Three Ways Developers Can Worry Less About Security

Over the past 10 years, developers have risen in organizational importance. They’ve acquired more tools, power, responsibility and autonomy. As part of that evolution, many developers today want to touch all of the layers of code and have their hands in every tool that’s being built. Known as “mechanical sympathy,” developers are taking increased initiative in areas they simply haven’t before–like installing security systems or being in charge of their team’s application security lifecycle.

While pride of ownership is never a bad thing, in today’s complex IT environments, where organizations are adopting hybrid cloud solutions, microservices and containers–and are required to push applications and software into production as quickly as possible–this simply isn’t scalable. Pursuing mechanical sympathy in this case can be too costly and ultimately become counterproductive–especially when it comes to security, where an attacker only needs to find one vulnerability to gain a foothold in the system.

Rather than relying on developers to become security experts, organizations should empower them to dig deep on the tasks that matter to them (development) and leverage the expertise of other specialists (security). That way, everyone can focus on their own productivity and deliver the most value to the business.

Here are three ways developers can let go of their need for mechanical sympathy.

Consider the Implications of Being Responsible for Security

Taking on security means abiding by security best practices, like adopting multi-factor authentication and implementing privileged access security for secrets management. None of this is in the typical wheelhouse of the developer, and in fact, developers could actually be increasing risk if they intend on being responsible for security.

Developers should think of it this way: Imagine something goes wrong with the application you put into production, such as leaking sensitive data based on a mistake in the source code or a design flaw. Do you really want to be the team who’s called? The answer is probably no.

By focusing on core developer strengths and allowing security teams to handle an organization’s security strategy, developers are able to collectively ship applications that are functionally sound, as well as secure.

Don’t Solve for Already-Solved Problems

When it comes to DevOps methodology, there are an increasing number of tools now available that automate time-consuming security tasks–such as automated secrets management, encryption and vaulting solutions–which remove those burdens from developers and allow them to work at true velocity.

With these tools available, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Developers should leverage these assets to their advantage and abstract away complexity to the security team, who should be governing and provisioning security tools so developers can get back to delivering applications to market as efficiently as possible.

Prioritize the Value Stream

The aforementioned tools provide a great benefit to developers–freeing them up to focus on more impactful work–but it can be easy for the opposite effect to take hold if developers get mired down in the weeds with them. Instead of trying to specialize in tools such as Kubernetes or OpenShift, which have manufactured obsolescence to begin with, developers should be encouraged to think about the big picture–creating a high-performance, automated pipeline that accelerates software delivery from code to production.

By focusing on the health of the pipeline, rather than the specific tools within, developers establish a real-time feedback loop that enables them to anticipate the future and see the amazing projects that are truly possible. It positions them as drivers of innovation and increases their sphere of influence across the organization.

Developers play a critical role in bringing applications and software to market with speed and stability, but when organizations default to letting them own everything from the nuts to bolts, they may end up introducing security issues that could otherwise be avoided.

The best way to ensure security in the development process, however, is to start with a strong security foundation. Organizations that understand developers and the development process are savvier when it comes to the vulnerabilities that could be inadvertently introduced and are in a better position to secure them with minimal impact on velocity.

In such a complex and powerful world of cloud, CI/CD and more, when developers are empowered to let go, organizations can better manage and mitigate risk, and deliver higher quality applications that drive true business impact.

Brian Kelly

Brian Kelly

Brian Kelly is head of Conjur engineering at CyberArk, where he creates products that add much-needed security and identity management to the landscape of DevOps tools and cloud systems. Brian is passionate about software, building teams, cyber security and DevOps.

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