Implement Security Guardrails Into AppSec Program

Organizations should not expect developers to be security experts; that’s not what they have been trained to be, and it’s not their job. Instead, organizations should use application security teams to enable developers by giving them access to secure frameworks, libraries, and defaults, making the most secure option the easiest choice. Security guardrails are designed to help organizations do exactly that. 

Visualizing how security guardrails will benefit your developer and security teams will help you get started. This article provides some essential steps you can implement to bring security guardrails into your AppSec program

When provided with security guardrails that orchestrate security tools by integrating them seamlessly into application development workflows, developers are empowered to create secure code. They stay productive with policies and controls that keep the noise low and only report high-impact and relevant security issues.

Adopting security guardrails ensures that development teams can operate at speed without requiring active involvement from the security team. Likewise, AppSec teams can scale by automating security controls in developer workflows, assuring enforcement instead of manually performing reviews, and tracking bug remediation. 

Developer teams are less likely to ignore and bypass security when the controls are baked into the development process. They don’t have to take the extra step of reaching out to the security team. Security guardrails ensure that the quickest path to deployment is also the most secure.

How to Bring Security Guardrails Into Your AppSec Program

Companies like Netflix and Airbnb acknowledge the necessity of enabling developer teams to build secure software while providing them the flexibility to make appropriate security decisions. These businesses and many others have implemented security guardrails into CI/CD. Below are some steps to help you begin to provide consistent, actionable, self-service security governance and control to developers in your organization.

1. Define the Guardrails: Organizations can implement many different types of security guardrails into developer workflows. Starting with good security policies is paramount for any security team within a technology organization. Security controls that the AppSec team has already socialized with developers are a good starting place. These can be things like defining ownership of software artifacts, following specific dependency licensing policy, using internal artifact registries, using or not using particular libraries, code review controls, etc.

2. Set the Scope: Not all code repositories are created equal, and depending on the business risk and criticality of the project, different security guardrails may apply to different code repositories. Once you know what security guardrails to implement to build ‘right sized’ security, you can then figure out where to apply these security guardrails.

3. Define Triggers: Depending on the underlying asset for which you are applying the guardrail (i.e., code repositories, dependencies, pull requests, containers, EC2 instances, etc.), where and how you can use it can differ. For example, you can use some guardrails when creating a code repository, merging a pull request, deploying a container, or as a schedule every night. Guardrails can be triggered at any of these events so the developers can take the proper action at the appropriate time.

4. Take Appropriate Action: By design, guardrails can be preventive or reactive, and the possible actions on violations will depend on whether you intended them to be preventative or reactive. You can use reactive guardrails to run on a predefined schedule, identify various guardrails violations, and notify the appropriate owners. For example, every week, identify critical code repositories that are not configured with dependency scanning and SAST tools and notify owners about the violation. 

Preventive guardrails identify violations in real-time and notify developers about them. For example, automatically comment on a pull request or fail a build if dependency scanning is not enabled on that repository, or prevent container deployment in Kubernetes if the container is not coming from an approved container registry.

5. Report: Periodically report on adherence to guardrails across the organization. Reporting on adherence to guardrails eliminates a lot of the non-productive debates about whether this security issue is essential and makes security risk binary. The decisions become as simple as whether the underlying software asset meets the expected controls or not, without requiring further security theatrics or FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt).

Why Security Guardrails Are the Future of Application Security 

Engineering and security teams have grappled with the complications of implementing security during DevOps. Organizations are too often left with a lack of security visibility, insufficient security checks in developer workflows, and an inability to scale AppSec at the speed of DevOps. Security guardrails simplify associating context-specific security policies and controls that can be defined and applied within developer workflows. This strategy is the future of AppSec because organizations must empower developers to produce secure code without the drag of security gatekeeping. 

Security guardrails are the only way to ensure that developer teams adopt security policies and controls within the modern SDLC. This adoption eliminates the friction between developers and security and ensures developers can produce applications quickly and securely.  

By applying automated security guardrails, your organization can reduce security risk and make the path to deployment as secure as possible. Guardrails enable developers to meet time-related key performance indicators by allowing engineers to be fully autonomous with minimal bottlenecks from security teams—while security teams are freed up to apply their knowledge and skills to the most pressing matters. 

Security guardrails represent the ultimate security shift left by enabling developers to go from code-to-cloud, securely. With pre-built, contextual, and real-time security policies and controls in CI/CD, organizations can influence developer behavior and build security across the SDLC.

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