Build Strong Relationships Between Development and Application Security Teams to Find and Fix Vulnerabilities Faster

February 2nd, 2021

It’s simple in theory. Finding, fixing, and even preventing, vulnerabilities is a shared responsibility between security and development teams. That being said, silos still exist between DevOps and application security teams. DevSecOps – symbolically putting security at the center – is a great theory but is only effective if these groups work together to develop the people, process, and technology needed to be effective.

In fact, a recent Ponemon Institute Research report shows that 71 percent of AppSec professionals believe security is undermined by developers who don’t include proper security functionality early in the software development life cycle (SDLC). That statistic, to me, shows that there is a substantial divide between development and security teams, a divide that can (and should) be overcome. It’s not surprising, though, that these divides exist considering how teams are spread thinner everyday while aiming to increase release velocity. If we are going to solve these problems, we need to focus on creating human connections across teams, and a DevSecOps mentality will become not just policy, but also culture.

Come together by understanding motivations

In my experience, developers and security personnel don’t think that differently. They just have different incentives. Developers work to move through the SDLC quickly to get applications launched. Security teams, on the other hand, are incentivized to make the SDLC process as secure as possible, which is oftentimes viewed as slowing down progress by adding non-functional security requirements. If this is the viewpoint, it is no wonder that the groups may be at odds. Human relationships – even in the work environment – need to find common ground.

One of the best books I’ve read is Hit Refresh, the New York Times bestseller about the transformation happening inside Microsoft, from its CEO Satya Nadella. As Satya describes, “It’s about how people, organizations, and societies can, and must, transform and “hit refresh” in their persistent quest for new energy, new ideas, and continued relevance and renewal.” He is able to achieve this “refresh” he describes by being “out in the world, meeting people where they live and seeing how the technology we create affects their daily activities.” I believe in this philosophy and it has direct parallels to how we work in security.

Empathy for our colleagues and the relationships we develop with them is critical to achieving success within organizations because we can understand how the policies and procedures we develop impact their work and why the outcomes we expect often don’t materialize. Some may view empathy as letting people off the hook for not performing a specific task. But it’s important to connect empathy with accountability. By understanding the needs and incentives of our peers, we develop policies and procedures that are fair and transparent. Holding each other accountable is not only fair, but expected – as a result, security and development teams will uncover creative ways to collaborate to ultimately achieve overlapping goals, faster and with less friction.

Simple steps to start building a strong and productive relationship between development and security teams are:

  • Spend time connecting with people – A Journal of Experimental Social Psychology study reported in the Harvard Business Review that face-to-face meetings are 34 times more successful than email. This also provides a forum to develop a mutual understanding of each team’s incentives and mission. Or, if working remote, set up a video conference between security and development teams.
  • Creating processes together – Oftentimes development and security teams build processes separately, in a silo. Coming together at the start will help to develop realistic and cohesive goals, processes, and metrics. Further, each team can help to make the case for support, even financial or budgeting support, if necessary for the other team. There have been times in my career when I was able to secure additional budget or resources on-behalf of infrastructure or development teams to ensure they were able to support a specific security initiative.
    • “What do you need to effectively support this? I’ll do my best to include it in the project budget.”
  • In a ticket-driven world, cleanup is essential – Stacks and stacks of IT tickets notifying of vulnerabilities will never motivate an already stressed development team, especially if they are not deduplicated and remove false positives. Taking the time to clean up this process will show developers that the security team does not want to waste time, respects their SDLC counterparts, and wants to quickly get to the root Integrate your vulnerability management program with your ticketing systems to streamline remediation. Learn more about NetSPI’s PTaaS+ and PTaaS Pro plans.of any vulnerability issues, particularly high-severity issues. Tickets are important for tracking and accountability, but let’s make sure we’re giving the right information, to the right person at the right time.
  • Leveraging automation, in combination with manual pentesting – An effective, reimagined AppSec program includes being able to manage manual penetration testing and secure code review augmented by automated vulnerability discovery tools that are deployed at various phases of the SDLC process. Shifting to this mindset will take collaboration and commitment amongst the DevSecOps teams.
    • “What tools make the most sense and how can we maximize the value of existing investments?”
    • “What is the roadmap for the development team and how do we ensure we can grow together?”
  • Bringing empathy to the situation to have credible conversations – Allowing openness and a safe space to say “I don’t know, but I’ll get the answers” will go far in building a strong DevSecOps team. At the end of the day, we’re all supporting the same business and striving for excellence. Let’s work smart, lead with integrity, and treat each other with respect to ensure we meet that end goal and, hopefully, have a little fun along the way.

It’s come to be expected that security is an emergent property of software. In fact, with Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) being adopted more and more, both development and security teams must come together, bringing empathy, accountability, and collaboration into the process, by working toward the same goal with transparency. When done, I’m confident that DevSecOps can become the norm.

About Cody Chamberlain

As an Enterprise Sales Director Cody focuses on developing strategic solutions for our customer’s application security programs. He has spent the majority of his career in varying cyber security roles at companies like Ameriprise Financial and Target Corp.

Cody Chamberlain

Cody Chamberlain

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