What is DevOps Security?

DevOps security is a practice that development operations (DevOps) organizations are tasked with exploring and implementing in the name of securing the software development lifecycle (SDLC).

This usually indicates ensuring the security of the entire continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipeline, from the tools that will be integrated, to processes developers will be tasked with following, and the level of enforcement of each of those processes. On the challenge of the DevOps security ideology, Forrester says:

“As security leaders seek to mitigate risks associated with insecure DevOps processes, half struggle to do so because security and development processes are not integrated. From a developer’s perspective, leadership’s prioritization of security over shipping dates and existing security protocols sometimes forces them to subvert access controls in order to meet their delivery deadlines. Inefficient processes and a lack of clear boundaries for accountability create friction between DevOps and security teams.”

However, the push to secure the development process has yielded solutions that prioritize ease-of-use, efficiency, and automated scanning of infrastructure-as-code (IaC) templates. This way, developers stay on track for speedy deliveries that are also secure.

Tooling such as command-line interfaces (CLIs) enable on-demand security scans of IaC plans and templates with results delivered directly in the CLI, thereby shortening the discovery and feedback loop for security and compliance issues to the point of immediate remediation.

What is DevSecOps?

DevSecOps is the process of integrating security processes earlier into the CI/CD pipeline through cooperation between engineers, security teams, and other positions of leadership. This process is also known as "shifting left." 

DevOps established a culture of collaboration and an agile relationship between development and operations teams, DevSecOps aims to continue those themes in the name of productivity and partnership. The concept enforces the idea that every employee and team is responsible for security, and that decisions need to be reached efficiently and put into action without sacrificing security. 

Getting new code out to production faster is a goal that often drives new business. However, in today's world that goal needs to be balanced with the responsibility of addressing security. Automation is a critical enabler of shifting security left into development processes. The goal is to bring the different phases of security into the DevOps model and automate the entire process, so security is integrated directly into the initial application builds and IaC template scanning processes. 

What are the Primary Goals and Benefits of DevSecOps?

The primary goals and benefits of DevSecOps are those that open the door for organizations to experience advancement in operational efficiency across various departments. This includes: 

  • Faster security-team response times 
  • Earlier code-vulnerability detection 
  • Enhanced product reliability 
  • Less gridlock during the application of late-stage security practices
  • DevSecOps engineers have more time to create a more refined product-development cycle 
  • Consumers experience increasingly secure products at an accelerated rate

Prioritizing DevSecOps for Web Applications 

  1. Applications and their vulnerabilities are exposed to the internet in order to be used by customers. Therefore, they are easily within an attacker’s reach – often masked as legitimate traffic – as compared to other critical infrastructure, and malicious attackers are.

  2. Web applications frequently communicate with databases, file shares, and other critical information – that’s a lot of data. If they’re compromised, it’s easier to reach all of that critical data. This includes credit cards, personally identifiable information (PII), Social Security numbers, and other proprietary information.
  3. There are tools available to attackers that allow them to penetrate and exploit with relative ease. Web application security testing is critical, especially since most application vulnerabilities are found in the source code. Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) is a primary method for scanning web applications in their running state to help developers identify real, exploitable risks. In a true DevSecOps mindset, it’s important to note that scanning earlier in the software development lifecycle (SDLC) can give time back to developers and testers.

Adopting a DevSecOps Mindset

Much like DevOps, partnerships and collaboration is what DevSecOps is all about. It's critical that security and development teams get together to understand the risks other teams face. Effective methods of integrating security testing into the SDLC include: 

  • Using continuous integration solutions to ensure security testing is conducted easily and automatically before an application goes into production
  • Implementing issue tracking to ensure an application security solution automatically sends defects to an issue tracking solution used by the development and QA teams
  • Leveraging automation and testing to make security tests even more effective 

There are many benefits of embedding application security earlier into the SDLC. If you treat security vulnerabilities like any other software defect, it's possible to save money and time when developers and testers identify them earlier.

DevSecOps Challenges

If nothing else, you should now be able to understand that integrating security principles into the DevOps process is entirely possible, but it’s not without challenges like:

Rapid Pace of Change 

The pace at which end-goals, priorities, and deadlines change is increasing every day. Security is simply expected to keep up. This can be challenging in the face of changes like cloud migration and overall digital transformation. Scanning and testing the security of development frequently is something that should have early buy-in across stakeholders. The greater challenge will come if someone discovers an issue after it goes to production and things have to slow to a crawl to accommodate remediation. 

Cloud Security 

Overall cloud security should be taken into account when ramping up with DevSecOps processes. This can include everything from cloud service provider (CSP)-native security controls and how your organization leverages them, to the complexity of IaC tools, to identifying the processes that will be automated. As the number of workloads in the cloud increases, security challenges can sometimes fall between the gaps and outside of traditional processes, increasing additional risk from a technical and operational perspective.

Workload Containerization 

Platforms like Kubernetes group and manage the various containers that run applications. Containers are constantly being spun up and replaced, so Kubernetes will immediately swap a container to ensure there is no down time. It’s not difficult to imagine how, at this pace, security can be challenging. In the midst of all this, it can be hard to surface relevant insights and threat findings and control unforeseen vulnerabilities that come from an instance inadvertently being overwritten.  


Red tape within organizations can present challenges such as lack of buy-in from management, insufficient budget (open-source tools can help), and siloed efforts. Additionally, a shortage of skilled workers could reinforce the same old decision-making patterns at those management levels. Aligning teams to tackle an issue in a speedy manner can make or break. A 100% cross-functional effort most likely will not be achieved by every organization. However, moving closer to this goal could help strengthen teams, boost morale, and feed back key learnings to ultimately increase the speed of success.

DevSecOps Best Practices

Even though not-insignificant challenges exist, establishing DevSecOps best practices can ensure that – once processes are more or less up and running – security does not act as an impediment to the speed of application development. 

  • Establish cross-functional buy-in: This is absolutely critical due to the number of teams – developers, DevOps engineers, security teams – that must work together to create a true DevSecOps organization.
  • Meet the developers where they are: Developers want to write code, not implement security. Thus, it should be as easy as possible for them to do so. Rapid7’s CLI tool can help facilitate this process.

  • Use consistent policies and standards in development and production: Running scans in development is different from running scans in production. To reduce team friction, it's a good idea to use consistent policies and standards to catch misconfiguration or non-compliance issues.
  • Selecting tooling to coexist with your existing pipeline/toolchain: Seamless integration is key in this process, so it’s critical to choose a security tool that can support and integrate with your other tools. For example, if Terraform is your IaC tool, it’s a good idea to select a security tool that can scan Terraform. And if it integrates with a messaging platform where your developers communicate – like Slack – even better.
  • Automate everything, wherever possible: Speed and efficiency are the ultimate goals. This is achievable by automating processes that need not be done manually and removing as much friction between developers, operations, and security as possible.  

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