Building software with strong security can no longer be an afterthought for organizations. The need for a reliable cybersecurity posture has proven vital amid the constant attacks we’re seeing across industries, all over the world. Product-specific security is top of mind for most companies, and a successful product security practice requires integrating with the ethos of the engineering team—DevSecOps. Consider a three-fold strategy, which has proven successful again and again in the industry.
It consists of first creating a culture of security, with all stakeholders understanding the priorities, strategies, and business value. Second, teams must integrate security with the software development life cycle (SDLC). It’s not enough to shift left–organizations must shift their thinking from shift left to shift everywhere. And lastly, monitoring product systems at all times is non-negotiable. In a 24/7/365 world, there must be teams to watch over security 24/7/365. Part of the engineering deliverable becomes providing data to these teams so that they can have all eyes on the products, always.
A Successful Practice Starts With the Culture
In building a strong culture, the goal is to make the entire engineering team a part of the mission. This includes putting a product security team in place to support engineering needs as well as providing continuous education with resources available for addressing any eventuality.
While every organization has its own unique needs, considerations and approaches to creating a product security team, these five roles are highly recommended:
1. Technical Product Manager (TPM): Responsible for driving security priorities in planning
2. Security Architect: Sits on the Architecture Review Board and ensures architecture and design have security processes incorporated
3. AppSec Engineer: Responsible for implementing the security development life cycle
4. Adversarial Engineer: Hammers on the attack surfaces to identify weaknesses
5. Security Champions: Engineers from each Scrum team with an interest in supporting their teams with security fundamentals; they are instrumental in scaling out the overall product security effort
Creating and executing an engaging security education program is also pivotal to winning over the hearts and minds of employees. Consider initiatives such as in-depth security boot camps, vulnerability-of-the-month presentations, capture-the-flag (CTF) contests and security consultation programs.
Integrating Security Into the SDLC
From a high level, all SDLCs consist of planning, development and release, and each phase should have its own set of security controls.
Planning: The product security TPM is responsible for working with the product management team to determine security priorities–derived from sources like risk reduction, executive priorities, customer requests, security findings and regulatory requirements. Determining what is most important is key.
Development: Much of the heavy product security lifting comes during the development phase, which includes implementing threat modeling, security baselines and automated scanning.
Threat modeling: The process of identifying potential threats in a system. Once identified, the threat modeling team can create mitigations, and results are integrated into penetration testing to verify that the threats did not make it into implementation. It’s most efficient to test models during the architecture phase before coding begins to avoid rework and Band-Aids. For example, a company may have a policy disallowing access to port 22 from the Internet. Threat modeling automation can detect violations in the design and notify the owning team asking them to close the port. Tools that support this use case include IriusRisk and ThreatModeler, as well as Microsoft Threat Modeling Tool, which is a free option but does not include automation.
Security Baselines: Teams should create secured images that are fully patched, meet security policies and have mandatory security agents preinstalled. Doing this for both OS images and containers allows developers to get a level of security for “free” and avoid ongoing security reviews. Baselines should automatically update and flow into CI/CD systems.
Automated scanning: To keep up with Agile processes, scanning should be automated and have a low number of false positives. In fact, it is better to report on fewer issues than kill credibility with a lot of noise. Continuous tuning will increase the fidelity rule sets and helpful tools include static application security testing (SAST), software composition analysis (SCA), and dynamic application security testing (DAST). Automation is critical to securing applications that use a CI/CD development process and providing security right at the code push is invaluable–developers get immediate feedback, not a ticket weeks later when they likely have forgotten important context. Integrating these tools into build pipelines is a solved problem.
For example, the below YAML demonstrates automating source scans for embedded secrets (e.g., passwords and keys).
Release: When teams reach the release phase, adversarial testing becomes an important component. Penetration testing can be in-house, outsourced or both. An internal red team will have a better understanding of the technology and, therefore, have a broader scope than external security partners. For example, they test across product boundaries, test processes and people and test live production systems. For a mature product, consider a bug bounty program. This will invite white hat hackers to find weaknesses in exchange for cash. But “mature products” is essential; otherwise, the number of payouts will become overwhelming.
As mentioned earlier, 24/7 monitoring is key, especially for any cloud-based technology. A dedicated security operations center (SOC) can help, scrutinizing for threats against the company, employees and customers. The SOC’s responsibilities are much broader than those of a product security team, and they allow product security folks to sleep well at night. Security teams should configure systems, load balancers, public cloud platforms and networks to feed data directly into the security information and event management (SIEM) system. The SOC can then respond to custom automated alerts that identify any data anomalies that are being streamed to them.
As products–and technology overall–become more advanced, the way organizations secure them must do so as well. The perfect security approach varies from business to business, but empowering IT, engineering and security teams is a beneficial first step to identifying, optimizing and integrating security for both employees and customers.