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What is shift left security?
Shift-Left Security is the practice of moving security checks as early and often in the SDLC as possible as part of a DevSecOps shift. Vulnerabilities found earlier in development are much easier and cheaper to fix.
In today’s world, where most companies are leveraging their technology and software to differentiate themselves in the market, the pace of development has never been more important. Waiting to address software security vulnerabilities until it’s too late can be costly and open organizations up to unnecessary risk. This is why it’s important to develop securely from the start, which is known as shift left security.
But to successfully shift security left, it’s not enough to simply hand developers a list of issues to remediate or provide them with a tool that was designed for the security team. Developers need developer-friendly tooling and the ongoing support of the security team along the way.
Let’s take a closer look at shift left security, the dangers of keeping security right, and some best practices and tools for getting started.
Shift left security allows security to keep pace with agile development methodologies, while managing new risks introduced by cloud technologies.
Agile methodology and DevOps practices have changed how software is developed and delivered, accelerating the cycle from writing code to delivering customer value to learning from the market and adapting. Empowered development teams ship software continuously and faster than ever, making technology and implementation decisions autonomously and without intermediaries.
As the rest of the organization has evolved, security teams are faced with greater demands and often become a bottleneck on fast-paced development cycles. Legacy application security tools and practices, designed for the slower-paced, pre-cloud era, put security teams in the critical path of delivering high quality applications. As a result, the responsibility has shifted toward developers to identify and implement the right security guardrails for their process.
The use of open source software has become ubiquitous in the software development community. Development ecosystems have grown in their dependence on third-party, open source libraries and packages to streamline development. These open source dependencies can contain vulnerabilities that can pass through the build process if left unchecked. More and more organizations have become aware of how open source software impacts their overall security posture.
Of course, as is the case with all technologies, containers and infrastructure as code (IaC) have also introduced their own unique challenges and threats from a security perspective. As the open source community creates and shares container images and Kubernetes configurations, vulnerabilities that exist within them become a part of operational environments.
Security is no longer a matter of keeping vulnerabilities out of proprietary code. In modern, cloud native applications, security is a matter of code, dependencies, transitive dependencies, container images, and IaC configurations. Keeping security to the right is no longer an option, as holding off on a security review until an application is ready for deployment will mean either a lengthy delay or missed vulnerabilities.
Shift left testing integrates software testing practices, including security, as early as possible in the SDLC. This means that development and operations teams are enabled through processes and tooling to share in the responsibility of delivering secure, high-quality software. Shift left testing and shift left tools help organizations release software more often by preventing common bugs and security issue bottlenecks.
Shift left security tools look for known vulnerabilities and classify the results. They can be used to identify trends and patterns. Because breaches often exploit the application layer to access systems, shift left security tools are critical for improving application layer security. They help developers test for known vulnerabilities (or code errors) during the build and release phases. With new vulnerabilities constantly surfacing, shift left security tools can offer numerous advantages.
Shift left security tools
Let’s explore five of the most popular shift left security tools:
Static Application Security Testing (SAST): SAST is structural testing with access to source code at rest. It identifies weaknesses that may lead to a vulnerability and then generates a report.
Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST): DAST is specification-based testing while the application is running, without requiring in-depth knowledge of how a system works internally. DAST tools analyze operating code to identify issues with requests, responses, interfaces, scripts, injections, authentication, and sessions using fuzzing.
Software Composition Analysis (SCA): Also known as origin analysis, this method helps to analyze all sourced software components and libraries. These tools help identify known vulnerabilities and notify the user of any available patches or updates.
Interactive Application Security Testing (IAST): Combining static and dynamic approaches, hybrid IAST tools perform testing on application and data flow using predefined test cases. The tool may recommend additional test cases based on the results.
Application Security Testing as a Service (ASTaaS): In this scenario, the organization enlists an external company to perform all testing for their applications. ASTaaS usually combines static and dynamic security methods, including penetration testing and evaluating application programming interfaces (APIs).
Here are several practices that can be implemented to shift security left:
Define shift left security policies: Security policies are a good first step for shift left security. Policies can automatically and consistently set boundaries before work begins, delivering critical information for efficient development processes, including security.
Assess where and how software is created: As your developers gain awareness around secure coding practices, it’s wise to reexamine your SDLC. Understanding where and how your software is created will help identify small steps you can take to place testing earlier in the lifecycle. Additionally, you can find out which tools might be relevant for your codebase.
Embrace security automation: Development teams should embrace security automation tools. Security automation uses software-based processes to programmatically detect, investigate, and fix external threats to applications and systems. As such, automation speeds up the development lifecycle and allows you to reduce the time to market.
Implement security fixes as code is created: Ideally, you should introduce security into the development process as it occurs, and provide feedback as fast as possible. This way, developers get feedback on the code they are working on, and can quickly implement fixes.
Embed visibility into the culture: A key goal in shift left security is to ensure that the code is kept secure during and after its release. To do this, teams need constant visibility into application security. They can then remediate issues as needed by releasing software updates.
Shift left security is a cornerstone for successfully implementing a DevSecOps strategy, but it must be done responsibly. This can be accomplished by empowering developers to integrate security into existing development workflows in a frictionless and impediment-free manner — and with the right degree of supervision. But as we involve developers more deeply in owning cloud native security challenges, we need to appreciate that their tools will look different from the previous generation of operator-focused tools.
3 Steps to Get Started with Shift Left Testing
Learn about shift left testing, an integrated approach to addressing security and testing as early as possible in the SDLC to find and fix vulnerabilities.Keep reading