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DevSecOps and Agile: A Security Perspective in Software Development

Security Operations Analyst

This blog post is part of a series; please see part one, The Development Methodologies: A Deeper Look, and part two: DevSecOps and Waterfall: A Security Perspective in Software Development.

What is Agile?

In the dynamic field of software development, methodologies like Agile and DevSecOps offer flexible paths with distinctive principles and outcomes, primarily when assessed through security. Agile is a flexible development methodology. It defines and implements projects within an organization by considering key factors such as stakeholders', collaborators', and development teams’ time and effort while allowing the project to develop or change organically over time, especially for long-term projects. Therefore, Agile makes it incredibly valuable and preferential to other development methodologies. 

Agile Development: Iterative and Responsive

Agile methodology, distinguished by its iterative approach, breaks the software development lifecycle into manageable increments known as sprints. Teams can measure their sprints with story points, which allow you to determine how much effort something will take. Rather than using just time to calculate and plan for a project, it also factors in the effort and work across all stakeholders or collaborators. It’s a team effort to measure story points. You can read more about that at Atlassian.  This method allows for regular reassessment of project directions and requirements, fostering adaptability and continuous improvement, and helps teams collaborate to determine how much energy and development hours will teams spend on a project or task. Agile is particularly effective for projects where requirements are expected to evolve based on stakeholder feedback and market changes.

Security in Agile: Integrated and Continuous

In Agile environments, security can be initially integrated into the development process by enabling developers to test applications within the development process rather than asses risk in unfinished projects, should they factor this in during the planning phases and allot story points to security. This proactive approach significantly differs from methodologies that delay security considerations until after significant development milestones. By incorporating security practices early and often, Agile teams can identify and address vulnerabilities promptly, reducing potential risks and remediation costs.

Agile vs. DevSecOps: A Comparative Analysis 

In the rapidly evolving world of software development, both Agile and DevSecOps methodologies offer progressive approaches, each with its unique strengths and focus. Understanding the distinctions and overlaps between these two methodologies is crucial, especially from the perspective of security integration.

Agile Development: Emphasis on Flexibility and Iteration

Agile methodology is renowned for its flexibility and iterative process. It breaks down the software development life cycle into sprints, each ending with a potentially shippable product increment. This structure allows teams to adapt quickly to changes in user requirements and market conditions, emphasizing continuous feedback and adjustment.

Security in Agile: In traditional Agile implementations, security is often integrated as part of the regular development sprints. While Agile inherently promotes rapid adaptation and continuous improvement, it can sometimes place security as a secondary priority unless explicitly included in the sprint goals. Security practices may vary significantly between Agile teams depending on their specific protocols and focus.

DevSecOps: Integrating Security Deeply and Continuously

DevSecOps extends the principles of Agile and DevOps by embedding security deeply into the DevOps process. It advocates for "Security By Design" and a shift-left approach, where security measures and testing are integrated early and throughout the development pipeline, rather than as a final step or afterthought.

Security in DevSecOps: Security is a foundational element of the DevSecOps methodology, treated as an integral part of the development and deployment processes. This approach ensures continuous security assessments, vulnerability testing, and risk management throughout all phases of software development, which helps in detecting and mitigating issues more swiftly and effectively.

Key Differences and Similarities

Integration of Security:

Agile: Security practices can be integrated at each sprint but often need explicit inclusion to ensure they are not overlooked.

DevSecOps: Security is a core component, integrated by default from the beginning of the development cycle, ensuring continuous attention and action.

Flexibility and Response to Change:

Both methodologies excel in their flexibility and ability to respond to changes. However, DevSecOps places more emphasis on automating security responses and integrating these within the CI/CD pipelines, providing a more robust and immediate response to emerging threats.

Collaboration and Communication:

Agile: Encourages strong collaboration and communication within the development team and with stakeholders, but requires additional efforts to ensure security teams are included in these conversations.

DevSecOps: Promotes an integrated team environment where developers, operations, and security professionals work together continuously, enhancing the security dialogue and awareness across all phases.

Tooling and Automation:

Both methodologies utilize tools for automation; however, DevSecOps typically employs more advanced security-specific tools such as automated vulnerability scanners and security configuration management tools throughout its pipeline.

While Agile and DevSecOps share a common foundation in iterative development and rapid deployment, the key distinction lies in the role and integration of security. DevSecOps is explicitly designed around the idea of integrating security at every step, making it more inherently secure by design compared to traditional Agile. Agile, on the other hand, offers flexibility and adaptability but requires deliberate inclusion of security practices to match the level of security integration found in DevSecOps. In environments where security is paramount, DevSecOps may provide a more suitable framework, whereas Agile might be preferred in scenarios where flexibility and speed are the primary concerns, with security practices tailored to fit the project's specific needs.

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