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DevSecOps Tools: How Security Tools Improve DevOps Velocity

Tony Loehr
Developer Advocate

DevOps enables fast development, easier maintenance, and the usage of software development best practices for applications, environments, build systems, and services. Tasks usually include maintaining applications, defining infrastructure configurations, and provisioning resources through code. DevOps teams typically manage application deployments, which generally have a security review. This responsibility has led to the emergence of DevSecOps. With the right tools in hand, DevSecOps can have velocity unhampered by security provisions because these requirements are handled efficiently.

Security requirements have often been thought of as antithetical to developer productivity–how could rules and policies possibly make a DevOps engineer’s life easier? To understand, let’s take a look at how security demands impact an organization’s DevOps engineers. Once we understand the challenge, we can delve into how DevSecOps tools can actually improve overall productivity.

The Impact of Security Demands on DevOps Velocity

Modern applications require a security review before their deployment. This code review can prevent the compromise of the application, the releasing organization, and the assets of this organization. However, if unsupported, security impacts an organization’s top line and can contribute to developer burnout

To support effective DevSecOps operations, organizations should consider the following difficulties in enforcing security within DevOps workflows:

Context Switching Leads to Thrashing

Computers appear to multitask flawlessly, but they are quickly switching between tasks to give the appearance of multitasking. They do a phenomenal job with this theater until they switch between too many tasks. When machines are spending more time switching between tasks than performing tasks, they are said to be in a state of thrashing.

Humans are no different in that they require time for context switching. The time required for a DevOps engineer to switch between tasks is non-trivial. If the assignments begin to stack up, this creates significant operational strain.

Security Training Is Expensive

Ensuring adequate security involves mandatory training for every engineer. DevOps engineers are frequently required to take significant amounts of additional training, which is expensive in both training costs and the loss to developer velocity.  

Security Disproportionately Affects Velocity of High Impact Engineers 

Generally speaking, high-level engineers are more trusted to make overarching changes than junior engineers. These changes may be as minute as adding a CODEOWNERS file or as tedious as manually auditing each repository to ensure branch protections are in place. Regardless of the task, the scope of this overarching change is broad.

Ironically, this typical delegation leads to the development velocity of the highest level DevOps engineer being impaired the most, thereby impacting the organization’s mean velocity the most. To support effective DevSecOps operations, organizations should consider the difficulties that arise when enforcing security within DevOps workflows.

Despite all these downsides, current methods of security review aren’t working; it frequently is not enough to divert high-quality engineering talent to solving security problems. Better security tools are needed to benefit developers, operations, and security teams.

Top 10 Ways Security Tools Boost DevOps Productivity

        1. Automatically generate reports suitable for sharing with auditors

Compliance audits are a necessary process for many organizations–regulations such as PCI, FedRAMP, and NIST are obligatory in some cases. Often, DevOps teams end up owning this compliance audit. As I previously mentioned, the highest level personnel often end up on the hook to perform these audits and manually create reports.

Security tools that have compliance checks baked in can help boost DevOps velocity by performing these audits automatically, thus saving the organization time and money.

As an added bonus, these audit requirements can be continually enforced, thus helping organizations benefit from the best DevSecOps practices established by security frameworks without adding significant overhead.

        2. Detect configuration drift

Configuration drift occurs when settings, initialization data, or other security controls between deployment environments fall out of sync. Often, this results from careless use of a console. Container tools, such as Kubernetes, and IaC tools, such as Terraform, are susceptible to drift. Configuration drift is difficult and tedious to trace, making its resolution a general time-suck for DevOps engineers tasked to resolve configuration drift.

Security tools that detect or even prevent configuration drift give the time otherwise spent handling remediation back to your engineers so they can focus on their main tasks. Detecting drift in developer environments allows misconfigurations to be resolved before causing desynchronization, thus preventing the drift in the first place.

        3. Allow scalable policy check capability

Security policies are only useful if enforced, and the standard way of checking for policy adherence is to manually confirm them. There are problems with manual policy checks: they are tedious, time-consuming, and do not scale. Increasing security policies exacerbates this problem.

Security tools that automatically execute policy checks help DevOps teams save time. This also allows additional security policies to be added, implemented, and enforced without requiring a significant time investment from DevOps personnel.

        4. Create SBOM for dependency management

Creating a Software Bill of Materials (SBOM) allows organizations to map their topography, identify the components they use, and stay on top of updates. Most software is composed of 85-90% open source components–this includes the APIs, libraries, base, and OS. This doesn’t include the tools used for the development and deployment of the application. The topography of our applications is complex and time-consuming to manually trace.

The majority of vulnerabilities can be resolved by updating to the latest version. The biggest obstacle to resolving vulnerabilities in your software supply chain is to know what all of your dependencies, tools, and configurations are.

Security tools can help DevOps personnel tasked with deployment management by creating an SBOM, which can then be used to help ensure licensing requirements are adhered to, compliance is achieved, and vulnerabilities are patched. 

        5. Aggregate data between data silos to generate unique insights

One of the biggest issues with security tools is that often the insights they generate are too shallow or too noisy to be useful. Aggregating data between different points in the SDLC allows for complex insights to be created, thus reducing the total number of extraneous alerts while increasing the alert quality.

This improved signal-to-noise ratio also helps reduce false negatives. This creates net new findings that DevOps can use to detect and resolve security vulnerabilities while not wasting time chasing down false positives. DevSecOps tools that learn from their past false positives are especially helpful to DevOps teams.

        6. Balance operational vs. security rules

No team wants security tools imposed on them, especially by others who don’t understand their workflows. DevOps teams are no exception and are harmed by the blind enforcement of potentially extraneous or constricting security policy.

By choosing their own tools, DevOps teams can ensure security tools will work well in their workflows. It’s important for DevOps teams to participate in conversations around security decisions so they can accept the reasonable tasks and push back on the disruptive asks. 

        7. Resolve vulnerabilities before running the deployment pipeline

Developer workflow integrations allow certain processes to occur in the context of development. When effectively utilized by security teams, security integrations allow developers to avoid committing vulnerabilities to source control. This is a crucial idea of shift left, which enables the earlier prevention of security defects from entering the pipeline.

For DevOps, this renders the use of certain time-consuming checks unnecessary. For example, if developers are required to run credential and secret scans as part of their workflows, then these same secret scans are unnecessary in the later stages of the pipeline.

DevOps engineers can use this principle in automated pipelines to reduce the run time of development pipelines, minimize the number of times pipelines must run, avoid manual investigation, and steer clear of wasting effort.

        8. Help manage settings across organizations, repositories, and development teams

Being a role between development and operations, DevOps carries a wide breadth of responsibilities. In order for successful security operations to occur, security policy must be enforceable across an entire organization, across all parts of the development lifecycle–hence the emergence of DevSecOps.

Security tools that allow security policy to be enforced across all the repos, teams, and organizations help fulfill the needs of DevSecOps. Effective security tools allow security policy to be enforced throughout the development of an application, thus requiring less manual intervention from DevOps while still satisfying security needs.

        9. Automate remediation

Monitoring applications for potential security vulnerabilities and alerting teams when security defects emerge is the foundation of effective security. Adding the automatic remediation of these vulnerabilities brings security capabilities to the next level. 

Implementing automated remediation helps reduce the intervention required by DevOps to resolve identified vulnerabilities. Resolving configuration drift is one example of a DevOps task that can be easily remediated with the right tools.

       10. Enable DevOps to participate in the security process 

We touched on it previously, but security tools help DevOps become players in the security process–participating in the security process gives DevOps a seat at the table to make security decisions.  Better, earlier visibility means fewer surprises and less unplanned work. Establishing a security policy early helps everyone understand the requirements–these benefits partially account for the rise of DevSecOps tools. 

Allowing DevOps to participate in the security process throughout the development lifecycle also enables DevOps teams to measure compliance to the prescribed security policy during development rather than waiting until delivery. This is very central to the whole idea of DevSecOps.

The Big If: Effective Use of DevSecOps Tools

Security tools are not a new concept to a seasoned DevOps engineer. These engineers know that security tools must have several attributes to be worth their onboarding time. 

To have the greatest positive impact on DevSecOps, security tools should have:

  • Developer workflow integrations, so that developers may remediate potential vulnerabilities in context to avoid the time drain of context switching. This also allows developers to learn from their mistakes, providing complementary training to the required security training.
  • Fast scans, so that they do not slow down the workflows of DevOps.–t This often goes hand-in-hand with workflow integrations since this enables only the relevant security checks to be run per stage of the ci cd pipeline, thus reducing redundant security checks.
  • Reliable results, since false positives render the time-savings benefits nil as DevSecOps would be on the hook to investigate the nonexistent vulnerability.

The best security tools for DevOps velocity provide the right information to actually fix problems because nobody wants a tool that just creates a never-ending backlog. This ideal security tool would include automated fixes, detailed and relevant remediation advice, and/or source code locations where fixes should be applied.

How Cycode Boosts DevOps Productivity

The Cycode platform helps accelerate DevSecOps operations by distributing security responsibilities to those most qualified to resolve them. Part of this is handled by DevSecOps tools including Cycode’s developer workflow integration, which presents potential security vulnerabilities along with the relevant fix. Once enabled, Cycode automatically scans every commit for IaC misconfigurations and if found, the scan fails the status check. From here, the developer will be prompted about the failure within the pull request itself.

In addition, the Cycode platform automatically helps audit privileges and privacy across all repos. This helps organizations adhere to the principles of least privilege without requiring additional work from the DevOps team; the platform also allows organizations to fulfill audit requirements and stay in compliance over time. This snapshot is a compliance requirement for certain frameworks, including SOC 2 Type II.

The Cycode platform features a dashboard that displays the current progress of compliance fulfillment:

The compliance flow shows the conformance progress, details which policies are used as part of formulating compliance, and provides an auditable list of evidence proving compliance.

Cycode also features workflows, which enable the automated remediation of vulnerabilities as well as other tasks. These workflows can be fully customized to support custom security policies. The knowledge graph is key to enabling this functionality.

The Cycode platform is the perfect tool for boosting DevOps velocity because it was built to manage the requirements and streamline the operations of a successful DevSecOps team.

Want To Learn More?

A great place to start is with a free assessment of the security of your DevOps pipeline.