The IT industry is constantly evolving, with more and more organizations ditching the old Sequential Design Process (Waterfall). Agile Software Development (ASD), an iterative methodology based on collaboration between various cross-functional and self-organizing teams, is becoming the go-to tactic for many organizations across the globe. But Agile software development also requires proper security implementation for optimal results. What is the best application security strategy for this popular methodology? Lets find out.
What is Agile software development?
For decades, application development revolved around sequential development, where the process trickled down via the various stages until the application was ready for release. The stages were conception, planning, design, building, testing, implementation and maintenance. This old routine often lead to release delays, with stability issues and lackluster security levels.
Enter Agile software development..
With Agile, the developers are split into small teams. Each team works on a specific aspect of the application. There are daily Scrum meetings, where the developers are given short-term tasks by the Scrum Master and also allowed to float their problems/issues. Each short-term goal has to be reached within a pre-determined amount of time (Sprint). Sprints typically are a month long.
The main advantages of Agile software development include:
- Continuous delivery of software based on customer feedback.
- Enhanced ability to change/add features late in the development process.
- Quick adaptation to changing circumstances.
- Heavy involvement and engagement of all developers.
- Software development times are shortened due to increased efficiency.
The advantage of adopting the Agile software development methodology is that it can be tweaked and implemented as per the organizations requirements. Scrum Masters can regulate the developer teams and the Sprint durations can be tweaked based on the circumstances (deadlines). But none of this is of much benefit when security is non-existent during the development process.
Agile Software Development without Compromising Security
Security challenges in Agile software development
The traditional application security methodologies such as Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) and Penetration (Pen) Testing are not ideally suited for Agile software development environments due to their inherited deficiencies. DAST tools need a build to be reached in order to start working, while Pen Testing can be performed only when the application is up and running.
As mentioned earlier, Agile software development environments are based on rapid feedback and incremental changes/additions to the application. For an application security solution to be effective in such scenarios, it has to provide close to real-time feedback for quick vulnerability detection and remediation. This is a challenging task due to the continuous integration nature of ASD.
For example, a large organization using the Agile software development methodology can have more than a dozen of scrum teams with hundreds of developers, with multiple products (applications) consisting of many KLoCs. This requires a quick testing solution that produces a minimal amount on False Positives (FP) and doesn’t affect the Sprint completion schedule.
Another factor that the security solution should be able to cover is the breaking of the build when medium or high severity vulnerabilities are detected. This ensures that mitigation times are kept at a minimum to meet the tight deadlines that are common in ASD scenarios. In other words, security should ideally be automated to ensure smooth Agile software development.
Related: 10 Steps to Secure Agile Development
Top 5 Benefits of Automated Security in ASD Scenarios
Manual testing or DAST during Agile development is simply not enough to provide meaningful security standards and securing the application code. This is where Static Application Security Testing (SAST) comes into the picture. This Application Security (AppSec) methodology helps integrate the process into the developer environment and get everyone involved.
Static Code Analysis (SCA), a leading SAST methodology, is one such way to get the job done in Agile software development environments. Not only are results presented accurately for quick fixing, the developers’ involvement in the reviewing of the results leads to improved coding practices and boosted AppSec awareness. Other benefits of implementing SCA include:
1 – The security solution is integrated into the build automation tool (i.e – Maven).
The application code can be scanned with each commit, making the results available almost instantaneously. It’s also possible to scan nightly builds with full system testing. Some SCA solutions also offer Incremental Scan functionality, where unchanged code is not scanned. This significantly shortens scan times and makes the security process less intrusive.
2 – Ability to halt the build when critical errors (medium/high) are detected.
The biggest drawback with Manual Testing and other tradition security solutions mentioned in this article is the inability to find vulnerabilities on the go. They detect flaws at the latter stages of the Sprints, creating numerous technical issues and maintenance complications. These problems are simply eliminated due to the practicality and flexibility of SAST/SCA.
3 – Incorporate security findings into the daily Scrum meetings.
If the security solution can help educate developers, it brings extra value. Static Code Analysis (SCA) findings can typically be exported for offline scrutiny and analysis. This accumulated data can serve as a knowledgebase for all developers in the organization. Also, the relevant findings can be floated at the daily scrums for more effective remediation.
4 – Improved ROI.
The early fixing of vulnerabilities also brings significant financial savings and benefits to the organization. Pen Testing is typically outsourced and it’s also a costly process. Implementing SAST/SCA enables organizations to require lesser cycles of Pen Testing prior to release. This also means that lesser post-release maintenance (patching) efforts and resources are needed.
5 – Reduced friction between the security staff and the developers.
With the SCA/SAST solution built into the Agile software development (ASD) process, all sides are actively involved in the security process. Once the developers get access to scan results on-the-go, they can react quickly and avoid complex problems prior to the product release. This also has a positive effect on the relationship of the security staff with the developers, since the friction levels drop automatically.
In other words, the result of implementing automated security into the Agile software development scenario is enhanced code integrity and improved AppSec awareness amongst developers.
Agile Software Development Security is Achievable
While Source Code Analysis (SCA) helps automate security and achieve a high level of security in organizations using the Agile methodology, it still can’t help achieve complete immunity. SQL injections, Cross Site Scripting and other application layer flaws are being exposed constantly by hackers, making it important to implement a multi-layered approach.
Pen Testing is one of the oldest security tools that are still going strong despite its late introduction into the Software Life Cycle (SLC). Security experts still recommend coupling Static Code Analysis (SCA) during the Sprint along with Pen Testing for the final product prior to release. It’s also becoming common practice to allow customers to run tests on their side.
Even organizations with large security teams can benefit from the implementation of this multi-layered combo, since the technology leaders also become security champions and educate their developers (experienced as they may be) about secure coding practices. With automated security integrated into Agile software development process, security can be implemented effectively with ease.
Agile software development with automated security can keep the hackers away. Stay safe.