One of the things I’ve done for Accelerated Strategies Group recently is looking into DevSecOps toolsets. This is a fun area for me, as development and security fit together well in my mind. Having a separate security group is useful, even necessary in some scenarios, but letting developers crank out code and looking for vulnerabilities only after has always seemed terribly inefficient. Whenever I’ve managed developers, security training is just part of the package I bring. It’s far easier to write it well the first time (the equivalent of shift-left) than rewrite it.
I won’t name names here—this is work I did for ASG, it is not mine to give away—but I will talk about DevSecOps today, and moving into the future. I’m planning three to four installments for this series, discussing the different aspects of DevSecOps tools.
For clarity, we’re defining DevSecOps tools as “developer-enabled security tools.” This means that in some way, they help developers improve overall security posture while leaving them to be developers. We all know security has to shift left in every way if it’s to be useful in a DevOps world, but most organizations haven’t seriously started the move to shift security. Hopefully, this series helps.
Depending upon which financial analyst firm you prefer, projections are that the DevSecOps market will grow 28% to 33% a year for the next few years. While this is good news for DevSecOps vendors, it implies very few organizations have systemically adopted DevSecOps, or there would not be room for that level of growth.
Whether a traditional team or a DevOps team, the static analysis portion of DevSecOps is (generally) easy to set up and configure and most products offer feedback at both coding time and build time. IDE plugins have come a long way, some even offering advice as-you-code and others allowing developers to run on-demand static scans of their work. The industry as a whole has worked hard to lower the false-positive rates that made most organizations reluctant to deploy them broadly, and prioritization of issues is possible in the best products, making identification and remediation pretty easy. Try a pilot out: Pick a vendor and project, grab the IDE plug-in and check out what they can do. Most do not yet directly support code smells, but I suspect that is coming rapidly, as the systems are already designed to look at source and determine issues. Adding to the collection of possible issues will be a differentiator that quickly turns into a market requirement.
Things to check for:
- Language support: Do the languages you use have a scanner? While most of the tools on the market offer support for a breadth of languages, there are differences, so check the corner cases. This truly is a make or break decision—the best product on the market is useless to your org if it doesn’t support the languages you use.
- IDE integration: This is pretty straightforward, are the IDEs your developers use day in and day out supported? Most of these tools offer command-line variants also, so it is possible that even without support directly in the IDE, the security functionality of a given product dictates that command-line is better. In that scenario, a process to ensure developers are even running scans is a good idea.
- Vulnerabilities detected: At a minimum, support for whatever is currently in the National Vulnerability Database (NVD) should be required, along with OWASP compliance. Most vendors offer support beyond the NVD, so a bit of research to see what types of vulnerabilities are detected will be in order.
- Click-through support: With IDE plug-ins, one of the great strengths of scanning is the ability of the developer to simply click on the vulnerability in the results list and go to the offending code. Make certain this works—and works as advertised.
- False-positive rate: This has historically been a problem, but the industry has brought it down overall. Ask your prospective vendors to share their numbers. Our experience shows low single-digits for a percent, which is far better than the past, but still leaves room for improvement.
The other part of static analysis is plugging static analysis into the build process. Most of these products have integrations into the most popular build management tools. Scanning the entirety of the application allows the static analysis to see a broader vision of the app and note issues with interactions between portions written by different developers. Reporting for build-time scans is generally at the application/team level, and the best tools will show results of development-time scans side by side with build-time scans if you want them to.
Things to check for:
- Language support: Again with the languages. It’s pretty simple here: The core of the application may be built using languages a given vendor supports but critical parts might not. Integration is where that becomes a real issue. Make sure what needs scanning can get scanned.
- Integrations: Most of these tools offer automated scans through integration with build tools or manual scans that the build manager can kick off. Automation is preferred by a long shot, so check if your tool of choice is integrated into your organization’s build tooling.
- Depth: We’re not going to get into source composition analysis (SCA) here—that’s for another blog—but we are going to observe that vulnerabilities can come from your source’s sources. How far does the scanning tool trace in a static analysis situation? Is it deep enough to cover a given application’s integrations and inter-relationships? While SCA will detect a lot that static scanning won’t, things such as “unsafe values sent to [insert external API]” should be available in static code analysis.
- Reporting: This is where you’ll find the most variety in popular tools. Look at their reporting and click-through support to find what best suits your needs.
- False-positive rate: Same as IDE integrations above—make certain it is low enough for your organization’s comfort.
- Scan run location: This is becoming a differentiator in the space—do you want your scans run in the cloud? In the data center? Some mix of both? Check your vendors; there are significant differences in the level of support for these options.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, of course. It is an entire market segment, and static analysis tools have been around a long time. Many organizations have not taken dev-time security seriously yet, even though we all know we need to; I’m just offering a place to get started.
DevSecOps just makes sense. Static scanning is mature and generally well-integrated. This is a great place to start shifting security left. We get it: Developers don’t want to be security analysts or they’d have filled one of those many security openings. But IDE integration makes these scanning tools more interactive and less intrusive, showing developers how to do it securely as they code. This is great to me because good coding practices will become second nature with real-time, on-the-spot reminders and pointers. It also means that if the developer acts upon the tool’s recommendations, the code is developed more securely the first time and there will be no need to revisit it for security proofing.
You’re all keeping the lights on in a terribly tough time. DevSecOps attempts to make it more likely that your astounding work isn’t interrupted. It just makes sense to get these tools to protect your organization’s portfolio and your hard work.