Shift left security is the process of incorporating security and testing into the development phase as early as possible.
The Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) comprises of 4 steps, namely Development, Build, Test, and Deployment.
Developers being at the left-most part of the cycle, anything that is moved towards them is shift left.
However, simply handing developers a list of issues to fix or providing them with a tool designed for the security team is not enough to shift security left.
For proper implementation, developers need developer-friendly tools and ongoing support from the security team.
Shifting security to the left allows security teams to become a supporting function, giving expertise and tooling to allow developers more autonomy while maintaining the required level of monitoring for the organization.
With today’s fast-paced modern technology, the software development cycle has improved enormously in terms of product delivery speed, and the importance of independent decisions without intermediaries has also grown in perfect sync.
Since the rest of the organization has grown, security teams face greater demands and often hinder the fast-paced development cycle.
This was because of factors such as legacy application security tools and practices, which were designed for the slow-paced and pre-cloud era.
And this resulted in shifting the responsibility towards the developers to identify and implement the right security guardrails for their process.
There are certain common issues faced by teams trying to shift security to the left, and some of them are:
The key to implementing code hygiene is being aware of the most prevalent cyber security threats and, as a result, being able to prevent them.
The InfoSec team plays a key role in implementing security and the failure to include them in the development phase is a major issue in the era of threats getting evolved in tandem with technology.
In most cases, the Infosec team only gets involved post the SDLC. Such conditions are much expensive in terms of making changes to the “vulnerable” product that’s already released.
According to reports, Infosec teams are often poorly staffed. Even large companies are only having a ratio of 1 infosec person per 10 infrastructure people per 100 developers.
With proper implementation of security in the development phase, teams can achieve higher levels of performance in building more secure applications.
It helps developers to build a better security knowledge by learning from their errors and implementing a hygienic coding culture.
With security being implemented as early as possible, we can keep the known vulnerabilities away prior to the product deployment.
And with this, we can keep the cost of remediation to the lowest possible. It is far less costly to fix security issues earlier in the development phase than after going live.
Shift left testing and tools enable organizations to release software more frequently by avoiding typical bugs and security issues.
It looks for known vulnerabilities and classifies the results, which is useful to identify the trends and patterns of the current system.
Shift left tools are critical in improving the application layer security, since breaches are more often done by exploiting the low hanging fruits that are often neglected.
Shift left security tools offer many advantages, including helping the developers find known vulnerabilities in the build and release phases.
Most popularly, there are five shift left security tools and they are:
Software Composition Analysis (SCA)
These tools help in identifying the known vulnerabilities and notify the user/authorized person about the patches or updates. It helps to analyze all sourced software components and libraries.
Static Application Security Testing (SAST) These tools identify weaknesses that may lead to vulnerabilities and generate a report. It is by structural testing with access to source-code at rest.
Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) These tools analyze operating code to identify issues with requests, responses, scripts, interfaces, injections, authentication, and sessions using the technique of fuzzing. It is specification-based testing while the application is running and does not require in-depth knowledge of how the system works internally.
Application Security Testing as a Service (ASTaaS) AsTaaS is the combination of static and dynamic security methods, which includes penetration testing and evaluation of APIs. The organization seeks help from an external company to perform all security tests on their applications.
Interactive Application Security Testing (IAST) IAST is also a combination of static and dynamic tools, and it performs testing on the data flow and application using pre-defined test cases. It recommends additional test cases based on the results.
There are several practices that can be implemented to shift security to the left and the best options would be to:
Conduct assessment on how and where software is created — prior to implementing shift left security, it is required to understand how the development pipeline works, and how the code moves from development to production, and the technologies used throughout the process.
Implementation of security fixes as the code is developed — security must be introduced into the development process as it occurs and used to provide on-time feedback as soon as possible. With this, the developers can implement fixes prior to the release and save the organization from the loss of a lot of time and money.
Automation of security processes — automation processes help to ease the continuous work which usually takes more time when performed manually. To implement automation, it is required to test the process and integrate captured results with defect tracking tools. And we should assess the existing tools and choose the relevant tools for better implementation.
Ensure visibility for all teams — to ensure code is kept secure prior to and post the release is the basic goal in shifting security to the left of SDLC, and to do this the best practice is to maintain constant visibility for all teams into the application’s performance.
Conducting vulnerability assessment and penetration testing post the product release costs more time and money for the organization.
Hence, proper implementation of shift left and adoption of DevSecOps mindset is required for the enablement of collaboration and knowledge sharing between developers, operation teams and security experts.
While considering the pace of development, it is better to implement security in the development cycle than implement it after release.