Last updated at Thu, 30 Nov 2023 01:25:45 GMT

There’s no shortage of buzzwords in the tech world. Some are purely marketing spin. But others are colloquial ways for the industry to talk about complex topics that have a massive impact on how organizations and teams drive innovation and work more efficiently. Here at Rapid7, we believe the “shift left” movement very much falls in the latter category.

Because we see shifting left as so critical to an effective cloud security strategy, we’re kicking off a new blog series covering how organizations can seamlessly incorporate security best practices and technologies into their existing DevOps workflows — and, of course, how InsightCloudSec and the brilliant team here at Rapid7 can help.

What does “shift left” actually mean?

For those who might not be familiar with the term, “shift left” can be used interchangeably with DevOps methodologies. The idea is to “shift” tasks that have typically been performed by centralized and dedicated operations teams earlier in the software development life cycle (SDLC). In the case of security, this means weaving security guardrails and checks into development, fixing problems at the source rather than waiting to do so upon deployment or production.

Historically, security was centered around applying checks and scanning for known vulnerabilities after software was built as part of the test and release processes. While this is an important step in the cycle, there are many instances in which this is too late to begin thinking about the integrity of your software and supporting infrastructure — particularly as organizations adopt DevOps practices, resources are increasingly provisioned declaratively, and the development cycle becomes a more iterative, continuous process.

Our philosophy on shift left

One of the most commonly cited concerns we hear from organizations attempting to shift left is the potential to create a bottleneck in development, as developers need to complete additional steps to clear compliance and security hurdles. This is a crucial consideration, given that accelerating software development and increasing efficiency is often the driving force behind adopting DevOps practices in the first place. Security must catch up to the pace of development, not slow it down.

Shift left is very much about decentralizing security to match the speed and scale of the cloud, and when done poorly, it can erode trust and be viewed as a gating factor to releasing high-quality code. This is what drives Rapid7’s fundamental belief that in order to effectively shift security left, you need to avoid adding friction into the process, and instead embrace the developer experience and meet devs where they are today.

How do you accomplish this? Here’s a few core concepts that we here at Rapid7 endorse:

Provide real-time feedback with clear remediation guidance

The main goal of DevOps is to accelerate the pace of software development and improve operating efficiency. In order to accomplish this without compromising quality and security, you must make sure that insights derived from your tooling are actionable and made available to the relevant stakeholders in real time. For instance, if an issue is detected in an IaC template, the developer should be immediately notified and provided with step-by-step guidance on how to fix the issue directly in the template itself.

Establish clear and consistent security and compliance standards

It’s important for an organization to have a clear and consistent definition of what “good” looks like. A well-centered definition of security and compliance controls helps establish a common standard for the entire organization, making measurement of compliance and risk easier to establish and report. Working from a single, centrally managed policy set makes it that much easier to ensure that teams are building compliant workloads from the start, and you can limit the time wasted repeatedly fixing issues after they reach production. A common standard for security that everyone is accountable for also establishes trust with the development community.

Integrate seamlessly with existing tool chains and processes

When adding any tools or additional steps into the development life cycle, it is critically important to integrate them with existing tools and processes to avoid adding friction and creating bottlenecks. This means that your security tools must be compatible with existing CI/CD tools (e.g., GitHub, Jenkins, Puppet, etc.) to make the process of scanning resources and remediating issues seamless, and to enable developers to complete their tasks without ever leaving the tools they are most comfortable working with.

Enable automation by shifting security left

Automation can be a powerful tool for teams managing sprawling and complex cloud environments. Shifting security left with IaC scanning allows you to catch faulty source templates before they’re ever used, allowing teams to leverage automation to deploy their cloud infrastructure resources with the confidence that they will align to organizational security standards.

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Shifting cloud security left with IaC scanning

Infrastructure as code (IaC) refers to the ability to provision cloud infrastructure resources declaratively, by writing code in the same development environments used to write the software it is intended to support. IaC is a critical component of shifting left, as it empowers developers to write, test, and release software and infrastructure resources programmatically in a highly integrated process. This is typically done through pre-configured templates based on policies determined by operations teams, making development a shared and reproducible process.

When it comes to IaC security, we’re primarily talking about integrating the process of checking IaC templates to be sure that they won’t result in non-compliant infrastructure. But it shouldn’t stop there. In a perfect world, the IaC scanning tool will identify why a given template will be non-compliant, but it should also tell you how to fix it (bonus points if it can fix the problem for you!).

IaC scanning with InsightCloudSec

By this point, it should be clear that we here at Rapid7 strongly believe in incorporating security and compliance as early as possible in the development process, but we know this can be a daunting task. That’s why we built powerful capabilities into the InsightCloudSec platform to make integrating IaC scanning into your development workflows as easy and seamless as possible.

With IaC scanning in InsightCloudSec, your teams can identify and evaluate risk before infrastructure is ever built, stopping non-compliant or misconfigured resources from ever reaching production, and improving efficiency by fixing problems at the source once and for all, rather than repeatedly addressing them in runtime. With out-of-the-box support for popular IaC tools like Terraform and CloudFormation, InsightCloudSec provides teams with a common understanding of good that is consistent throughout the entire development life cycle.

Shifting security left requires consistency

Consistency is critical when shifting left, because if you’re scanning IaC templates with checks against policies that differ from those being applied in production, there’s a high likelihood that after some — likely short — period of time, those policy sets are going to drift, leading to missed vulnerabilities, misconfigurations, and/or non-compliant workloads. That may not seem like the end of the world, but it creates real problems for communicating issues across teams and increases the risk of inconsistent application of policies. When you lack consistency, it creates confusion among your stakeholders and erodes confidence in the effectiveness of your security program.

To address this, InsightCloudSec applies the same exact set of configuration standards and security policies across your entire CI/CD pipeline and even across your various cloud platforms (if your organization is one of the many that employ a hybrid cloud strategy). That means teams using IaC templates to provision infrastructure resources for their cloud-native applications can be confident they are deploying workloads that are in line with existing compliance and security standards — without having to apply a distinct set of checks, or cross-reference them with those being used in production environments.

Sounds amazing, right?! There’s a whole lot more that InsightCloudSec has to offer cloud security teams that we don’t have time to cover in this post, so follow this link if you’d like to learn more.

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