A recent report asks the tough questions about DevSecOps adoption, and the results are surprising
In a world of increasing development velocity, companies are placing more responsibility on developers to enact quick deployments. Naturally, security is “shifting left” as well.
Theoretically, DevSecOps sounds great, but it opens up many questions. Who exactly is responsible for security knowledge? Are cybersecurity training measures effective? Which tools excel at decreasing risk while maintaining release fluidity? Are AppSec tools aiding or adding unneeded friction?
A report conducted by Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) sought to answer these pressing questions and expose trends around application development security. The study surveyed 378 IT, cybersecurity and application development professionals at organizations in North America.
Security vs. Development
There is still friction when attempting DevSecOps in practice. Eng recognizes a disconnect between security and development teams.
“Most security teams lack an understanding of modern application development practices,” said Eng. Security may not realize how regularly code is pushed or understand the intricacies of tooling within a CI/CD pipeline. On the flip side, developers may not be well-versed in common container exploits and vulnerabilities.
Organizations are pretty split when it comes to application security testing ownership. Thirty-one percent of organizations dedicate security analysts to manage application security. The development manager and security team jointly own responsibility at 29% of companies. Developer managers follow at 26%, and individual developers at 13%.
To Eng, these figures reflect an evolution from traditional security testing to the way things are changing with faster development cycles. “Go back 10-plus years, and we had a centralized, dedicated security team responsible for managing AppSec,” described Eng.
In modern times, security is shared or even furthered where developers themselves run tools by hand or automate security within CI/CD processes. Large companies, Eng noted, now often utilize a mix of those practices.
Paradox: Secure Yet Vulnerable
Seemingly, the most eye-opening part of the report was a paradox. The report found that most teams give their application security a high rating (36% gave their application security programs a 9 or 10, with a 7.92 mean). Yet, the majority say they regularly push vulnerable code (48% of respondents knowingly push vulnerable code regularly).
Though it’s counterintuitive, organizations may knowingly push out vulnerable code for many reasons. “You’ve promised a release, customers are waiting, ” said Eng. “Revenue is waiting. What are the implications of pushing that release?” Teams may not have time to fix vulnerable code, or it may simply not be worth it.
Publishing vulnerable code may also be a symptom of placing testing too late in the release process. “That’s why there is this trend to shift left,” added Gruber.
Gauging DevSecOps Success
The above findings underscore a reality of IT security: To keep pace, software providers must accept a level of risk. In fact, business success may depend on it.
“The effectiveness of the programs isn’t necessarily measured with how many times you’ve shipped your code with no vulnerabilities,” said Gruber. “Success is that we understand the risk, we have mitigated the risk at the level we believe is right for the organization, and have the right level of control over the process.”
Companies must weigh the cost of improper DevSecOps and mitigate imminent risk to maintain release agility.
Application Security Tools: Finding Balance
At modern companies with quick-release cadences, “CI integrative security tools are way more prevalent and baked into the process,” noted Eng. Yet, 26% of respondents indicate security tooling friction and ineffective tooling usage.
Whereas InfoSec teams are usually the ones dictating policies, developers have much influence in the tooling selection. Thus, tools must appeal to the developer experience, fitting into their established workflows.
“We have to build a habit around it,” said Eng. Frictionless tools that continually scan within an IDE, for example, can enable developers to fix an issue on the spot and foster future behaviors.
At the same time, you must set standards and avoid governance issues. This requires control and observability. “The balance here is that you want developers to be able to integrate something tightly into their toolchain,” said Eng. “But InfoSec needs a bird’s eye view on the organization.”
Developers Lack Knowledge to Mitigate Issues
Though security tools may reveal vulnerabilities, they don’t always correlate with remediation. The ESG report found 29% of developers lack the knowledge to mitigate issues identified by security tools.
There is a clear gap in the market when it comes to developer education around security. This could stem from computer science schooling, in which cybersecurity is rarely taught alongside programming languages.
On the job, hands-on developer security training is also spotty. Thirty-five percent say that less than half of their development teams are participating in formal training. Only 15% of organizations have developers actively involved in security training.
Just giving developers a laundry list of vulnerabilities doesn’t help mitigation. For Eng, what organizations require is habitual, recurring training with hands-on tools. “Try to simulate or provide a real-world environment for learning, identifying and patching these issues,” recommended Eng. Integrating tooling within the daily developer workflow can help with knowledge retention, because “if you don’t use it, you lose it.”
Other best practices will only arise with a security habit. For example, most development environments ship with open defaults. “You need security training and tools to understand to restrict that appropriately,” noted Eng.
That said, a wide variety of security tooling is already advancing this process. For example, 56% of organizations use API security vulnerability (ASV) scanning to identify and mitigate risk associated with API usage, helping secure applications as developers code dependencies.
Final DevSecOps Thoughts
The ESG study found 43% of participants believe DevOps integration is most important to improving AppSec programs. Yet, siloed roles and a lack of security education mean DevSecOps must still mature quite a bit to meet the security-shift-left vision.
Other eye-opening findings included:
- More than half of respondents (54%) use automated controls to identify and quarantine vulnerable images in their image repository.
- The proliferation of AppSec tools on the market is a significant problem for 30% of companies.
- AppSec spending is increasing, yet only 30% will protect more than three-quarters of their codebase 12 months from now.
For more findings, check out the ESG Survey Report: Modern Application Development Security.