In today’s post I am going to talk about the role of security folks in DevOps. A while back we provided a research paper on Putting Security Into Agile Development; the feedback we got was the most helpful part of that report was guiding security people on how best to work with development. How best to position security in a way to help development teams be more Agile was successful, so this portion of our research on DevOps we will strive to provide similar examples of the role of security in DevOps.

There is another important aspect we feel frames today’s discussion; there really is no such thing as SecDevOps. The beauty of DevOps is security becomes part of the operational process of integrating and delivering code. We don’t call security out as a separate thing because it is actually not separate, but (can be) intrinsic to the DevOps framework. We want security professionals to keep this in mind when consider how they fit within this new development framework. You will need to play one or more roles in the DevOps model of software delivery, and need to look at how you improve the delivery of secure code without waste nor introducing bottlenecks. The good news is that security fits within this framework nicely, but you’ll need to tailor what security tests and tools fit within the overall model your firm employs.

The CISO’s responsibilities

  • Learn the DevOps process: If you’re going to work in a DevOps environment, you’re going to need to understand what it is, and how it works. You need to understand what build servers do, how test environments are built up, the concept of fully automated work environments, and what gates each step in the process. Find someone on the team and have them walk you through the process and introdyce the tools. Once you understand the process the security integration points become clear. Once you understand the mechanics of the development team, the best way to introduce different types of security testing also become evident.
  • Learn how to be agile: Your participation in a DevOps team means you need to fit into DevOps, not the other way around. The goal of DevOps is fast, faster, fastest; small iterative changes that offer quick feedback. You need to adjust requirements and recommendations so they can be part of the process, and as hand-off and automated as possible. If you’re going to recommend manual code reviews or fuzz testing, that’s fine, but you need to understand where these tests fit within the process, and what can – or cannot – gate a release.

How CISOs Support DevOps

Training and Awareness

  • Educate: Our experience shows one of the best ways to bring a development team up to speed in security is training; in-house explanations or demonstrations, 3rd party experts to help threat model an application, eLearning, or courses offered by various commercial firms. The downside of this historically has been cost, with many classes costing thousands of dollars. You’ll need to evaluate how best to use your resources, which usually includes some eLearning for all employees to use, and having select people attend a class then teach their peers. On site experts can also be expensive, but you can have an entire group participate in training.
  • Grow your own support: Security teams are typically small, and often lack budget. What’s more is security people are not present in many development meetings; they lack visibility in day to day DevOps activities. To help extend the reach of the security team, see if you can get someone on each development team to act as an advocate for security. This helps not only extend the reach of the security team, but also helps grow awareness in the development process.
  • Help them understand threats: Most developers don’t fully grasp how attacks approach attacking a system, or what it means when a SQL injection attack is possible. The depth and breadth of security threats is outside their experience, and most firms do not teach threat modeling. The OWASP Top Ten is a good guide to the types of code deficiencies that plague development teams, but map these threats back to real world examples, and show the extent of damage that can occur from a SQL Injection attack, or how a Heartbleed type vulnerability can completely expose customer credentials. Real world use cases go a long way to helping developer and IT understand why protection from certain threats is critical to application functions.


  • Have a plan: The entirety of your security program should not be ‘encrypt data’ or ‘install WAF’. It’s all too often that developers and IT has a single idea as to what constitutes security, and it’s centered on a single tool they want to set and forget. Help build out the elements of the security program, including both in-code enhancements as well as supporting tools, and how each effort helps address specific threats.
  • Help evaluate security tools: It’s common for people outside of security to not understand what security tools do, or how they work. Misconceptions are rampant, and not just because security vendors over-promise capabilities, but it’s uncommon for developers to evaluate code scanners, activity monitors or even patch management systems. In your role as advisor, it’s up to you to help DevOps understand what the tools can provide, and what fits within your testing framework. Sure, you may not be able to evaluate the quality of the API, but you can certainly tell when a product does not actually deliver meaningful results.
  • Help with priorities: Not every vulnerability is a risk. And worse, security folks have a long history of sounding like the terrorism threat scale, with vague warnings about ‘severe risk’ or ‘high threat levels’. None of these warnings are valuable without mapping the threat to possible exploitations, or what you can do to address – or reduce – the risks. For example, an application may have a critical vulnerability, but you have options of fixing it in the code, patch supporting systems, disabling the feature if it’s not critical, blocking with IDS or firewalls, or even filtering with WAF or RAST technologies. Rather than the knee-jerk ‘OMG! Fix it NOW’ reaction we’ve historically seen, there are commonly several options to address vulnerabilities, so present the tradeoffs DevOps team allows them select which fits within their systems.


  • Help test: DevOps has placed some operations and release management personnel in the uncomfortable position of having to learn to script, code, and have their work open for public review. It’s places people outside their comfort zone in the short term, but it’s part of building a cohesive team in the mid-term. It’s perfectly acceptable for security folks to also contribute tests to the team; scans that validate certificates, known SQL Injection attacks, open source tools for locating vulnerabilities and so on. If you’re worried about it, help out, and integrate unit and regression tests. Integrate and ingratiate! You may need to learn a bit on the scripting side before you’re tests can be integrated into the build and deployment servers, but you’ll do more than preach security, you’ll contribute!
  • Advocacy: One crucial area where you can help development is in understanding both corporate and external policy requirements. Just as a CVE entry tells you next to nothing about how to actually fix a security issue, internal security and privacy policy enforcement are often complete mysteries to the development team. Developers cannot Google those answers, so set yourself up as an advisor on these issues. You should understand compliance, privacy, software licensing, and security policies at least as well as anyone on the development team, so they will probably appreciate the help.
In this way you can also act as the liaison between compliance and DevOps team, shielding them from some of the politics and bureaucracy.