Developer-first supply chain security

Developer-first supply chain security aims to minimize the risk of potential breaches, streamline the development workflow, foster collaboration, and instill a culture of vigilance.

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As developers increasingly shift left, they’re becoming the frontline defenders of the software supply chain — proactively addressing vulnerabilities, optimizing code quality, and fortifying security measures right from the inception of the development process.

Developer-first supply chain security aims to minimize the risk of potential breaches, streamline the development workflow, foster collaboration, and instill a culture of vigilance that resonates across the entire supply chain — making security a habit rather than an afterthought. Early intervention in the SDLC (software development life cycle) ultimately results in agile and resilient software in the face of evolving threats.

Keep reading to learn more about:

What is the software supply chain?

The software supply chain is similar to the manufacturing supply chain. 

Just as raw materials, labor, and processes combine to produce a final product in the physical supply chain, the software supply chain integrates layers of code, development efforts, and various tools and processes to yield a final digital product.

Consider the following as an example, brownie mix follows a supply chain journey. The ingredients are sourced from various places and converge in a facility where they're blended, portioned, sealed in bags, and packed into printed boxes. Then, those boxes find their way onto a pallet, then a truck, and eventually into a store near you! 

Now consider that each ingredient and step has traversed its own supply chain journey that you can trace back to via the timestamp on the box. 

This nifty documentation is helpful when things go awry downstream, such as a bad batch of "enriched bleached flour" threatening to ruin a specific lot of brownie mixes. With documentation, you can trace back to a specific point in time and recall the exact lot of mixes that are no longer acceptable for consumption rather than sacrificing all of your product, as well as trace forward to alert all the relevant grocery stores.

Software supply chains operate similarly. The software's code and components go through their own journey, merging from different sources to create a functional product (or even just an interim component, like another library – similar to that flour in the brownie mix). Code and components can come from:

  • Open source libraries

  • Container images

  • Your own, first-party source code

  • Internally developed libraries 

  • APIs

  • Tools and software used across the organization

  • Git repositories

Like the brownie mix, each step and component within the software supply chain can significantly impact the final product's performance and security. And, just as you may need to trace back to points in time of the brownie mix's journey, establishing visibility into the software supply chain is also vital to identifying issues and ensuring a reliable end product. This is true for several reasons, but especially because the software supply chain is much more volatile than any given physical supply chain. When a new library version you use (for a direct or transitive dependency) gets pushed to the package manager, once you build again, you’re working with a new library — whether you know there's a new version or not.

What is the developers' role in software supply chain security?

Developers play a vital role in maintaining a secure software supply chain

For example:

  1. Writing secure code: Writing code with security in mind reduces the risk of introducing vulnerabilities. This includes following coding best practices, using secure coding libraries, and adhering to security guidelines.

  2. Choosing open source packages: Developers often leverage open source packages to speed up development. However, selecting reputable and well-maintained packages is crucial to avoid potential security vulnerabilities embedded within them.

  3. Choosing containers and base images:  Selecting containers or base images can impact security and efficiency, as vulnerabilities are easily exploited in downstream components that rely on these foundational elements. Developers should make informed decisions when choosing which containers and base images to start from.

  4. Remediating vulnerabilities: Addressing vulnerabilities is essential. Developers should actively monitor and assess their codebase, promptly patch or update vulnerable components, and keep the software up to date to mitigate potential threats.

  5. Building software bill of materials (SBOMs): SBOMs are becoming considerably more important for organizations creating software that is consumed by others. Recent regulations and notable supply chain attacks have increased the demand for software transparency, both for producers and consumers. Constructing an SBOM involves creating a comprehensive inventory of all components within a software application, including dependencies and third-party libraries. This transparency aids in tracking and managing the software supply chain, making it easier to identify and address vulnerabilities when they arise.

Getting developer buy-in for software supply chain security 

Consider establishing a developer security champions program to foster developer buy-in for secure software development. Your champions act as advocates within development teams to bridge the gap between security and development, and help developers learn to ship more secure code. 

Additionally, integrating developer-centric security tools seamlessly into existing workflows enhances the likelihood of adoption, making security a habit by integrating it right in the tools they use every day. 

Bottom line: Educating developers and aligning security practices with their needs and routines can effectively promote a culture of security awareness and compliance amongst your development teams.

Three ways developers can improve supply chain security right now

Developers can immediately start to improve supply chain security in the following ways:

  1. Start (or continue to) shift left: Moves security checks to earlier in the SDLC and as part of a DevSecOps shift. Vulnerabilities found earlier in development are much easier and less expensive to fix.

  2. Prioritize developer-first tools and solutions: Choose security tools and solutions designed for seamless integration into developer workflows and built specifically for developers. 

  3. Maintain security policy compliance: Adhere to the security team's established policies to maintain a secure supply chain.

Four ways DevOps and AppSec can work together to secure the supply chain

The partnership between DevOps and AppSec teams is crucial to enhancing overall supply chain security. 

These teams' collaboration establishes a robust foundation that aims to seamlessly integrate security measures into every phase of the SDLC, ensuring a holistic approach to safeguarding software integrity and reducing vulnerabilities. Together, they:

  1. Create and enforce policies: By formulating robust security policies, both teams establish a common framework for development. These policies encompass guidelines for coding standards, access controls, and data protection, ensuring a uniform security posture across the development lifecycle.

  2. Harden the build environment: Joining security with development means implementing best practices, such as minimizing attack surfaces, patching vulnerabilities, and utilizing secure configurations to enhance the resilience of the software's foundation.

  3. Educate developer teams on security: Education is paramount to empower developers to identify and address potential vulnerabilities as they code, minimizing security risks in the first place.

  4. Automate: Automation is central to ensuring security is a consistent and integral part of the development process; for example automating the following:

    • Vulnerability scanning: Automated scans identify vulnerabilities in the codebase and third-party dependencies, allowing rapid detection and remediation.

    • Auto dependency management: Automating dependency updates helps promptly address vulnerabilities and stay current with security patches.

    • Supply chain analysis: Automated supply chain analysis verifies the security of components integrated into the software, safeguarding against potential compromises.

    • Configuration management: Automated configuration checks ensure systems are securely established, minimizing configuration-related vulnerabilities.

How Snyk can help

Snyk helps to secure everything that runs through your build pipeline with its secure software supply chain solutions (SSCS), including open source, source code, and container security. 

With the Snyk platform of solutions, you also have the following:

  • Enterprise analytics: With Snyk's tailored analytics, you have visibility into vulnerability trends, security performance, and risk assessment. This aids in informed decision-making to bolster security measures.

  • Insights: Snyk offers valuable insights into the security status of code repositories and dependencies. This empowers developers and security teams to identify and address potential vulnerabilities fast and effectively.

To learn more, book a live demo with a security expert and:

  • Learn about Snyk’s SAST, SCA, container, and IaC security features.

  • See the impact developer-first security has on release velocity.

  • Explore the visibility and controls that Snyk provides for security teams.


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