SecDevOps in Your Organization: A Practical Guide

Learn the difference between SecDevOps and DevSecOps, discover challenges and solutions, and get critical best practices for implementing SecDevOps in your organization

What Is SecDevOps?

In the traditional development model before DevOps, developers and IT teams were kept apart, with the personnel who deployed the code having little interaction with those who created it. These teams often had different objectives and saw little reason to collaborate. 

When DevOps emerged, automation and collaboration allowed teams to integrate their efforts around a common objective. Automated testing and continuous integration enabled faster development and deployment while reducing human error. DevOps is a cultural approach where project teams include everyone involved in the process, from developers and QA team to the project manager. 

While the DevOps model increased development velocity while improving quality, there remained a risk that the continuous integration / continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipeline introduces security vulnerabilities into the market. 

SecDevOps, a variation on the DevSecOps organizational pattern, seeks to address this risk by integrating security into the entire DevOps process. Security has often been treated as an afterthought or an inconvenience that slows down progress. While security should be a priority, it tends to get pushed aside to be addressed later. 

SecDevOps aims to shift the attitude of the project team by raising security awareness across all levels and implementing security measures from the start, within the build pipeline. This requires the careful cultivation of a security mindset in every employee to ensure that security features are always taken into consideration.

In this article, you will learn:

SecDevOps vs DevSecOps

The goal of a DevSecOps pipeline is to create a continuous and agile software development process, including development, security, and operations in the cycle. To be truly effective, all teams should collaborate across the entire pipeline. However, there are many cases when DevSecOps is applied incorrectly.

An incorrect DevSecOps application takes three separate teams, tells them to collaborate, and they do so while still organized as separate departments. For example, the development team works on the design and build, the operations team works on the underlying infrastructure, and at the end of the process, the security team tests the application. 

The term SecDevOps was proposed to ensure that the process is truly collaborative. A SecDevOps pipeline shifts security entirely to the left, eliminating silos and bottlenecks. Teams work together, striving to create high quality, secure applications. All members take ownership of both quality and security, ensuring a cultural change that promotes agility. 

To be efficient, a SecDevOps model requires the use of tools that automate as many repetitive tasks as possible. Automation is a critical aspect of the pipeline, because it promotes productivity. In addition to automation, pipelines also require tools that integrate the technology stack and provide a centralized interface. Team members should be able to share tools and resources to promote security concerns.

Related content: read our guide to DevSecOps tools ›

SecDevOps Challenges and Solutions

Here are several challenges commonly experienced by organizations implementing SecDevOps, and how to solve them.

Security Talent Shortage

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of prioritizing security is the shortage in security talent. There are many cases when organizations cannot hire as many security experts as needed. 

Solution: promoting expertise

Organizations can actually turn the talent shortage challenge into a strength, by implementing a SecDevOps pipeline. SecDevOps encourages developers to take ownership of securing their code and IT operations to secure the infrastructure. 

Fewer Security Engineers than Developers

When there are fewer security experts than developers, security teams do not have enough to review all changes applied by ops members or do full code reviews for developers.

Solution: promoting accountability

SecDevOps offers tools and practices that help developers and operations teams to perform their own security analysis, discover security issues and improve the way they code and operate software. 

Resistance to Change

SecDevOps requires a cultural change, which might be met with resistance. For example, DevOps teams who are used to prioritizing quick release might find it difficult to prioritize and devote attention to security.

Solution: promoting security innovation

Since teams are encouraged to collaborate, prioritizing security as much as they prioritize a quick release cycle, they are left with no choice but to come up with innovative solutions. For example, developers can help develop automated solutions that can help address security concerns without impacting development velocity.

SecDevOps Best Practices

Begin With Secure Development and Training

SecDevOps requires prioritizing security, often by encouraging developers to adopt secure programming practices. However, this does not mean that developers should be forced to master advanced security tools or become security experts. Security training specifically designed for developers should be provided, enabling developers to easily understand and implement security practices at a level required for their day-to-day duties.

Additionally, red/black deployments can help mitigate risks in production environments. A red/black deployment maintains two identical production environments, with only one of them live at any given time. This makes it possible to test a new version of code on production infrastructure, without affecting transactions, sessions, or user experience.

Define Security Policies for Developers

It is not uncommon for a SecDevOps pipeline to have a dedicated security team that defines security policies for the entire organization. These policies may include coding best practices, encryption rules, and testing guidelines for using SAST, DAST, or SCA. 

When developers have a clear set of guidelines to adhere to, it becomes much clearer what they can do, cannot do, and what they should aim for in their day to day work to enhance application security.

Related content: read our guide to application security (coming soon)

Implement People-Centric Security

Implementing security should not be the responsibility of one team. Organizations should encourage all individuals to be responsible for meeting security requirements. In addition to security training, developers, testers and other employees must each personally take ownership over security. It is people, not tools, who make software applications secure.

Use Version Control for Everything

Effective version control tools and practices should be used for all application software, templates, blueprints, and scripts in a DevOps environment. Version control has many security implications:

  • It allows teams to investigate and identify the introduction of vulnerabilities or malicious components into the development pipeline
  • It lets teams trace security incidents back to a specific build or feature
  • It provides an audit trail of development activity for compliance purposes

Automate Repetitive Tasks

Automation is the foundation of DevOps. It can help shorten delivery times, and identify vulnerabilities and potential security issues as soon as they are introduced into the pipeline. At every step of the development process, there should be automated security tools scanning artifacts for secure coding practices, vulnerabilities, or other security issues. 

If you notice a repetitive security-related task carried out by developers, ops, or security experts, automate it to prevent fatigue and ensure the task is applied consistently across the pipeline.

The Cloud Native Experts
"The Cloud Native Experts" at Aqua Security specialize in cloud technology and cybersecurity. They focus on advancing cloud-native applications, offering insights into containers, Kubernetes, and cloud infrastructure. Their work revolves around enhancing security in cloud environments and developing solutions to new challenges.