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Uniting AppSec and Developers in The Age of Cloud-Native Applications

Cloud-Native Applications

Cloud-Native Applications

Solutions Review’s Contributed Content Series is a collection of contributed articles written by thought leaders in enterprise technology. Shahar Man of Backslash Security explores the new world of Cloud-Native Applications, in an effort to unite AppSec teams and developers.

The ever-evolving intersection of modern software development practices and the infrastructure they run on has underscored a growing friction between two critical groups within the software development arena– application security (AppSec) teams and software developers. On one hand, developers are tasked with delivering high-performing code quickly and frequently. On the other, AppSec teams are charged with maintaining stringent security measures to protect the very same software from a myriad of threats. This perceived tug-of-war has been a long-standing issue, with each party feeling somewhat impeded by the other. However, with the adoption of cloud-native architectures becoming increasingly widespread, this relationship’s importance is more critical than ever. The security of an enterprise’s crown jewels – its applications – is heavily reliant on the symbiosis between these two teams.

According to recent research by Backslash, friction between AppSec teams and developers ranks among the top concerns for AppSec professionals. The worry about retaining developer talent follows closely behind. It is evident that, above all, AppSec teams aspire to build a healthy, efficient working relationship with their developer colleagues. In response to these concerns, we explore actionable strategies to align these two teams toward a common goal.

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Cloud-Native Applications: Uniting AppSec and Developers in the New Age

Understanding the Misalignment

The issues that incite misalignment between AppSec and developers typically stem from conflicting priorities, communication gaps, delayed security testing, and inadequate cloud-native tooling. The software development landscape is notably imbalanced when comparing the number of software engineers to application security professionals. Software engineers vastly outnumber their AppSec counterparts, a reflection of the burgeoning demand for new software solutions, applications, and platforms. Conversely, the niche specialization of AppSec roles, combined with the often-underappreciated importance of security in the software lifecycle, has led to fewer professionals in the field. This discrepancy underscores the urgency of fostering collaboration between the two groups, as the limited number of AppSec professionals grapple with the expansive and ever-growing realm of software development projects.

Developers are under significant pressure to keep pace with modern and fast-moving software development methods, delivering efficient code in short timeframes. This often leads to security testing being relegated to the later stages of the development cycle, increasing the cost associated with fixing issues so late in the development cycle and the risk of overlooking critical vulnerabilities. AppSec teams, on the other hand, are challenged with ensuring the robustness of software security. They are often perceived as roadblocks by developers, as security testing can slow down the deployment process.

Even when forward-thinking companies attempt to integrate security earlier in the development cycle, it is frequently perceived as ‘untrustworthy.’ Many security tools are notorious for generating a high number of false positives, which can slow or even halt the software development process, causing frustration and skepticism among developers. Moreover, ineffective communication between the teams can exacerbate the friction, leading to misaligned goals and misunderstandings.

The lack of appropriate cloud-native security tooling means missed opportunities for automating security processes, thereby slowing down the application’s time-to-market.

Establishing Security Champions

One effective way to bridge the gap between AppSec and developers is by establishing “security champions” within the development team. These champions act as ambassadors for security initiatives, advocating for security best practices within the team and helping to drive these initiatives. A security champion can play a pivotal role in bridging the communication gap between developers and AppSec teams. They understand the priorities and challenges of both sides, effectively translating security concerns into developer language, and vice versa. This understanding creates a foundation of mutual respect and relatability that is often lacking when dealing with security professionals who may not share the same immediate goals. Having a peer developer play this role can also create a much stronger sense of trust within the team.

Involving AppSec from the Start

Involving AppSec from the outset of the software development cycle is a game-changing strategy. It enables security concerns to be addressed early, avoiding the costly and time-consuming process of fixing vulnerabilities after the application has been developed. However, it’s important to note that involving AppSec early doesn’t mean they should start dictating terms right away. Learning the ins and outs of software development allows the AppSec team to minimize disruptions and operate within the framework that developers are comfortable with. This practice not only fosters collaboration but also builds trust and mutual respect, as it demonstrates the AppSec team’s commitment to working with developers rather than against them.

Another significant benefit of involving AppSec from the start is that it can foster a mindset of secure coding among the developers. When developers are routinely exposed to security thinking and practices, they are more likely to write code that is secure by design. This reduces the chances of vulnerabilities being introduced in the first place, which is more efficient and less disruptive than trying to fix security issues after the fact. This proactive approach requires developers to consider security aspects during the design and coding phases, rather than treating it as an afterthought. Concurrently, it empowers AppSec teams to have a more profound impact on the application’s security, reducing last-minute security-related delays.

Implementing Cloud-Native Security Solutions

The adoption of cloud-native security tools and platforms can go a long way in alleviating some of the friction between AppSec teams and developers. These tools can automate security testing processes, reducing irrelevant security alerts and allowing AppSec teams to streamline their efforts.

Take, for example, the case of container security tools that provide automatic scanning for vulnerabilities in container images. In a traditional approach, a security team would manually scan the application for vulnerabilities, a time-consuming process prone to human error. However, with cloud-native capabilities, the scanning can be integrated directly into the CI/CD pipeline, allowing for vulnerabilities to be caught and addressed in real-time, even before the application is deployed. This automation not only saves time but also enhances security by ensuring that no container with known vulnerabilities is deployed inadvertently. Moreover, these cloud-native tools also enable continuous security testing throughout the development cycle, rather than only at the end. This reduces the likelihood of discovering critical vulnerabilities late in the process, minimizing delays, and maintaining developer productivity.

Fostering Communication and Collaboration

Fostering a culture of open communication and collaboration is paramount. Clear communication channels between AppSec and developers can help in aligning priorities, clarifying misunderstandings, and fostering mutual respect. Regular meetings, workshops, and shared goals can encourage a greater understanding between the teams. Collaboration tools and platforms can also facilitate effective communication, making it easier for both teams to work together and stay aligned with the overall objectives.

When Coders and Guardians Speak The Same Language

Moreover, the emergence of the new Gartner Application Security Posture Management (ASPM) category heralds a new era in application security. This category underscores the increasing importance of integrating modern cloud-native security throughout the entire SDLC, highlighting practices that go beyond mere testing.

ASPM tools will provide organizations with a comprehensive overview of their application security status, facilitating continuous monitoring and management. This means vulnerabilities can be identified and addressed not just at the testing stage, but throughout the development process. These tools will help to ensure that security practices are in alignment with the rapid pace of software development, making them a strategic asset for organizations that produce software.

The arrival of the ASPM category signifies a move towards a more holistic, proactive approach to application security. It highlights the necessity for AppSec and developer teams to work hand-in-hand from the outset of the software development cycle. This is a clear indication that the industry is recognizing the importance of early and continuous security involvement and that the ‘shift-left’ approach is becoming an industry standard, rather than an exception. For organizations, embracing these changes will be crucial in securing their applications, improving the efficiency of their software development process, and ensuring they stay competitive in the evolving digital landscape.

Final Thoughts on Cloud-Native Applications

The competing priorities between AppSec teams and developers have long been a concern in the world of software development. However, as organizations increasingly adopt cloud-native architectures, fostering a harmonious relationship between these two critical teams becomes indispensable. Moreover, the emergence of Gartner’s Application Security Posture Management (ASPM) category underscores a significant shift in the application security landscape. Organizations need to be forward-thinking and adopt ASPM tools and practices. This will ensure that comprehensive security is integrated throughout the entire development process, aligning with the rapid pace of software development.

By understanding the roots of misalignment, organizations can adopt strategies such as establishing security champions, involving AppSec from the start of the software development cycle, implementing cloud-native security tools, and promoting a culture of communication and collaboration. In doing so, they not only bridge the gap between AppSec and developers but also ensure their applications’ security– their enterprise’s crown jewels.

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