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Is DevOps the Holy Grail for information security?

Doug Drinkwater | March 7, 2016
DevOps is the computing philosophy that, through unified agile software development and business operations, you can improve your products and time to market. But does it actually improve information security?

Video streaming site Netflix, meanwhile, created the Simian Army, a suite of automated tools used to stress-test Netflix's infrastructure. This allows the company to proactively identify and resolve security flaws before they become serious issues for customers.

Other firms, both big and small, have used DevOps methods to shorten software development from days to hours and it looks like there will be many more adopters later this year; Gartner predicts that a quarter of 2,000 global companies will have adopted DevOps by the end of 2016 as the concept evolves from a “niche to a mainstream strategy.”

A security win?

Despite these early examples, there has been some question as to if DevOps can improve information security, especially with infosec teams demanding complete visibility over the entire computing environment, and constricted by stringent regulation.

Most experts believe that security can benefit from DevOps, with the ‘security by design’ ethos integrated from the start and with security also always balanced with the business objectives.

In addition, by automating security and regulatory compliance tests throughout development, deployment and production cycle, it has been claimed that security can reach a level never seen before.

“DevOps is actually a boon for security folks, who can, with the right automation and operational tools, inject security earlier into the development process, and increase the security of the code that ultimately reaches production,” wrote James D. Brown, chief experience officer at JumpCloud, in an article for Wired.

Simon Chapman, director of UK-based penetration tester Ambersail, told CSO Online that it tests applications this way, saying that a DevOps approach helps his firm to detect and fix security vulnerabilities.

He says that flaws can be fixed faster than before.“Where vulnerabilities are found [fixes] are quick to be implemented. So I guess it's a net security win overall.”

No more Heartbleeds?

Andy Chakraborty, a London-based DevOps and security consultant, and the former global security manager for The Office of Tony Blair, added in an interview: “With modern DevOps there’s a much closer relationship between the people developing the applications and the people who operate the infrastructure systems the application relies on.

“This allows a much better understanding of what the application does and where its weaknesses lie, making it easier to secure. And with the proliferation of security bugs like Heartbleed and Shellshock, a good understanding of development ultimately allows operations personnel to make more informed decisions.”

“As security people, I hear many pushing back on the DevOps movement,” blogged information security consultant Jay Schulman late last year.

“I suggest the opposite. DevOps is about bringing development and infrastructure together to make the process work better. By bringing development, infrastructure and security together, DevOps can make a huge security impact on the environment. Participate in or create cookbooks for security.  Create Audit scripts to check for known security items you don’t want going into production.


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