Teamwork Brainstorm, ... ]

Teamwork Brainstorm, ... ] iStock/Sitthiphong

Breaking Down Silos: DevSecOps Makes Security Everyone’s Business

DevSecOps is a game-changer for security teams. Industry experts share the advantages, explain the barriers to adoption and offer insight on how to successfully deploy the beneficial concept.

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To accelerate software delivery and provide innovative services to citizens, many government agencies are turning to agile and DevOps practices, which can help them upgrade and scale operations quickly and effectively. But with cyberattacks continually increasing and growing in sophistication, organizations can ill afford wait until the last phase of development to involve the security staff. 

Imagine a scenario where security teams no longer work separately or attempt to bolt security on at the end of the development cycle. Instead, developers, IT operations staff and security personnel collaborate from the initial planning stages through code development to deploy secure applications into production. This is what DevSecOps looks to deliver: Security is integrated into every phase of the software development lifecycle — and becomes a team effort.

But to deploy DevSecOps successfully, Microsoft executives say government agencies need strong leadership and a culture change in which the development, security and IT operations teams willingly break down their silos, trust each other and work together as a team.

Benefits of DevSecOps for IT Security Teams

With DevSecOps, security becomes part of the overall team, says Jon Wall, Microsoft’s enterprise security executive.

“They is no longer this other organization that developers interact with when they finish their hard work and get mad at when their work isn’t immediately embraced and given the green light,” he says.

Through DevSecOps, the security team can incorporate security policies, processes and tools throughout the development and deployment lifecycle. By using automated testing tools that test code regularly, for example, developers can discover and fix software vulnerabilities earlier in the development process. This saves time and cuts cost, since it’s more time intensive and expensive to fix flaws discovered in production. Moreover, by finding flaws earlier in the process there is less of a chance that teams will discover an issue at the end of development pipeline that blocks the apps deployment. This also helps to reduce friction between teams and break down silos.

“DevSecOps ensures that the security process is lean and repeatable,” says Reuben Cleetus, Microsoft’s senior cloud solution architect.

DevSecOps Best Practices for Security Teams

To adopt DevSecOps, executives recommend that security staff start small and take a phased approach. Don’t try to do everything in one day; methodically work with developers and operations staff to build in the internal processes to implement DevSecOps, advises Harshal Dharia, an Azure specialist at Microsoft.

While software development teams might look to simply buy tools to implement DevSecOps, people and processes are the most critical elements, Dharia stresses.

“You have to break the barriers. You have to break the silos,” says Giulio Astori, Microsoft’s senior cloud solution architect. “You need to culturally embrace the idea of working together.”

How to Jump DevSecOps Adoption Hurdles

But embracing that collaboration is easier said than done. It can quickly become clear that developers, IT operations teams and security staff all speak different languages. With differing perspectives and terminology at work, communications can be a significant initial barrier, Microsoft executives say.

“Our lenses are different. I may be a security person who’s all about compliance, so I might want to make sure an application meets NIST Special Publication 800-53 (recommended security controls for federal information systems and organizations), but a developer probably has no idea what that specification is and why it’s important,” Wall says.

What can be done to overcome these communication issues? Empathy is key. Security personnel must work with their development and operations counterparts to listen to those in other teams, work to understand each other’s perspectives and develop new ways of collaborating effectively, Wall says.

“The goal is to bring everyone together and have the security folks start to think a bit like the development folks and the development folks start to pick up security thinking, so we are all rowing the boat together,” he says. 

Over time, by consistently having teams work collaboratively on a project, teams will develop that common language or terminology, so they can communicate. But it’s a journey that takes time, Wall says.

“If you pick six security folks, six developers and six operations folks give them a chance to work together and have them work toward a common goal and let them iterate, they will get better and better at it with each iteration,” he says. “They will work toward that common knowledge.”  

While buy-in from teams is paramount, buy-in from leadership is just as important. A strong leader who has the backing of senior agency leadership that translate between the different teams will help speed the process, Wall says. That leader doesn’t have to be an expert in software development, IT operations or security, but must play a role in keeping everyone on task and working through problems.

“If you get the right leader who can translate the languages back and forth, it can get everyone started,” Wall says.

And while it takes some effort, making DevSecOps a reality is beneficial for all teams in the long run.

“At the end of the day, if we are doing secure DevOps together, the organization achieves better things,” Wall says. “There is no blame game going on. Everyone works toward a common goal and realizes they all succeed together.”

Be sure to check out other topics covered in this series:

This content is made possible by our sponsor Microsoft; it is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of GovExec’s editorial staff.

NEXT STORY: Government Innovation, Readiness Will Require More Than Just DevOps

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