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Secure Agile Development: New Series

By Adrian Lane

Back in 2009 Rich and I wrote a series on Building a Web Application Security program. That monstrous research paper discussed the new security challenges of building web applications, outlining how to incorporate security testing for specific types of web development programs. That research remains relevant today but issues of how to incorporate security into software development organizations – and most acutely into Agile development – remains a constant problem for clients. Knowing what tool to use and where does not address the fundamental issues of culture, goals, and process that make secure code development such a challenge. We have discussed many of the pitfalls of integrating security into Agile processes in the past, but never gone so far as to help security practitioners and CISOs learn to work with development teams. And that is about to change.

Today we start a new research series on Secure Agile Development. Embedding security into development processes is hard. Not because developers don’t care about security – the majority of developers we speak with are both interested in security and would like to address security issues. But developers are focused on delivery of code, and spend a good deal of time trying to get better at that core goal. Development processes have undergone several radical evolutionary steps over the last 15 years, with tremendous efforts to deliver code faster and more efficiently. Agile frameworks are the new foundation for code development, with an internal focus on ruthlessly rooting out tools and techniques that don’t fit in Agile development. That means secure development practices, just like every other facet of development, must fit within the Agile framework – not the other way around.

Our goal for this research is to help security professionals understand Agile development and the issues developers face, so they can work together better. We will discuss rapid development process evolution, feature prioritization, and how cultural differences create friction between security and development. Speed and agility are essential to both sides; tools and processes that allow security issues to be detected earlier, with faster recovery, are beneficial to both. We will offer advice and approaches on bypassing some of the sticking points, and increasing the effectiveness of security testing.

The structure of this series will be as follows:

Agile and Agile Trends: We will start by highlighting several key trends in development today, including the evolution of fast-flux development processes. We will offer a very basic definition of Agile development. We will use it to show both why security and development teams don’t easily mesh, and how Agile development gets a bad reputation for security. We will also shed some light on how the cloud and mobile devices add new wrinkles to application security, offering suggestions for how to “skate to where the puck is going”.

Working with Development: Next we will discuss how security can work well with development, and how best to insert security into the development process to work more closely with development teams. We will list many of the core friction areas and how to avoid common pitfalls. We will discuss how to share information and expertise – with a particular focus on how external stakeholders can best support development teams within their process, including discussion of information sharing, metrics, and security training.

Integrating Security into Agile: After considering how best to work with development, we will take a more process-oriented look at integrating security into Agile development. Agile may lack the neatly delineated architecture, design, QA, and implementation phases of waterfall development; but each of these remains a core development task, and an opportunity to promote secure software development. We will discuss functional security requirements, security in the context of different development phases, use of security stories, threat modeling, and prioritization of security among the sea of development tasks.

Tools and Testing in Detail: We have covered the people and process aspects of Agile, so here we will consider some that automate security efforts. Every development team relies heavily on tools to make their job easier. Security testing tools are even more critical because they both make identification of defects easier; and also automate discovery, reporting, and tracking. Few developers are security experts, so we discuss which tools and testing methodologies fit within the various phases of the development process. We will cover unit tests, security regression tests, static and dynamic analysis, pen testing, and vulnerability analysis. We will discuss how these efforts are integrated with Agile management and bug tracking tools to help define what a legitimate security toolchain looks like to cover relevant threats.

The New Agile – DevOps in Action: We will close out this series with a glimpse of where development trends are headed. We will offer our perspective on what DevOps is, why it helps, and how automation and software defined security weave security practices tightly into software delivery. We will discuss usage of APIs, as well as policies and scripts to automate continuous integration and continuous testing efforts.

Next up: trends in Agile development.

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