The DevOps culture and rapid cloud adoption have developers shipping code faster than ever, and in many cases, security teams struggle to keep up. To correct the course that organizations find themselves on today, they must shift left and adopt a developer-first approach to application security.
Organizations that depend on software development need a solution that accomplishes two essential things to adapt and survive. First, risk-appropriate security measures must be applied to all software before it is delivered or deployed. Second, they must adopt processes that enable security functions to be distributed across the development stack in a manner that will not slow down the pace of development.
This article discusses why developer-first AppSec is the future and how organizations can evaluate tools that will help them adopt a developer-first approach.
Why Developer-First is the Future
Developers outnumber application security engineers by as much as 100 to 1, and the AppSec functions cannot scale if security practitioners are the only ones responsible for security. This imbalance suggests that organizational leaders must distribute security ownership across the developer teams that own the software asset.
As it stands today, many companies expect developers to build and deploy software faster than ever before. Security teams often can not keep pace with software development, and they become a roadblock to software delivery. To meet project development deadlines and their key performance indicators (KPIs), developers tend to leave security teams behind. They do not have the time or the incentive to slow down development because application security tools or processes are slow and cannot keep up.
Security and developers are at cross-purposes in today’s software development model. They are pseudo-adversaries because AppSec teams know what it takes to make code secure, or at least they know how to find vulnerabilities. And, on the other hand, developers need to write code that works well and meets the sprint’s deadline.
This growing problem creates friction between these two teams. It’s not that security teams don’t care about the organization’s need to produce quality software quickly or that developers don’t care about security. It’s just that each team is measured and incentivized to achieve opposing objectives. AppSec programs must create a developer-first approach to building software quickly and securely to combat this growing problem.
It is not feasible for organizational leaders to provide security engineers with the entire business or environmental context behind software applications. In this sense, AppSec teams are working with limited vision. They may not see how the software fits into the organization’s big picture or understand its priorities.
With limited contextual understanding, security teams necessarily rely on developers to make decisions about acceptable risks. If left to their own understanding and seeing the world through a security-centric lens, AppSec teams could potentially spend too much time enforcing security measures that do not apply to the task at hand.
Since developers are building the software and know what these services are designed to do, security engineers must defer to a developer-first approach so that decisions about security issues will align with the business context and acceptable levels of risk.
How to find a suitable developer-first AppSec platform
Below is a condensed guide to help organization leaders evaluate potential AppSec platforms. These questions will help identify a solution that will enable the organization to build a developer-first security program.
- Will the solution flood the developers and AppSec team with more and more results, or will this help them fix the essential gaps?
- Will the solution provide context to help developers focus their limited time on security work that matters, or will it end up wasting time on things that may not even present a risk?
- Will the solution help build security measures as guardrails to prevent security issues in the first place?
- Is the solution flexible enough to enable building custom application security checks and policies in the SDLC?
- Does the solution provide flexible ways of communicating actionable security information directly to developers in real-time within dev tools like source control systems, CI/CD platforms, or engineering task management systems?
There are an overwhelming number of application security solutions on the market today, most of which are designed to create security alerts on every conceivable threat regardless of the business context of the software being developed. More tools are then needed to manage the identified vulnerabilities.
What this future will look like
AppSec teams must recast themselves as security facilitators providing expertise for solving complex challenges and maintaining oversight of the developer teams’ security efforts. Developers should own tactical security tasks, but the AppSec team should continue to be the experts in making risk-based decisions and driving security accountability across the business.
Inside many organizations, application security is only beginning to become integrated into developer workflows. This integration creates both opportunities and challenges. As organizations strive to make AppSec an enabler that aids developers in creating secure software quickly, developer-first AppSec programs let businesses make their digital transformation journey safer and faster.