considerations.

A decision to shift left or right can empower your development, operations, and security teams to engage proactively in your software’s evolution and ultimately protect against the emergence of functional or security issues in the products you deliver.

What is Shift Left?

Shift Left, a foundational pillar of DevSecOps, prioritizes the integration of testing activities as close to the initial stages of development as possible, seamlessly integrating them into your SDLC.

The core tenets of Shift Left include the following:

  • Early detection: Shift Left prioritizes early detection to identify and mitigate code flaws and bugs at their inception, effectively reducing the risk of critical issues compounding further along in the SDLC. A tool like Sonatype Lifecycle fulfills this need in streamlining dependency management for new vulnerabilities based on your components, risk tolerance, and affected applications, ensuring proactive remediation.
  • Automation: Shift Left places automation at its forefront, where it leverages automated testing frameworks to ensure the repeatability and rapid execution of tests associated with code changes. Preventative security with a tool such as Sonatype Repository Firewall serves this principle as it automatically enforces policies, blocks malicious software components, and prevents known vulnerabilities from infiltrating your repository.
  • Continuous feedback: Shift Left advocates for providing prompt feedback to developers, enabling incremental improvements to refine code throughout the development process. Sonatype Lifecycle enables your developers to receive ongoing monitoring and alerts for new vulnerabilities, fostering iterative enhancements.
  • Cross-functional cooperation: Collaboration is at the heart of Shift Left, encouraging close cooperation among developers, testers, security experts, and operations teams. This synergy fosters improved communication and transparency, ensuring security considerations are woven into the software. Sonatype Lifecycle facilitates cross-functional cooperation by providing a platform for teams to work together seamlessly. It allows your teams to control risk without switching tools and gain full visibility in minutes for each application for quick remediation of vulnerabilities based on detailed intelligence.

When successfully implemented, these Shift Left tenets yield a spectrum of benefits, including:

  • reduced costs;
  • faster time-to-market;
  • higher quality software; and
  • streamlined integration with broader practices of DevSecOps.

By embracing Shift Left as a fundamental concept within DevSecOps, organizations can fortify their software development processes, forging a path toward secure and reliable software delivery.

What is Secure Right?

While Shift Left is a cornerstone of DevSecOps, Secure Right, sometimes referred to as Shift Right, stands as a complementary pillar in the broader DevOps mindset and introduces continuous testing of code within a production environment.

Unlike Shift Left, which focuses on early-stage SDLC testing, Secure Right extends the testing phase to post-deployment, aiming to uncover unexpected scenarios that typical production environments might miss.

The core tenets of Secure Right include the following:

  • Chaos engineering: Secure Right embraces chaos engineering, a practice where controlled disruptions are deliberately introduced to observe how an application behaves under stress. This approach helps identify potential weaknesses or points of failure, contributing to enhanced resilience and reliability. Sonatype Repository Firewall complements this by automatically preventing known vulnerabilities and harmful open source releases from impacting your repository, adding a layer of defense against potential weaknesses.
  • Runtime insights: Secure Right emphasizes real-time monitoring and analysis of application behavior in real-world scenarios. By continually monitoring and analyzing performance in production environments, vulnerabilities and performance issues can be swiftly pinpointed and addressed. Sonatype Lifecycle plays a vital role here by supplying ongoing monitoring and alerts for new vulnerabilities. This ensures real-time insights can trigger immediate actions to address identified issues.
  • Feedback loop: The Secure Right approach capitalizes on insights gleaned from production environments. These insights serve as valuable feedback that can enhance an application’s resilience, security, and overall performance, creating a continuous cycle of improvement. By providing reviews at the organizational level, Sonatype Lifecycle ensures every step of your software development aligns with your security and quality criteria. With its help, you proactively identify and mitigate risks, reducing the chances of critical issues invading your codebase.

Successful implementation of these tenets of Secure Right can bolster security measures, optimize performance, and expedite resolution of post-production issues. Most importantly, Secure Right fosters a culture of continuous learning, driving ongoing software enhancement and innovation.

Which works best for you?

Within the broader DevOps landscape, Shift Left and Secure Right coexist as complementary strategies, each addressing distinct phases of software development and deployment.

Shift Left focuses on early defect detection, collaboration, and automation, while Secure Right extends testing to post-deployment scenarios to enhance security and performance. Your specific implementation depends on your organization's goals, project requirements, and risk tolerance. Striking a balance between Shift Left and Shift Right can lead to comprehensive software quality, security, and continuous improvement throughout your DevOps journey.

In a world where DevOps is a bridge to agile and efficient software delivery, understanding and acting upon these principles can significantly boost your team's capabilities and elevate the reliability and security of your software applications.

Tags: shift left, Devops, devsecops

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.