In this DevOps/Security Boulevard Chat we speak with Rohit Sethi, COO of Security Compass about ASRTM, which stands for Application Security Requirements and Threat Management. Gartner has recently released a hype cycle on ASRTM, with Security Compass and its SD Elements offering named a leader in the market. Rohit gives us a good background and foundation on ASRTM and why it is important for both DevOps and security teams.
As usual, the streaming audio is immediately below, followed by a transcript of our conversation.
Rohit Sethi joined Security Compass as the second full-time employee. As COO, Rohit is responsible for setting and achieving corporate objectives, company alignment and driving strategy to execution. Previous to this role, he managed the SD Elements team. Rohit specializes in building security into software, working with several large companies in different organizations. Rohit has appeared as a security expert on television outlets as such as Bloomberg, CNBC, FoxNews, and several others. He has also spoken at numerous industry conferences s and/or written articles on major websites such as CNN.com, the Huffington Post and InfoQ.
Alan Shimel: Hey, everyone. This is Alan Shimel for Security Boulevard Security Chat, and this will also be appearing on DevOps.com under DevOps Chat. So two chats for the price of one, though it’s one chat. Welcome, and we have a great guest lined up for today. I have Rohit Sethi—and I mispronounced that. I think it’s actually Rohit Sethi. But in any event, you can correct me. Rohit, welcome.
Rohit Sethi: Thank you.
Shimel: Just for the record, say your name correctly.
Sethi: Rohit Sethi.
Shimel: Rohit? Okay. Rohit, you know, as my mom used to say, “Call me anything you want, but not late for dinner.”
Shimel: Welcome to Security Boulevard Security Chat and thanks for joining us. So you are the COO of Security Compass, correct?
Shimel: And there’s probably people in our audience who maybe are not familiar with Security Compass. So why don’t we start there. Can you give us a little bit of background on Security Compass?
Sethi: Sure. We are a firm that is specializing on software security. And we have three main offerings around that. So we have an advisory practice that does penetration testing, and code reviews, and threat modeling, but also helping people build up their secure software program. And especially more recently building up their dev sec ops program and building security into their DevOps pipeline.
Sethi: We have a training practice, which is specialized in training developers. We’ve partnered with ISC-Squared and we offer a certificate or batch program on secure development for software developers. And then we have a product called SD Elements, which is an application security requirements and threat management. I know that’s a mouthful. And what we’re going to talk about today is a platform that helps people build security and compliance to some extent into their software development process, and particularly for agile and dev ops processes.
Shimel: Excellent. Now, so a couple of things that we want to talk about relate. And one of them is recently Gartner’s come out with another magic quadrant or a new magic quadrant where they’re kind of lumping together what I personally always thought of was two distinct areas. And they’re calling it – and I’m going to mess this up. Why don’t you help me? AR –
Shimel: ASRTM. Why don’t you tell our audience what that stands for?
Sethi: Yeah. ASRTM is application security requirements and threat management. And it’s not quite a magic quadrant yet, but it’s on the hype cycle.
Shimel: Hype cycle. You’re right.
Sethi: Okay. So they’re identifying it as a sort of an emerging category for people to start paying attention to.
Shimel: Yep. And so for our audience and for me, talk to me. How did the nexus here between them?
Sethi: eah. So you can think of [Laughter] anything in this category as being tooling that helps you to build security into the onset of development. Most of the tools that exist in the application security category today are some form of static analysis, dynamic analysis, interactive application, security testing. So really all different kinds of testing looking for security defects, or blocking the tax in real time. Right? So real-time application security protection or web application firewalls.
And many people their entire budget is on testing and sort of blocking attacks. But really very little focus on building security from the start, except for perhaps in training. So everything in this tool category is essentially some kind of product that will help you to systematically and in kind of a scalable way build security in so that you don’t get those defects when you do your testing. And perhaps more importantly, to prevent defects that perhaps those automated tools are just incapable of finding.
Shimel: Got it. Got it. Got it. Got it. And so I think we’ve laid the foundation, if you will, Rohit. Let’s jump into a little bit of how this relates to dev ops and what we call dev sec ops. So why –
Shimel: Go ahead. Why don’t you take a lead on that?
Sethi: Yeah. For sure. So DevOps is a phenomenon that it’s not just for sort of fast-moving organizations. Even some of the slower or I guess you’d say larger companies are starting to embrace DevOps, as you know. And it’s becoming really quickly sort of a mainstream philosophy. And there’s just really rapid pace of change of tooling that people are looking at – and not just tooling, but processes, to be able to accommodate continuous integration and continuous delivery in all of the mentality changes and processes that have to change to allow that to happen.
Now, when we think about the traditional secure software development life cycle, there’s a lot of activities that we’ve typically suggested in the security community about following a secure SDLC, that really kind of incongruent with this idea of either having really fast sprints or no sprint, no iterations, just being able to take one ticket at a time, build it, and deploy it. So the idea of doing like an architectural analysis, or a one-week or two-weeks threat model, these things are sort of thrown out the door when the pace of development is too fast to keep up with it.
And so that kind of opens up the need for automation. Now, there’s sort of a trend, and I would call it, I would label it a dangerous trend, that people are looking to 100 percent automated solutions to sort of take away the security problem. Right? So you’ll see sometimes people will put together presentations on DevSecOps and they’ll say static analysis is sort of your way to handle secure coding. And then perhaps some penetration testing on a periodic basis and you’ve kind of checked off the box for secure development. But the reality is that, in fact, security is a lot more complex than that.
Static analysis tools and dynamic analysis tools have their strengths, but they also have significant gaps. We actually put together a white paper that talks about the missing parts of what scanners can’t find, false negative gap. And one of the interesting things is if you look at sort of CC plus plus development for a second, one of the most pervasive vulnerabilities is buffer overflows. This is the thing that caused Heartbleed and WannaCry and pet. Yeah. It’s sort of the underlying root cause there was some memory management issue.
And if you were to take some of the best practice in terms of highly automated scanning solutions and put them all together, they’d still be able to find less than half of all buffer overflow vulnerabilities. Yet, this is what a lot of the industry is converging on as good enough from a software security perspective.
So not everybody looks at it that way, and there’s a lot of people who realize that there’s a gap here that we need to do more than just scanning. It is an essential part of the solution, but we need to be able to identify what are all of the relevant threats to an application development, and how do we actually build mitigating controls rather than fixing the vulnerability after the fact? So prevention instead of detection.
And that’s really where the ASRTM category fits in. It allows you to define what those controls are and build them into the software development process. Not only, in fact, from a security perspective, but also like compliance control, some of the GDPR issues that will come up there.
You have to kind of build data protection by design and default. You need a system, a systematic way to identify these as essentially requirements that go into your backlog, right, and that you can track whether or not they’ve been tested. And that’s quite different than the approach that people have typically taken to finding vulnerabilities after the fact and fixing them.
Shimel: Mm-hmm. So Rohit, our audience, especially from DevOps.com, of course, is extremely savvy to the whole DevOps and DevSecOps terminology and kind of what’s happening. One of the issues that we see with this, though, is so many of our security solutions are geared for security professionals.
Shimel: Where so much of the real responsibility for secure coding and secure apps lies with the developers.
Shimel: And to that no one – you know what? I’ve never met a developer, Rohit, who raises his hand and says, “I want to develop insecure code.” Or, “I want to have an insecure application.” They all want security, obviously.
Shimel: But they may not have the expertise. They may not have the support. They may not have the time, frankly, to do it right.
Shimel: So how does like a Security Compass type of solution help not only the security guy, but the developer, as well?
Sethi: Yeah. Excellent question. So the way that the work flow in an ASRTM solution works – and I’ll talk specifically to ST Elements, which is our product. But we’re not the only product that does this. Is that somebody in a product team – so we have a lot of clients that use it this way. It’s sort of a self-service model.
So let’s say like a project manager. And so you mentioned developer, but I would extend that to the entire development team, right? Product owners, product managers, scrum masters, etc., right, who are involved with building software. So you take sort of a lead, whether that’s product manager, project manager, product owner, scrum master, lead developer. And they fill out a questionnaire that’s kind of like a base online ramp up of that software they’re building. So they’ll answer like a multiple-choice questionnaire.
And then based on the results of that questionnaire, they’ll get a defined set of prescriptive controls that are essentially security user stories, right, that you need to build into your software. And then what they’ll do is they’ll integrate it into gira, or Microsoft Team Foundation server, or whatever it is that the development team is using to manage their backlog. And then the product owner is then responsible for grooming it, just like they do feature or functional stories. Right?
So now what we’re doing is we’re taking the backlog, which is sort of the de facto list of work that needs to be done, and we’re putting non-functional requirements alongside the functional requirements, which allows the development team to take control of when they’re going to implement security work or security features, as opposed to just reacting to a security defect that’s found later on. So basically you’re turning unplanned work into planned work. So that’s the first thing that you do to sort of empower the development team.
The other, of course, is that when you take a look at these requirements and these controls, you actually start to bake training into it. So someone might get a control that talks about how to implement a secure password reset. Right? So this is a feature in the system that is the kind of thing that you really can’t find with an automated scanner, but that could lead to significant risk if it’s done incorrectly.
So you can actually have a Gira ticket that talks about the correct way to implement secure password reset, and you can have an actual embedded training module so somebody could actually learn about well what are the ways that people exploit password reset at the time that they implement the control. So it’s what we call just-in-time training. We think it’s a really important and powerful concept, especially as it relates to fast-moving development.
Shimel: Absolutely. So Rohit, I’ve always wanted to ask this question, then. And that is it’s incredibly difficult, then, as a Security Compass, let’s say –
Shimel: To, I mean, number one as a salesperson to, who do I sell to? Who has the budget? Who is my technical stakeholder?
Shimel: Who is making decisions? But beyond, you know, pity, no one’s going to play hard to the flowers for the sales team. [Laughter] But beyond that, as a solutions provider, serving two masters here.
Sethi: Yes. Yes.
Sethi: You know it – go ahead. Sorry.
Shimel: No, no. I was going to say how does that – I just, it’s gotta be really hard.
Sethi: It is hard. I wouldn’t say that it’s easy at all. But I think that it’s critical work. Like our vision as a company is a world where you can trust technology. And we really think that if we don’t do security right, that that vision will not be realized. People will be afraid of technology to some extent. We won’t be able to exploit the possibilities that technology affords us because we’re afraid of vulnerable technology.
And really, when you think about the root cause of most of the security incidents, sometimes it’s an insecure web application, but sometimes it’s a vulnerability in your desktop or operating system, or like a browser component or something. But so often it’s a secure coding issue. And so much of the sort of cybersecurity budget and infrastructure is based on the fact that well, let’s just take for granted that the software is insecure, and let’s find ways to mitigate the risk.
And of course we’ll never get 100 percent secure code. But we really think that there’s a huge gap between what we can feasibly do, right, versus what’s being done in industry today. And so that motivates us. And I think often when we start to talk about the data, we talk about and when we’re talking to the chief information and security officer, or the chief information officer, we talk about a visibility gap that they have, right?
Which is that right now the way that most companies work is they have a GRC solutions and sort of a policy departments to talk about what their high-level information security policy is. And then they may have some automated solutions to help enable that policy. But there’s sort of a gap between this high-level policy and then what are the specific things that an IT team needs to do to make sure that that policy is being followed and being able to track that?
And that’s really, I think, at the heart of what an ASRTM solution provides is the ability to take this policy, turn it into procedure, turn it into something you can track, and ensure consistency, right? Because you can’t rely 100 percent on sort of automated scanners to catch everything. So you need to have this sort of translation there. And we find that that works pretty well. People are receptive to that need.
And then, in fact, it’s not just application security, but it also involves infrastructure security, hardening servers, and that sort of thing, bender security, bender risk management, cloud security, how secure your cloud applications, and how do you know what to test against? So just like a variety of needs are met by adopting a program, really, that allows you to define your security controls at the granular level that your DevOps teams can implement them and you can track that.
Shimel: Fair. Fair enough. So what does the future hold here, then?
Sethi: Well, my hope is that we realize that vision, right? We get to a point – what I would like to see, for me success in the long term is that when we find that there’s a vulnerability that’s exploited in the wild that that vulnerability never creeps into code again. Right? Like if we know how to mitigate it, then it’s mitigated forever. And we’re so far away from that reality right now. Right? Like a lot of the real-world exploits are traced down to what is the root cause? It’s a secure coding issue that we’ve known for 15 or 20 years, in some cases.
And that’s just not good enough. So we’d like to get to a place where the only hacks that occur are really novel. Right? Like we’ve never seen anything like this before. And some really profound security researcher has found a security issue that they’ve spent a significant amount of time understanding that specific domain. Right? But not sequel injection. Right? Not parameter manipulation. Not things that we’ve known for years. And that’s really, I think, where we want to go. And I think that inevitably that’s the direction that the industry is going to move towards.
Shimel: Agree. Agree. Rohit, when we started, I told you the time goes quick. And we are coming up on our 15-minute window. But let me give the listeners – we want to find out more about Security Compass. Where can they find out more?
Sethi: Well, of course, you have, you know, SecurityCompass.com talks quite a bit about what our offerings are. You can feel free to e-mail us, [email protected]. I’m personally on Twitter so you can follow me. Just @RKSETHI. We have a LinkedIn page for Security Compass, as well. So lots of different ways you can interact with us.
And like I said, we offer training. So a lot of people who are, just want to learn more about application security, we have courses that you can just sort of enroll yourself. And we’ll be releasing more of those in the near-term future, as well.
Shimel: Got it. All right. So Rohit Sethi, thanks very much for being our guest on this episode of Security Boulevard Security Chat, as well as DevOps Chat. And we look forward to hearing more about Security Compass in the coming months. Thanks for being our guest today.
Sethi: Thank you for the opportunity. Appreciate it.
Shimel: All righty. Rohit Sethi, Security Compass here on Security Boulevard. This is Alan Shimel, and we’ll see you soon on another DevOps or Security Boulevard Chat.