With companies facing more pressure to perform and rise past their competitors, they need to find new ways of finding efficiencies, reducing costs, and improving productivity. For many digital-first companies, this means delivering top-tier software that is as secure as it is innovative and effective. This need for agility, innovation and security has paved the way for a new paradigm in secure software development, often termed as 'shifting left.'
This article will review what Shifting Security Left means, the benefits, and why you should implement it in your DevOps process.
Breaking Down the Shift-Left Approach to Security
At its core, 'Shift-Left' is an innovative approach to software and application security that integrates testing and preventative detection as early as possible into the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC). By focusing on finding and rectifying vulnerabilities at an earlier stage, businesses can significantly enhance their security posture and save on expensive remediation costs, and ultimately improve customer satisfaction through better products.
The shift left approach wasn't a common practice until the late '90s. Prior to then, security testing was typically deferred to the final stages of the SDLC. This methodology often resulted in expensive and time-consuming fixes and lower product quality due to the relegation of security as an afterthought. This, ultimately, impacted customer satisfaction and the success of the product. However, things changed in 2001 when Larry Smith introduced the idea of shift left testing, marking a new approach in software development and security that all companies could adopt.
Here’s how shift-left security benefits can drastically enhance your development processes and product quality:
Early Detection of Bugs: One of the primary advantages of the shift-left approach is the early detection of bugs and vulnerabilities in the SDLC. This proactive approach allows developers to identify and rectify flaws at the earliest stages of development, saving significant time and resources that would be spent on remediation later on.
Superior Quality of End Products: With bugs and vulnerabilities addressed early on, the end products are of significantly higher quality. This reduces the need for patches and code fixes while bolstering the product's stability and performance.
Adherence to Project Timelines: The shift-left approach streamlines the development process and promotes strict adherence to project timelines. By getting ahead of time-consuming bug fixing, projects are more likely to be completed within the projected schedule.
Enhanced Team Collaboration: Shifting left promotes a culture of shared responsibility and collaboration between development, operations, and security teams from the get-go. This collective approach boosts efficiency and productivity, leading to better outcomes.
Improved Customer Satisfaction & Retention: With fewer bugs, patches, and a faster project delivery alongside better product will lead to increased customer satisfaction. This can then lead to improved customer retention, as reputation and reliability becomes an important factor.
Cost-Efficiency and improved productivity: By detecting and fixing bugs early, the shift-left approach helps avoid the high costs associated with late-stage bug detection and remediation and results in project timeline adherence. Over time, this can lead to substantial cost savings for the organization and allows organizations to invest in more product development.
It’s clear that the DevOps shift left benefits can make a big impact on a company’s software development approach and it’s important to remember that shifting left isn’t just about shifting tasks to an earlier stage in the SDLC, it's about embedding quality and security at every step, making it an integral part of the software development culture.
Four Types of Shift Left Testing
There are four types of testing methodologies that are considered part of the shift left approach, each contributing to the overall goal of a secure, reliable, and quality product. This includes: Traditional, Incremental, Agile/DevOps, and Model-Based.
Traditional shift left testing puts the spotlight on the lower rungs of the V-model of software development, prioritizing unit and integration testing. The intention behind shifting left in this manner is to enhance software quality and significantly trim down costs. Traditional testing is primarily executed by dedicated testers rather than developers themselves but it can foster improved communication and stronger relationships between the two parties because of the early integration into the SDLC.
The incremental form of shift left strategy provides an adaptable way to shift testing activities in a phased manner early in the SDLC. This methodology enables organizations to adopt shift left performance testing at their own pace. Generally, the incremental method begins with code testing and gradually migrates back into earlier stages, such as the requirements and design phases of the SDLC, resulting in a holistic and thorough testing approach.
When it comes to Agile or DevOps security, shift-left testing involves continuous testing throughout the entirety of the development process. With this shift left DevOps approach, testers collaborate closely with developers alongside other team members, identifying and remedying errors, defects, and vulnerabilities as early as possible. Tests typically occur in numerous short sprints rather than a fewer long ones, aligning with principles like test-driven development (TDD). This method often implements automated testing tools and practices like continuous integration and continuous development (CI/CD) testing.
The fourth and last approach, Model-Based, uses models to simulate software operations, offering testers a clear path to detect any potential issues early in development. This strategy leveraged automated tools and data-based insights to rectify software design before development commences. By testing different scenarios, they can validate the design, saving both time and resources. The model-based approach is arguably the most left-shifted approach because it occurs before development even begins.
5 Pro-Level Best Practices for Shifting Security Left
Transitioning to a model of shifting security left can seem daunting, but by adhering to best practices, development teams can streamline the process and maximize the benefits of a shift-left approach. Here are our five key recommendations for a sound strategy.
Define a Robust and Leakproof Shift Left Security Strategy
Before starting any testing, it’s important to define what success looks like in your development security strategy. This requires building a plan that serves as a cornerstone for your shift left approach, incorporating teams across multiple departments, having a shared vision and providing clear direction. Without this critical step, teams and actions may end up inefficient and lack a clear direction, which can impact the benefits of the shift left initiative.
Give Developers the Security Testing Tools They Need
An effective strategy needs to meet your developers’ requirements. Efficient and user-friendly testing tools not only facilitate the shift left testing process but also reduces the effort and resources often needed in manual testing processes. Prioritizing tool acquisition and implementation ensures your team is well-equipped to face the shift left challenges head-on. Make sure you’re speaking to your developers to get an understanding of what tools they’ve identified as helpful for the team so you don’t end up choosing a tool that may not serve your team best.
Optimize Your Test Environments/Scenarios
The effectiveness of your security measures hinges largely on the quality of your test environments and scenarios. To fully reap the benefits of a shift-left security approach, it's crucial to invest in optimized testing environments. This ensures that your approach is able to detect potential future flaws with minimal risk for errors or missed issues.
Continuously Monitor Pipeline Security & Performance
An effective shift-left approach requires continuous monitoring of pipeline security and performance throughout each phase of the SDLC. By having a vigilant method of observing and assessing pipeline security, your DevOps strategy is likely to maintain its proactive place and continue to discover and remediate potential issues well after you implement this strategy.
Use Automated Testing as Early and as Often as Possible
Automated testing plays a crucial role in a DevOps shift left strategy. These tools can save significant time, money, and reduce the burden on your development and testing teams by allowing them to focus on value-added activities such as app performance optimization and customer relations and less time on manual testing methods. By incorporating automated testing early and frequently in the SDLC, businesses can bolster the efficacy of their shifting security left best practices.
Optimize Your Application Security & Reduce Costs with a Shift Left Strategy
Adopting a shift left strategy in DevOps enables your organization to fortify application security, increase operational efficiency, and significantly reduce remediation costs. With various approaches to choose from, you can identify a strategy that holds to DevOps shift left testing principles and aligns with your specific needs and your department makeup.
Regardless of the approach you take, the DevOps shift left benefits allow you to further integrate security into the SDLC. One of the more impactful ways to ensure success with a shift-left approach is to leverage automated tools that aid in vulnerability assessments and management across the entire SDLC. Tools like Legit Security can help facilitate a faster implementation of a shift-left approach while optimizing effectiveness. Ready to learn more? Schedule a product demo or check out the Legit Security Platform.