Pause for a Sec: Initiating Cultural Change for SecDevOps

Gone are the days when developers and operations worked in silos to test quality and build their software. The DevOps methodology, now implemented in over 50 percent of organizations, establishes a set of principles and practices for effective communication and collaboration. It’s no wonder that its popularity grew given the inevitable increase of high deployment frequency, reliability and responsiveness. As Gartner reported, however, changes to the overall cloud model require organizations to dedicate significant attention and resources to their cloud security challenges.

Where does security fit into DevOps? The short answer is usually a little too late in the life cycle. As described by Gene Kim, the influential author of “The Phoenix Project,” security is often seen as an inhibitor to the DevOps team’s goals.

Embedding Security Into DevOps

The Agile DevOps model is evolving to reflect security. SecDevOps, a secure software delivery cycle with rapid service delivery processes, has matured as a concept over the last few years and is now gaining traction across organizations. A core driver for integrating security into DevOps is the realization that security is not at odds with the rest of the organization. Collaboration is key to successful IT and business alignment.

The transformation from DevOps to SecDevOps requires a change in both technology and process management. Even more critically, it calls for an organizationwide cultural overhaul. Moving toward SecDevOps requires enterprises to change the way software is built, and the development teams’ role in that process.

There is an inherent cultural clash here that requires attention: Traditionally, security is considered to be one end of the process — an important gate, if you will. DevOps, on the other hand, moves rapidly and focuses on the goals it is trying to achieve. The gap that must be bridged is natural skepticism versus optimism. The two must marry to enable DevOps teams to do what they want to do in a secure way.

Shifting to an Agile State of Mind

The shift starts with an Agile value mindset. Communicating security as a value and a critical enabler is a strong start to team integration.

Organizations should also draw from the Agile playbook to address trust. As the term SecDevOps implies, integration and collaboration are key, and this is permeated through a sense of trust. Gartner outlined this as part of continuous adaptive security:

“Traditional security techniques using ownership and control rather than trust will not work in the digital world. Infrastructure and perimeter protection won’t ensure accurate detection and can’t protect against behind-the-perimeter insider attacks. This requires embracing people-centric security and empowering developers to take responsibility for security measures.”

A key takeaway from this is the notion of responsibility. Entrusting responsibility can be a powerful tool for changing perception, which represents the beginning of a cultural shift. SecDevOps is a methodology, but it is also a state of mind: If everyone takes responsibility for security from day one, it will be baked into the team’s DNA.

Striving for SecDevOps Success

So what does a secure DevOps transformation look like, and where do you begin? Below is a brief snapshot.

  • Security champions: Appoint specialists to support DevOps at scale, develop requirements and establish definitions of “done” from a security perspective.
  • Secure code: Enable better decision-making by educating developers about threats to the service and the risks they are taking.
  • Agile security: Embed risks and threat modeling into reverse user stories and acceptance criteria.
  • Immersive education: Create a culture of continuous learning and collaboration and hold everyone in the organization responsible for security.

Finally, a successful SecDevOps program represents organic growth and collaboration. With an Agile perspective on security, organizationwide collaboration and universal buy-in, companies can put security back where it belongs: at the heart of DevOps.

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Rachael Doyle

Cloud Security Consultant, IBM

Rachael is a Cloud Security Strategy Consultant for IBM Security; a certified Scrum Master and an IBM Blue Core Coach. Her current research interests surround container security, agile transformations and IT/Business alignment strategic imperatives. Rachael has previous experience in Threat Intelligence consulting and Service Delivery Management across the public and private sectors.