Cyber threats today are not just about nation-state espionage. Attacks are coming from individuals in various nefarious and less-than-savory ways.

This environment creates a unique and also significant problem. The rules of engagement have changed: security is more diverse and flexible than yesterday's approach of web application firewalls (WAF).

Today's requirements call for something very different from a vulnerability scan, where a traditional WAF uses static code analysis, vulnerability scanners, and normal security controls to monitor and detect application vulnerabilities.

The threat landscape is no longer static, and new attacks are occurring almost daily, creating a rapid increase in attacks. The number and frequency of these threats are beyond what a WAF can protect.

In today's world, WAFs are no longer effective in protecting application security; in fact, WAFs are at best a necessary evil to keep a risk-aware application and DevOps agile team running securely.

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Enter the Zero Trust approach to security. In the new age of DevOps, security solutions must be easily accessible and able to handle the inherent complexity of an app. Zero Trust security can provide tools that help in this process.

Another major challenge today is the increasing prevalence of DevOps. DevOps requires security teams to work more closely with developers, who may have no experience and require a security approach different from the traditional application security approach.

In a DevOps environment, developers will write and test everything in code. They are not security experts. They don't have a deep knowledge of security vulnerabilities, so they usually rely on third parties to guide them to secure their code.

A security solution that includes any DevOps tools related to security is best suited for such situations because it can easily monitor apps and help developers write secure code.

The Downside of Using the Zero Trust Approach With DevOps

Not all applications need to be hardened. Some, however, are particularly vulnerable and deserve greater attention. These must be adequately prepared to reduce the risk.

Many applications are not important enough to put users and companies at risk and hence can be given the special status of zero trust. This approach requires the entire application to be inspected, in detail, to verify that the business rules are all compliant and can stop the threat if needed.

Since developers are still writing apps in this era, the importance of security is typically overlooked and, in many cases, even unwanted.

IT organizations should focus on vulnerabilities that are in their control and avoid focusing only on the flaws that others introduce. But they also need to increase awareness about all current threats and should make efforts to protect the critical components of an application.

How Does Zero Trust Help DevOps?

The most important challenge that today's technology presents is that IT is moving from being primarily an infra-company fix to a solutions provider. The primary roles of the IT team are a combination of expertise in "hardened" infrastructure, support and configuration, and security.

The problem is that we are moving away from a static world, where the IT team was primarily concerned about how the systems work. Today, this paradigm is slowly fading away, and IT is becoming more like a service provider who can also deliver software solutions to customers.

In such a scenario, the users expect the IT team to provide security services as well.

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Building a Solution for the Modern-Day DevOps Environment

Zero Trust security solutions help create and maintain the right environment for the DevOps world. Organizations must ensure the security of every element of their applications.

Automating security effectively and securely requires a fully integrated stack of tools that can help DevOps teams secure application development and deployments. This stack includes endpoint security, network security, mobile security, web application security, cloud security, and other security aspects.

Can We Then Declare the Death of Security Fears?

The traditional paradigm of security, centered on application defects and related concerns, should be replaced with a modern security paradigm centered on DevOps and everything that takes part in it.

The traditional security paradigm for application development was very security-centric. In this paradigm, the developers needed to understand the problem of the application and accordingly write secure code to overcome the issue. It was very difficult for developers to deliver secure code.

It was a very inflexible approach to security. Organizations often resorted to turnkey solutions such as the Access Control List (ACL), which was a solution, but not necessarily an end-to-end solution, as it might not have been able to identify the threats.

By contrast, DevOps is largely a collaborative team effort. Today, it is common to have skilled developers, smart DevOps engineers, security specialists, business analysts, and management working in concert.

Zero Trust Security Supports All Stages of the DevOps Pipeline

Today, Zero Trust Security is completely integrated with DevOps, and this methodology is the true differentiator for DevOps security.

The standard ZT framework includes the following components:

  • User authentication
  • Integrated signature-based threats assessment
  • Identity-based threat assessment
  • Behavior-based threat assessment
  • Host-based firewall
  • Back to the wall access control
  • Access control list (ACL)

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Zero Trust Security Offers an End-To-End Approach

The traditional security paradigm was all about risk-based control (RBCC), and most enterprises used the open, public network as the gate to access their internal networks. With an open network, it was also possible to access everything on the network.

Because there is no separation of the access control and the security controls, organizations could not gain insights into the threats to the organization.

Zero Trust Security offers an end-to-end approach. It identifies all components of the flow and secures all assets along the pipeline.

It defines a "threat model," a pre-defined collection of risks. The solution then works in conjunction with DevOps to prioritize, inventory, and address the threats. The system detects anomalies in the flow and works with DevOps to mitigate and prevent breaches. The model provides enterprise-level security, much like the network security in the old days.

Zero Trust Security Is Already Used in Many Enterprises Today

Many of the largest enterprises have already implemented Zero Trust Security in their networks. Many of the largest enterprises have already implemented Zero Trust Security in their networks. IBM and HP have been using Zero Trust Security for years, even before it was a commonly used term. 

Companies like Airbus, BP, Citibank, Cisco, HP, Etisalat, Liberty Mutual, Pfizer, United, and others have already deployed Zero Trust Security in their networks with complete success. These organizations have adopted an end-to-end approach and have integrated all the components of the DevOps pipeline with the Zero Trust Security components.

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Final Thoughts

An end-to-end approach to security that focuses on all phases of the DevOps pipeline, Zero Trust Security is a threat-centric security approach.

According to the Zero Trust Security principles, the first step in an organization's Zero Trust approach is to fully integrate the tools and processes that support application development with the tools and processes that support securing the applications.

The next step is to integrate these tools with the knowledge and resources that support securing applications.

Finally, the last step is to create an information security program, which incorporates the traditional security controls and a formalized plan for securing all the resources used to develop applications.

The end goal is to use every tool to its full potential, every step of the way, to provide enterprise-level security.

To develop skills in DevOps, look into the Caltech CTME Post Graduate Program in DevOps. For skills development in cybersecurity, learners in the Americas should consider the UCI Cybersecurity Bootcamp, and learners in India and elsewhere should look into the Post Graduate Program in Cyber Security in association with MIT.

About the Author

Matthew DavidMatthew David

Matt is a Digital Leader at Accenture. His passion is a combination of solving today's problems to run more efficiently, adjusting focus to take advantage of digital tools to improve tomorrow and move organizations to new ways of working that impact the future.

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