This next BriefingsDirect DevOps thought leadership discussion explores the impact of improved development on security and how those investing in DevOps models specifically can expect to improve their security, compliance, and risk-mitigation outcomes.
To help better understand the relationship between DevOps and security, we’re joined by two panelists: Gene Kim, DevOps researcher and author focused on IT operations, information security and transformation (his most recent book, The Phoenix Project: A Novel about IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win, will soon be followed by The DevOps Cookbook), and Ashish Kuthiala, Senior Director of Marketing and Strategy for Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HP) DevOps. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.
Here are some excerpts:
Gardner: Coordinating and fostering increased collaboration between development, testers, and IT operations has a lot of benefits. We’ve been talking about that in a number of these discussions, but security specifically. How specifically is DevOps engendering safer code and improved security?
Kuthiala: Dana, I look at security as no different than any other testing that you do on your code. Anything that you catch early-on in the process, fix it, and close the vulnerabilities is much simpler, much easier, and much cheaper to fix than when the end-product is in the hands of the users.
At that point, it could be in the hands of thousands of users, deployed in thousands of environments, and it’s really very expensive. Even if you want to fix it there, if some trouble happens, if there is security breach, you’re not just dealing with the code vulnerability, but you are also dealing with loss of brand, loss of revenue, and loss of reputation in the marketplace.
Gene has done a lot of study on security and DevOps. I would love to hear his point of view on that.
Promise is phenomenal
Kim: You’re so right. The promise of DevOps for advancing the information security objective is phenomenal, but unfortunately, the way most information security practitioners react to DevOps is one of moral outrage and fear. The fear being verbalized is that Dev and Ops are deploying more quickly than ever, and the outcomes haven’t been so great. You’re doing one release a year, what will happen if they are doing 10 deploys a day? [See a recent interview with Gene from the DevOps Enterprise Summit.]
We can understand why they might be just terrified of this. Yet, what Ashish described is that DevOps represents the ideal integration of testing into the the daily work of Dev and Ops. We have testing happening all the time. Developers own the responsibilities of building and running the test. It’s happening after every code commit, and these are exactly same sort of behaviors and cultural norms that we want in information security. After all, security is just another aspect of quality.
We’re seeing many, many examples of how organizations are creating what some people calling DevOps(Sec), that is DevOps plus security. One of my favorite examples is Capital One, which calls DevOps in their organization DevOps(Sec). Basically, information security is being integrated into every stage of the software development lifecycle. This is actually what every information security practitioner has wanted for the last two decades.
Kuthiala: Gene, that brings up an interesting thought. As we look at Dev and Ops teams coming together without security, increasingly we talk about how people need to have generally more skills across the spectrum. Developers need to understand production systems and to be able to support their code in production. But what you just described, does that mean that’s how the developers and planners start to become security specialist or think like that? What have you seen?
Kim: Let’s talk about the numbers for a second. I love this ratio of 100 to 10 to 1. For every 100 developers, we have 10 operations people, and you have one security person. So there’s no way you’re going to get the adequate coverage, right? There are not enough security people around. If we can’t embed Ops people into these project or service teams, then we have to train developers to care and know when seek help from the Ops experts.
We have the similar challenge in information security — how we train, whether it’s about secure coding, regular compliance, or how we create evidence that controls exist and are effective. It is not going to be security doing the work. Instead, security needs to be training Dev and Ops on how to do things securely.
Kuthiala: Are there patterns that they should be looking at in security? Are there any known patterns out there or are there some being developed? What you have seen with the customers that you work with?
Kim: In the deployment pipeline, instead of having just unit tests being run after every code commit, you actually run static code analysis tools. That way you know that it’s functionally correct, and the developers are getting fast feedback and then they’re writing things that are potentially more secure than they would have otherwise.
And then alongside that in production, there are the monitoring tools. You’re running things like the dynamic security testing. Now, you can actually see how it’s behaving in the production environment. In my mind, that’s the ideal embodiment of how information security work should be integrated into the daily work of dev, test, and operations.
Kuthiala: It seems a little contradictory in nature. I know DevOps is all about going a little faster, but actually, you’re adding more functionality right up front and slowing this down. Is it a classic case of going slower to go faster? Walk before you can run, until you get to crawl? From my point of view, it slows you down here, but toward the end, you speed up more. Are you able to do this?
Kim: I would claim the opposite. We’re getting the best of all worlds, because the security testing is now automated. It’s being done on demand by the developers, as opposed to your opening a ticket, “Gene, can you scan my application?” And I’ll get back to you in about six weeks.
That’s being done automatically as part of my daily work. My claim would be not only is it faster, but we’ll get better coverage than we had before. The fearful info sector person would ask how we can do this for highly regulated environments, where there is a lot of compliance regimes in place.
If you were to count the number of controls that are continuously operating, not only do you have orders and managing more controls, but they are actually operating all the time as opposed to testing once a year.
Kuthiala: From what I’ve observed with my customers, I have two kind of separate questions here. First, if you look at some of the highly regulated industries, for example, the pharmaceutical industry, it’s not just internal compliance and regulations. It’s part of security, but they often have to go to the outside agencies for almost physical paperwork kind of regulatory compliance checks.
As they’re trying to go toward DevOps and speed this up, they are saying, “How do we handle that portion of the compliance checks and the security checks, because they are manual checks? They’re not automated. How do we deal with external agencies and incorporate this in? What have you seen work really well?
Kim: Last year, at the DevOps Enterprise Summit, we had one bank, and it was a smaller bank. This year, we have five including some of the most well-known banks in the industry. We had manufacturing. I think we had coverage of almost every major industry vertical, the majority of which are heavily regulated. They are all able to demonstrate that not only can you be compliant with all the relevant laws, contractual obligations, and regulations, but you can significantly decrease the amount of work.
One of my favorite examples came from Salesforce. Selling to the Federal government, they had to apply with FedRAMP. One of the things that they got agreement on from security, compliance groups, and change management was that all infrastructure changes made through the automation tools could be considered a standard change.
In other words, they wouldn’t require review and approval, but all changes that were done manually would still require approvals, which would often take weeks. This really shows that we can create this fast path not just for the people doing the work, but also, this make some work significantly easier for security and compliance as well.
Kuthiala: And you’re taking on the human error possibility in there. People can be on vacation, slowing things down. People can be sick. People may not be in their jobs anymore. Automation is a key answer to this, as you said. [More insights from HP from the DevOps Enterprise Summit.]
Gardner: One of things we’ve been grappling with in the industry is how to get DevOps accelerated into cultures and organizations. What about the security as a point on the arrow here? If we see and recognize that security can benefit from DevOps and we want to instantiate DevOps models faster, wouldn’t the security people be a good place to be on the evangelistic side of DevOps?
Kim: That’s a great observation, Dana. In fact, I think part of the method behind the madness is that the goal of the DevOps Enterprise Summit is to prove points. We have 50 speakers all from large, complex organizations. The goal is to get coverage of the industry verticals.
I also helped co-host a one-day DevOps Security Conference at the RSA Conference, and this was very much from a security perspective. It was amazing to find those champions in the security community who are driving DevOps objectives. They have to figure out how security fits into the DevOps ecosystem, because we need them to show that the water is not only just safe, but the water is great.
Kuthiala: This brings up a question, Gene. For any new project that kicks off, it’s a new company. You can really define the architecture from scratch, thus enabling you a lot of practices you need to put in place, whether it’s independent deliverables and faster deliverables, all acting independent of each other.
But for the bigger companies and enterprise software that’s being released — we’ve discussed this in our past talks — you need to look at the architecture underneath it and see how we can modernize this to do this.
So, when you start to address security, how do you go about approaching that, because you know you’re dealing with a large base of code that’s very monolithic? It can take thousands of people to release something out to the customers. Now, you’re trying to incorporate security into this with any new features and functions you add.
I can see how you can start to incorporate security and the expertise into it and scan it right from development cycle. How do you deal with that big component of the architecture that’s already there? Any best practices?
Kim: One of the people who have best articulated the philosophy is Gary Gruver. He said something that, for me, was very memorable. If you don’t have automated testing, and I think his context was very much like unit testing, automated regression testing, you have a fundamentally broken cost model, and it becomes too expensive. You get to a point where it becomes too expensive to add features.
That’s not even counting security testing. You get to a point where not only it is too expensive, but it becomes too risky to change code.
We have to fully empower developers to get feedback on their work and have them fully responsible for not just the features, but the non-functional requirements, testability, deployability, manageability, and security.
A better way
Gardner: Assume that those listening and reading here are completely swayed by our view of things and they do want to have DevOps with security ingrained. Are there not also concurrent developments around big data and analytics that give them a better way to do this, once they’ve decided to do it.
It seems to me that there is an awful lot of data available within systems, whether it’s log files, configuration databases. Starting to harness that affordably, and then applying that back to those automation capabilities is going to be a very powerful synergistic value. How does it work when we apply big data to DevOps and security, Ashish?
Kuthiala: Good question Dana. You’re absolutely right with data sources now becoming easy, bringing together data sources into one repository and at an affordable cost. We’re starting to build analytics on top of that and this has being applied in a number of areas.
The best example I can talk about is how HP has been working on an IP creation of the area of testing using big data analytics. So, if we have to go faster and we have to release software every hour or every two, versus every six to eight months, you need to test it as fast as well. You can no longer afford to go and run your 20,000 tests based on this one-line change of code.
You have to be able to figure out what modules are affected, which ones are not, and which ones are likely to break. We’re starting to do some intelligent testing inside of our labs and we’re finding that we’re about 80 to 85 percent accurate in predicting what to test and not to test and what features are reflected or not.
Similarly, using the big data analytics and the security expertise that Gene talked about, you need to start digging through and analyzing exactly the same as we run any test. What security vulnerabilities do you want to test, which functions of the code? And it’s just a best practice moving forward that you start to incorporate the big data analytics into your security testing.
Kim: You were implying something that I just want to make explicit. One of the most provocative notions that Ashish and I talked about was to think about all the telemetry and all the data that the build mechanisms create. You start putting in all the results of testing, and suddenly we have a much better basis of where we apply our testing effort.
If we actually need to deploy faster, even if we completely automate our tests, and even if we parallelize them and run them across thousands of servers and if that takes days, we may be able use data to tell us where to surgically apply testing so we make a informed decision on whether to deploy or not. That’s an awesome potential.
Gardner: Speaking of awesome potentials, when we compress the feedback loops using this data — when development and operations are collaborating and communicating very well — it seems to me that we’re also moving from a reactive stance to security issues to a proactive stance.
One of the notions about security is that you can’t prevent people from getting in, but you can limit the damage they can do when they do get in. It seems to me that if you close a loop between development operations and test, you can get the right remediation out into operations and production much quicker. Therefore you can almost behave as we had seen with anti-malware software — where the cycle between the inception of a problem, the creation of the patch, and then deployment of the patch was very, very short.
Is that vision pie in the sky or is that something we could get to when DevOps and security come together, Gene?
Key to prevention
Kim: You’re right on. The way an auditor would talk about it is that there are things that we can do to prevent: that’s code review, that’s automated code testing and scanning.
Making libraries available so that developers are choosing things and deploying them in a secured state are all preventive controls. If we can make sure that we have the best situational awareness we can of the production environment, those are what allow quicker detection recovery.
The better we are at that, the better we are at mitigating, effectively mitigating risk.
Kuthiala: Gene, as you were talking, I was thinking. We have this notion of rolling back code when something breaks in production, and that’s a very common kind of procedure. You go back into the lab, fix what didn’t work, and then you roll it back into production. If it works, it’s fine. Otherwise, you roll it back and do it over again.
But with the advent of DevOps and those who are doing this successfully, there are no roll backs. They roll forward. You just go forward, because with the discipline of DevOps, if done well, you can quickly put a patch into production within hours, versus months, days, and weeks.
And similarly like you talked about security, you know once a vulnerability is out there that you want to go fix it, you want to issue the patch. With DevOps and security, there are lot of similarities.
Gardner: Before we close out, is there anything more for the future? We’ve heard a lot about the Internet of Things (IoT), a lot more devices, device types, networks, extended networks, and variable networks. Is there a benefit with DevOps and security as a tag team, as we look to an increased era of complexity around the IoT sensors and plethora of disparate networks? Ashish?
Kuthiala: The more you talk about IoT, the more holes are open for hackers to get in. I’ll give you classic example. I’ve been looking forward to the day where my phone is all I carry. I don’t have to open my car with my keys or I can pay for things with it, and we have been getting toward that vision, but a lot of my friends who are in high-tech are actually skeptical.
What happens if you lose your phone? Somebody has access to it. You know their counter argument against that. You can switch off your phone and wipe the data etc. But I think as IoT grows in number, more holes open up. So, it becomes even more important to incorporate your security planning cycles right into the planning and software development cycles.
Gardner: Particularly if you’re in an industry where you expect to an have an Internet of Things ramp-up, getting automation in place, thinking about DevOps, thinking about security as an integral part of DevOps — it all certainly makes a great deal of sense to me.
Kim: Absolutely, you said it better than I ever could. Yes.
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