Shift-Left Security

With cyberattacks getting more frequent, intricate, and often more severe, both developers and security experts need to be alert and continuously monitor their systems to identify weak entry points and potential threats and come up with mitigation strategies as fast as possible to make sure that the system remains intact and undamaged.

Shift-left security is an approach that embraces this continuous testing and monitoring from a given system’s earliest stages. Such an approach gives experts timely opportunities to catch every potential issue early on, enabling them to build more secure systems.

Defining Shift-Left Security

To be more precise, we can define Shift-Left Security as the process of performing security checks from the earliest possible stages of the SDLC (software development lifecycle) within the DevSecOps shift. Such an approach enables teams to identify possible vulnerabilities and weak points early in the development process, making them cheaper and easier to fix.

Nowadays, most companies strive to take better advantage of digital technologies and software to help differentiate themselves in an oversaturated market. This, in turn, made the development’s pace a crucial part of the process. Delays in mitigating software security issues or discovering vulnerabilities when it’s too late can put organizations up to massive losses and unnecessary risks.

With the Shift-Left approach, security checks are apparent from the start, enabling developers to deploy safer systems immediately. Still, to be successful at shifting security left, you can’t just give the developers a long list of potential vulnerabilities and issues; provide the necessary tools to fix them and wait for mitigation. In order to make the approach work as intended, Developers also need intuitive and useful tooling and the continuous support of security teams.

Shift-Left Security: Importance

As hinted above, this approach enables system security to keep up with agile development methodologies while managing potential vulnerabilities and system risks that often plague cloud technologies. Agile methodology and specific DevOps strategies have managed to change the way we think about software development. These processes speed up everything, from code writing through creating customer value to adapting to the market.

The entire development cycle has become faster than ever, with implementation and technology decisions happening autonomously and without intermediaries. The only problem is that while the lion’s share of such an organization has evolved quickly, security teams lagged behind with greater demands than ever. This has often led to bottlenecks in speedy development cycles, primarily due to the fact that security teams used legacy security tools and protocols that worked in the pre-cloud era.

This put the entire development cycle on a critical path, often questioning the overall team’s capability to deliver high-quality applications. As a result, Shift-Left Security literally shifted the security responsibilities to developers, who became in charge of identifying weak points and implementing the necessary security protocols to create safer systems.

Shift-Left Testing

The process of shift-left testing uses software testing practices (along with security) as early as applicable in the development cycle. This means that both operations and development teams share the responsibility of building high-quality and safe solutions with the help of shift left tools. This enables developers to deliver software faster without security issue bottlenecks and common bugs.

Automated Threat Modeling and Shifting Left

As shifting left is an approach that aims to improve the quality of the development cycle and the final product, introducing automated threat modeling to the cycle is essential to help the process and the entire organizational structure. For starters, threat modeling can help review the overall system design and uncover potential entry points and threats while also identifying new tasks that will make sure that the given system will be secure no matter what happens.

Furthermore, by automating the threat modeling processes, development teams can save precious time as they don’t have to meddle with the myriad of repetitive tasks that need to be carried out for each project. Leveraging run-time intelligence and automated modeling and testing can create a more streamlined environment where the chance of committing man-made errors is minimized, and the automated processes will detect any oddities or system weak points that manual checks might fail to detect.

Furthermore, the result logs with all the relevant data from the testing and checks can be of immeasurable value for development in future projects, enabling them to save both time and money going forward.

5 Benefits and Best Practices

By now, you can probably see that shift-left security and testing bring several advantages to the table. As such, here are some of the most common benefits associated with this method:

Faster Delivery

When frequent testing is introduced and integrated into the development cycle, the entire delivery process becomes faster. Bugs and vulnerabilities are identified and fixed before the application even gets deployed, allowing development teams to focus on other aspects, like shipping features.

The Application’s Entire Security Posture Becomes Healthier

In such an environment with shared responsibilities, the security features are highly integrated from the start, enabling teams to create solutions that are harder to compromise.

A More Cost-Efficient Development Cycle

Because the vulnerabilities and bugs are all identified and mitigated even before deployment takes place, there’s a massive reduction when it comes to post-deployment fixes and risk management.

Better Security Integration

As mentioned above, the streamlined approach of shifting left produces better and more reliable solutions that reduce the need to retrofit specific security controls and features after the development cycle.

Improves Overall Business Success

Faster delivery and better overall security right from the start enable businesses to make better use of their applications. Furthermore, the shift-left protocols would allow developers to use the latest technology with more confidence which can improve revenue growth on the digital surface and may also potentially expand business opportunities and offerings. On the other hand, getting the best out of shift-left security also means implementing several practices.

These are:

  • Defining the necessary security policies: By this, the guidelines can consistently and automatically set the essential boundaries even before the work itself commences. The policies can deliver the most crucial information that can serve as the basis for an efficient development cycle where security is an integral part.
  • Assessing how and where you should create the software: Taking a closer look at the entire software development lifecycle can help you gain a better understanding of the whole structure. This may allow you to perform a few steps to perform the first tests even earlier. Also, this might also help in choosing even more relevant tools that better suit the codebase.
  • Use security automation to your advantage: The shift-left approach embraces teams to make good use of automation tools. These software-based processes detect, investigate, and even fix common internal threats. In short, automating these processes can speed up the development cycle and allows for faster deployment.
  • Implement security fixes as soon as possible: Security should be introduced to the entire development cycle as early as possible, with providing feedback whenever needed. While performing the earliest coding tasks, the developers can get the necessary feedback and implement any fixes if required.
  • A transparent development environment: Shifting left about ensuring that the code remains secure during and after the development process. To make this happen, teams should strive to ensure constant visibility into security protocols so they can remediate specific vulnerabilities, if needed during the development cycle and after, in the form of software updates.

Implementing The Approach

Shifting left is, without a doubt, a cornerstone strategy if developers want to release digital solutions that feature a solid security structure without unwanted bugs and possible vulnerabilities that could potentially jeopardize the integrity of the application later on. Still, in order to make it works, the shift-left approach must be carried out responsibly. It should happen in a transparent development culture where there’s sufficient and effective communication between the dev and security teams.

As a matter of fact, this transparency and communication are the two leading indicators of how efficiently an organization can implement this approach.