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Security as code: The DevSecOps approach

Vanessa Whiteley
Vanessa Whiteley
22 November 21 DevOps
Security as code: The DevSecOps approach

In a world where software development itself is undergoing rapid changes, security programs must evolve quickly if they are to be effective in this next generation of software.

Traditional application security, which comes only as one final prerelease check, reinforces silos and creates friction between security teams who run the scans and developers who must take action to remediate the code.

That wasn’t as problematic when development cycles spanned months or even years, but those days are long over. With short development cycles, such outdated security practices can become a major roadblock to getting things done faster.

DevSecOps is an approach that integrates security practices within the DevOps process. It begins with the understanding security is a shared, collaborative responsibility among everyone who works on a software project. A key focus area of DevSecOps is the integration of security within your CI/CD pipeline from end to end in an iterative process.

This is where Security as Code comes in.

In this post, we will talk about this new philosophy and the various ways you can put it into practice in your organisation.

What is security as code?

Security as code is the practice of infusing security close to the source code, into the DevOps toolchain and workflows.

Its main objective is to secure the code right at its core when it's being created. This can be achieved by incorporating automated security policies, tests, and scans throughout the entire CI/CD pipeline to continuously detect vulnerabilities and security bugs.

Security as code strategies would ultimately help streamline the rollout of new software and save development teams the time and effort of addressing last-minute vulnerability fixes — or worse, releasing vulnerable software to real users.

Why should you care about security as code?

Modern software development methodologies entail the constant injection of new code into the existing infrastructure. Naturally, security becomes paramount as development cycles are accelerated. Security as code strategies enable organisations to start preparing now for a sustainable approach to application security by truly embedding security into their software factory from end to end — not just at the tail-end of the process.

Organisations that have embraced DevOps know that repeatable software builds rely on being able to specify the configuration of infrastructure elements — whether software applications, pipeline builds, containers or infrastructure itself — as code in a file. This infrastructure as code approach offers a reliable way for developers and operations specialists to define and analyse the infrastructure configuration before it is deployed.

Security as code aims to accomplish the same thing for security. It lets you define security, close to the source code, in a simple, repeatable, and automatable fashion. You can automate security checks, tests, and gates and embed them into both the software assembly and deployment processes, without causing bottlenecks or delays. With codified security guardrails, developers will have frequent feedback (at commit, build, deploy, and runtime) and the autonomy to find and fix any issues early on.

Security as code has a critical role to play in your DevSecOps transformation since it bolsters shift left by ensuring security best practices are built into software development. With it, you are making a critical shift in your organisational culture to prioritise security alongside software development, while making the whole process easier and more seamless with automation. Improved collaboration, agility, and visibility among development, operations, and security teams are some of its other key benefits.

How is security as code put into practice?

To implement security as code, you can begin by carefully assessing and mapping out how changes to the infrastructure and code are made, and then identifying places where you can add automated security tests and checks. Checks should be coded into the infrastructure at vulnerable points throughout the development lifecycle.

Here are six key security as code capabilities that you must incorporate into your pipeline:

1. Automate scans and security testing: Adding automated security analysis (such as static analysis, dynamic analysis, and penetration testing) within your pipeline will ensure the required steps are completed each time code is pushed and remove human involvement from the equation.

2. Build strong feedback loops: It is critical to get scan results into the hands of those who can do the remediation. By sharing relevant results with developers while they are still iterating on their code, they can receive clear and actionable feedback on issues that might cause security problems later on.

3. Continuously evaluate: You should be able to evaluate security policies for any application, at any stage and environment, by building relevant checks and gates into the process.

4. Standardise: Define and create standardised security patterns to boost their reusability across multiple projects. Building standardised security templates will result in out of the box security, which can be replicated across multiple teams and applications.

5. Test and remediate security and compliance in staging: Test new code in staging first to ensure rigorous security ahead of production deployment. Security testing should be automatically triggered on every code commit for both application and infrastructure changes.

6. Continuously monitor: Continuous monitoring should automatically flag anything that doesn’t adhere to organisation-specific standards as a violation, within a unified dashboard.

5 reasons you need Gitlab for security

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Discover why GitLab’s end-to-end DevOps platform is your best choice to meet the security and compliance challenges of modern-day application development.

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Security as code with GitLab

GitLab’s DevOps platform provides a scalable and reliable way to implement security as code across your entire infrastructure, embedding security testing directly and automatically as your application moves from code commit to production.

It shifts both security and compliance left with automated scans for vulnerabilities and compliance violations, allowing errors and security issues to be caught before they make it into production.

As a result, organisations can eliminate the slow and cumbersome manual security workflows of yesterday. Instead, they can unite developers and security pros within a single, unified platform that streamlines vulnerability management for both and boosts the capability to deliver highly secure environments and applications at scale.

Get in touch to learn more!


About the authors

Vanessa Whiteley

Vanessa Whiteley

Partner Marketing Manager