Shift left: How securing from code to cloud can improve your time to market

Becca Gomby
Monday, May 6th, 2024

Embracing a shift-left security approach in software development will not only enhance your application security but will also accelerate your software product's time to market. By integrating security practices early in the software development lifecycle (SDLC)—particularly in your cloud-native applications—you can navigate modern cyber threats more effectively as you get to market more swiftly.

The “shift left” concept originated from the need to include testing early in the SDLC. The term has been adopted and applied to security practices, giving us shift-left security. With DevOps evolving into DevSecOps, the goal is clear: integrate security from the earliest stages in the development lifecycle, thereby mitigating risks sooner and producing more secure software. 

A shift-left security approach is proactive, emphasizing security at every stage of the SDLC. It includes security tools like static application security testing (SAST), dynamic application security testing (DAST), and Image Scanning which impact the code you write, your DevOps workflow, how you approach your application builds, and how you secure your cloud infrastructure.

In this blog post, we’ll look at how “shift left” affects these key areas. Then, we’ll look at why adopting “shift left” translates to a faster time to market.

Shift-Left Security and Secure Code

The shift-left journey begins with secure coding practices. Security flaws found later in the SDLC take more time and cost more money to fix. Naturally, detecting and fixing vulnerabilities early in the SDLC drastically reduces costs and security risks. It also means that there is less context switching required – developers are immediately able to see how their segment of code may be negatively impacting the build. As such, software teams should adopt secure coding practices.

Next, your organization should adopt tools to encourage and enforce secure coding practices. Linters and static application security testing (SAST) solutions are available across platforms and programming languages, and they integrate easily within your developers’ workflows.

Finally, educating your software developers in secure coding practices regularly is essential. Bad habits can set in over time—in individual developers and across entire development teams. Occasional reminders through training can go a long way to keeping your developers on track in securing their code.

Shift-Left Security and DevOps

DevOps and security teams have shared goals when it comes to efficient and secure software delivery. They both value automation, feedback, and continuous learning. And they both recognize the need to balance speed and security. To adopt a shift-left security approach, DevOps (or DevSecOps) teams can easily make security practices and tools a part of the CI/CD pipeline. 

Common core values between DevOps and security

The continuous integration process, as it runs a suite of acceptance tests, can also run linters and SAST tools to validate the security of an application prior to the build. Pipeline can run automated code reviews, flagging potential security issues for human peer review. Security policies can be validated and enforced at this stage as well.

Automation is critical to the application of security measures. Cloud-native applications, often distributed and composed of microservices, can become massively complex. The validation or testing of security for such complex applications can never be performed manually—at least not quickly or consistently. Automated testing brings this efficiency and ensures it even as you scale.

Shift-Left Security and the Build Process

As the latest version of an application passes integration testing, the CI/CD pipeline prepares it for deployment by employing tools to build, configure, and package it. This build and configuration stage is often taken for granted by developers. They often overlook the possibility that security vulnerabilities might be introduced through insecure build tools – these include posture security and scanning for vulnerabilities run within the builds. For this reason, secure build processes are vital to implementing shift-left security. With security a part of the build process, you can ensure that potential vulnerabilities at this stage are detected, preventing their ability to slip in just before the production release. Secure build processes also help your organization to meet compliance requirements related to security and data privacy.

What does it mean to apply security at the build stage? First, organizations recognize that several tools are involved in this process for installing, configuring, packaging, containerizing, orchestrating, and more. , including Jenkins, GH Actions, CircleCI, etc. These tools should be updated regularly, with the latest security patches applied, ensuring that they are configured and audited for permissions on a consistent basis. Access to these tools should be coupled with strict access control measures.

In addition, your organization should ensure the adoption of security best practices such as the secure storage and handling of credentials used by your CI/CD pipeline tools, the use of standardized application and API versioning, and regular security audits of your build process and tools.

Shift-Left Security and Your Cloud Infrastructure

Deploying your software applications to the cloud brings incredible flexibility and scalability. However, these capabilities come with the following security concerns that you must take into consideration:

  • Data security and privacy: Ensuring the security and privacy of sensitive data becomes much more complex when storing your data in the cloud.
  • Access management: Remote access to your cloud services increases the challenge of managing and properly securing access.
  • Ephemeral components and elasticity: With cloud resources constantly provisioned or de-provisioned to meet scaling demands, containing or troubleshooting a security threat can be challenging.
  • Visibility: Your cloud environment is continually changing, and so is the cyber threat environment. Gaining comprehensive visibility into your cloud environment and security posture is difficult.

Shifting left when it comes to securing your cloud infrastructure involves establishing security policies as early as the design stage of your SDLC. Use key questions (such as “Who should have access to what resources, and how will this access be managed?”) to inform your security policy design. Along with designing cloud infrastructure security policy, employ automated tools and continuous monitoring for policy enforcement, conduct regular audits, and implement periodic policy reviews.

Accelerate Your Time to Market by Shifting Left with Panoptica

Cloud-native enterprises that adopt a shift-left approach to security see faster time to market for their software products. Here are some reasons why:

  • The proactive approach of shift-left security enables quicker identification and resolution of security issues. Shift-left security leads to fewer late-stage disruptions to your software teams and accelerates your development process.
  • By catching more vulnerabilities early—during the coding, integration, and build stages—you significantly reduce the chance that vulnerabilities in your application will make it to production. This minimizes post-deployment security issues, leading to a smoother transition to market and a more stable product.
  • Finally, the collaboration that a shift-left approach fosters between developers, security teams, and stakeholders enhances your overall organizational efficiency. This prompts faster development, more effective use of resources, and better risk management.
Key drivers of “shift left” for improved time-to-market

Panoptica, Cisco’s cloud application security solution, is helping to make the adoption of shift-left security smooth and seamless. Software enterprises are looking to Panoptica as a unified platform that consolidates all the security tools they need for their cloud applications. Panoptica integrates security solutions from the early stages of the SDLC to deployment and runtime:

  • CI/CD posture security for dependency scanning, vulnerability scanning, container image scanning
  • Cloud security posture management (CSPM) to validate cloud environment configurations against security and compliance policies
  • Data Security Posture Management (DSPM) to inventory and assess your cloud data stores and to prioritize mitigation of potential data breaches.
  • Cloud workload protection (CWP) for continuous monitoring of runtime workloads
  • API security to secure, monitor, and perform risk assessment of internal and external APIs and API tokens.
  • Cloud Detection and Response (CDR) to detect and respond to attacks in real time through behavioral analysis, ML on data collected from cloud providers and runtime sensors.
  • Attack path analysis that leverages advanced, graph-based contextual analysis to scan your cloud environment for comprehensive risk detection and prioritization
CSPM from Panoptica detects and categorizes security risks across your cloud environment (Source)

Panoptica provides a single pane of glass for modern software enterprises to gain comprehensive visibility of their application and cloud security. As companies adopt Panoptica, they detect security vulnerabilities earlier, improve their development velocity, and reduce the time to market for their software products.

If you’re ready to take on shift-left security in your organization, Panoptica will help you get there. To see if Panoptica is right for your organization, try it for free or get in touch with our security experts.

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