DevSecOps: 8 Essential Elements for Your DevSecOps Program

Learn about the 8 elements you need to implement DevSecOps in your organization, and best practices to take your DevSecOps program to the next level.

What Is DevSecOps?

DevSecOps (development+security+operations) is an organizational model that aims to establish a continuous integration and delivery cycle that combines application development with security and operations considerations. It leverages automation, most commonly infrastructure as code (IaC), to create a seamless software development lifecycle (SDLC).

DevSecOps aims to apply security, including scanning, monitoring, and remediation, across the SDLC. This encompasses all phases—from planning, developing, building, testing, through to release, deployment, ongoing operations and updates. This helps reduce the costs of security and compliance, and allows organizations to deliver secure software more quickly.

DevSecOps requires that everyone involved in planning, developing or delivering the software takes responsibility for security. All decisions made should take security into consideration from the start.

In this article, you will learn:

DevOps vs DevSecOps

DevOps is a popular concept with various definitions that have emerged over the last decade. A common definition is that DevOps merges development and operations into one organization, with shared responsibility for product quality and operational effectiveness. This shared responsibility between development and operations allows organizations to iterate faster and deliver more value to customers.

DevSecOps differs from DevOps in that it extends the DevOps philosophy to incorporate security objectives. DevSecOps should not be considered a separate concept from DevOps, but rather a natural continuation of it. Extending DevOps processes to address security is an evolutionary step, not a revolutionary one.

The DevOps model introduced methods and tools that allowed higher development velocity, but created bottlenecks for security teams. While development processes became rapid and automated, security processes stayed the same, and could not keep up with the fast pace of development. Security was often relegated to post-production or was handled by external teams that held up production releases.

DevSecOps introduces security activities early in the SDLC, rather than waiting until the product is released. Security issues can be identified and resolved during the application development process, with development teams performing security tasks independently.

This approach helps prevent security vulnerabilities from reaching production, which reduces the cost of fixing flaws after release. A collaborative culture helps align security with DevOps efforts and enables scalability. With DevSecOps, automated security measures are built into every stage of the development pipeline. 

Related content: read our guide to SecDevOps (coming soon) and understand the differences between DevSecOps and SecDevOps

What are the Key Elements for Implementing DevSecOps?

Every DevSecOps project is unique, but there are common elements most organizations will need to implement DevOps successfully. Here are 8 elements we believe are critical for most organizations.

1. Container Security

Because containers are a central part of modern DevOps processes, they are also a primary concern for DevSecOps initiatives. There are three primary dimensions of container security:

  • Image scanning—Docker images and base images can contain many software components that are outdated, unpatched, or contain security vulnerabilities. A DevSecOps process involving containers should include image scanning and recovery at every stage of the CI/CD pipeline. Automated container image scanners ensure that images contain only stable and secure code and artifacts, and follow secure configuration best practices.
  • Minimal base images—to reduce the attack surface, minimize the number of files and components in a container. Limit the attack surface by choosing a minimal base image and installing only the libraries actually needed for the container to function.
  • Container image risk management—identifies secrets embedded in images (not via a secure secrets mechanism), software vulnerabilities, malware, and configuration defects.
  • Drift protection—prevents drift in container configuration, ensuring that malicious actions can be immediately identified and blocked.

Learn more in our detailed guides:

2. Infrastructure Automation

DevSecOps relies heavily on automation to detect and fix security vulnerabilities and configuration issues across the IT environment. Modern automation methods include:

  • Configuration management—automates deployment of resources with tested, secure configuration, and manages changes to configuration to ensure they do not create security vulnerabilities.
  • Infrastructure as Code (IaC)—creates human-readable code templates that define how environments should be deployed and automatically provisions resources based on these templates. This can be used to bake security into resources as they are deployed.

3. Application Analysis

Application analysis helps identify security issues such as application vulnerabilities early in SDLC, and remediating them before they become complex and expensive to fix. Application analysis tools and technologies include:

  • Static application security testing (SAST)—analyzes source code to identify code quality issues, non-secure coding practices, and known vulnerabilities. 
  • Software composition analysis (SCA)—examines third-party and open source packages, including their dependencies that are resolved during a build, to identify known vulnerabilities and potential open source license conflicts. 
  • Dynamic application security testing (DAST)—analyzes running applications to detect vulnerabilities that manifest at runtime, as well as other potential attack vectors.
  • Interactive application security testing (IAST)—is a middle ground between SAST and DAST, which uses source-level knowledge of the application structure to detect vulnerable conditions and attack vectors in compiled applications.
  • Threat modeling—enables prediction, detection, and analysis of security threats by identifying the attack surface. This enables teams to proactively minimize exposure to the identified risks.

Learn more in our detailed guide to:

4. Identity and Access Management

Identity and access management (IAM) consists of methods that use centrally defined policies to control access to data, applications and other network assets. IAM should govern access to all aspects of the DevOps environment, at every stage of the SDLC. This helps prevent unauthorized access to sensitive systems and blocks lateral movement.

IAM methods include:

  • Authentication controls—these verify the identity of a user or application. 
  • Authorization controls—these grant authorized users access to a specific resource or function.
  • Role-based access controls (RBACs)—provide a group of users access to a resource or function based on their responsibilities or collective permissions. This simplifies administration and onboarding and helps reduce privilege creep. 
  • Hardware security modules (HSMs)—these are physical devices that help manage and protect secrets such as credentials, certificates, and keys, both at rest and in transit.
  • Identity providers (IdPs)—these are services that manage user authorization.
  • Secrets vaults—these store secrets and ensure that only authorized users can access them.
  • Container image provenance and image signing—these functions validate the authenticity of container images and establish trust.

5. Network Controls and Segmentation

Network controls and segmentation allow you to visualize, segregate, and control traffic managed by container orchestration tools. They help isolate tenants and secure the flow of communication between elements of containerized applications and microservices. Another benefit is the ability to segregate development, testing, and production networks, to ensure that an attack on any of these environments does not affect the others.

Network control and segmentation methods include:

  • Container orchestration  network security policies—traffic flows are controlled at the level of the IP address or port. Cluster ingress and egress traffic controls, as well as logging and network visualization can help gain control and visibility.
  • Software-defined networking (SDN)—the network fabric is programmable, adaptable and provisioned in real time to accommodate evolving business demands and security requirements.
  • Service mesh—offers automated network segmentation and visualization, authentication and authorization for container-based applications and microservices.

6. Data Controls

Data control methods and technologies protect data integrity and prevent unauthorized data leakage. They can protect data at rest and in motion using:

  • Data encryption—symmetric and private key encryption, tokenization, and key management. These capabilities help prevent unauthorized exfiltration of data in databases, files, and containers.
  • Data protection—detecting and classifying sensitive data, providing enhanced security controls to improve regulatory compliance, and setting up monitoring and auditing capabilities. Access controls start in development and testing environments, preventing compromise that might lead to supply chain attacks, and extend to production environments, to defend against service disruption and data exfiltration.
  • Data masking—techniques like data anonymization and pseudonymization help provide realistic data for development and testing environments, without risking production data. 

7. Auditing, Monitoring, and Alerting

Auditing and monitoring methods provide insight into security incidents in production environments. They can help respond to incidents faster, by providing detailed forensic information about possible causes and consequences of the event. Monitoring components include:

  • Cloud native monitoring tools—tools like Prometheus and Jaeger enable monitoring of distributed environments, with centralized log aggregation and support for persistent storage of log data.
  • Security Information and Event Management (SIEM)—centralizes event reporting by consolidating log and network traffic data from distributed devices, endpoints, security tools, and applications.
  • Forensics—provides insight into security vulnerabilities, with evidence to support compliance audits, and accelerates recovery efforts.
  • Dashboards and visualization—displays security information and exposes trends and KPIs in a way that is meaningful for developers, operations, and security teams. For example, a dashboard can be used to show the increase or decrease of vulnerabilities or security incidents in a particular application over time.
  • Alerting tools—help DevSecOps teams respond quickly to security incidents. Ideally, an alert tool will analyze, prioritize, and notify the team of anomalies after they are prioritized and verified as real incidents. When the team is notified, they can quickly investigate the incident and respond.

Related content: read our guide to DevSecOps tools ›

8. Remediation

When a security incident occurs in a production environment, tools are available to automatically take corrective action. This improves uptime and prevents a threat from spreading in the environment. Another important element is to enable traceability of production issues to the specific build and code component that caused the issue, enabling developers to quickly remediate the issue.

Remediation components include:

  • SOAR (Security Orchestration, Automation, Response)—responds to security incidents through automated operations and integration with other security tools.
  • Cloud Workload Protection Platforms (CWPP)—continuously evaluates cloud environments, identifies misconfigurations, and automatically corrects them according to security best practices.

    Learn more in our guide to CWPP platforms

DevSecOps Best Practices

After ensuring you have the key elements listed above, take note of the following best practices that can help you improve the effectiveness of your DevSecOps program.

Shift Security Left

A basic tenet of DevSecOps is shifting security left—performing security tasks as early as possible in the development lifecycle. To be a true DevSecOps organization, security experts must work together with developers as they are planning and building the first iterations of a product. They should verify that components, configurations, and environments are secured, and give developers the tools they need to verify that they are using secure coding best practices and leveraging only safe components and container images.

Learn more in our detailed guide to DevOps shift left (coming soon)

Establish Continuous Security Controls

For DevSecOps to be effective, you must automate security controls. This makes it possible to add security checks to every stage of the development pipeline and reduces human error. You can set up automated tooling that:

  • Scans code for flaws and security best practices
  • Scans open source components and container images
  • Checks for safe configurations and remediates misconfiguration
  • Sets up development, testing and production environments with security best practices built in
  • Leverages orchestration to perform automated tasks in a repeatable and auditable way

Integrate with CI/CD Pipelines

A CI/CD pipeline is built around the idea of discovering quality issues and providing a fast feedback loop for developers. In a DevSecOps organization, the same principle applies to security:

  • The CI/CD pipeline should automatically and continuously run security tools (as described in the previous section).
  • The CI/CD pipeline provides a record of changes to code, applications, and infrastructure—these changes should be compiled into metrics and reports that can be reviewed by security teams.
  • Changes that indicate security issues or threats should trigger an incident response process.
  • Security staff should use the same collaboration tools used by developers and operations (issue trackers, chat, etc.) to jointly prioritize security issues for remediation.

Educate

To practice DevSecOps, everyone in the organization needs to understand the security threats facing the company, its compliance requirements, and security policies. 

It is essential to educate developers and operations teams about application security, the modern threat landscape, and security best practices for the specific programming languages and systems they work on. For example, Python programmers should be educated in Python security basics; Kubernetes developers should learn secure Kubernetes configuration; and cloud administrators should learn about common misconfigurations in their cloud environment.

Establish a Culture of Communication

A DevSecOps culture promotes joint ownership over security. Leaders should foster open communications and help different teams, who may have very different backgrounds or security proficiencies, to understand each other’s viewpoints and create a basis for communication regarding security issues. 

Developers, operations teams, and security experts should work together to define the tools and processes that work best for them, given their skill sets and the technology ecosystems. Allowing teams to build the environment and to define the process helps to improve motivation, making them invested stakeholders.

Focus on Traceability, Auditability, and Visibility

To be successful, a DevSecOps process should facilitate:

  • Traceability—the ability to track configuration and environment changes from planning to production.
  • Auditability—the ability to automatically generate reports and documentation about development processes, and the security controls that accompany them. 
  • Visibility—the ability to understand what is running in the environment, identify security vulnerabilities and threats and respond to them. 

By combining these three capabilities, a development process can deal with an evolving threat landscape and stringent compliance requirements.