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Security-First Approach: Why It’s Essential & How to Build Products With It

Security First Approach: A Vital Principle to Build Secure Products

Application Security Testing was traditionally performed at the end of the development process, usually as an afterthought.

The Reason?

The urgency to push a product to the market at the right time, as soon as possible.

“Just ship it,” has become a cliche term in the IT product development cycle. While shipping as fast as possible can give a company an edge over the competition, there is one thing that is usually handled with levity: “Security.”

However, the cost implications of security attacks are drastic and can be detrimental to both the business revenues and customer trust.

Security must rather be the bedrock throughout a software product development life cycle (SDLC), and the protection of all data systems must be deep-seated in the product development culture.

Has the time to implement the security-first approach in building products arrived? Let us review.

The Challenge with the Traditional Methods

“People ask me all the time, ‘What keeps you up at night?’ And I say, ‘Spicy Mexican food, weapons of mass destruction, and cyber-attacks.”
Dutch Ruppersberger, US Representative

Security threats with traditional methods

Culture plays a huge role in the methods every company employs while building products. You’ll often find companies with the “hacker mindset” looking to push out a product as soon as possible. You may also find companies taking their own time, and waiting to launch a product until it’s all perfect.

A lot of companies that implement the first approach end up putting security at the end of the pipeline, while some do not even consider it at all. Sadly, this approach leaves a lot of security loopholes, giving attackers a lot of room to do devastating damage.

Companies that take the second approach may even be worse off as they do not implement the popular DevOps methodologies that enable the swift development of products. A slow product development process doesn’t guarantee in any way that the security of the product is considered a priority. It does guarantee that any issues, when found, will take time to be fixed.

There are more than 1 billion web requests per day, and 1 in every 13 of those web requests lead to malware. Security threats exist with all kinds of products, and they are on the rise. Without doubt, it is only a matter of time before companies that do not take security seriously meet a dead end.

What is the Security-First Approach?

Devsecops approach

The security-first approach to building products can be considered to be a mindset of thinking about the security implications of every decision or action. With the mindset in place, it becomes easier for other things to fall in place.

The security-first approach basically includes integrating security measures in all IT product-related processes such as:

  • Software architecture
  • Software development
  • Continuous Integration and Continuous Development (CI/CD)
  • Operations engineering

While the technical aspects of product development are usually considered to be more demanding for a security approach, it goes farther than that. The security-first approach extends to marketing, sales, and every possible channel that can aid an attack.

How to Implement a Security-First Approach

Now that you know what the security-first approach is all about, how one can implement it in their organization?

Here are a few ways:

Ways to implement security first approach

1. Data Security should Become a Serious Business

It is important to handle data properly at all times, even when doing preliminary product research and analysis. A security-first approach will be to put top authentication methods in place, to prevent any kind of data from being leaked into the wrong hands.

These days, you will find companies looking to use biometrics to prevent data breaches. The reason for taking such measures is not far fetched as IBM says the average cost of a data breach is said to be about $3.86 million. Hence, it is becoming imperative for companies to deploy a security-first approach to prevent such losses.

2. DevOps should Empower the Deployment Process

In the SDLC, security becomes even more vital as just one security breach can be very detrimental. Through Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD), software development indeed becomes faster, but there needs to be a security check before every code deployment. Codes should never be deployed without appropriate security checks as any security breach in codes can be destructive for the entire product in the future.

Out of the top organizations implementing DevOps in their application development process, 38% report a higher quality of code production and 63% experience improvement in the quality of their software deployments. The numbers are on the rise and serve as an indication of the benefits of using DevOps in the development pipeline to reduce security vulnerabilities in products.

3. Enforce Frequent Security Checks

Operation engineering activities should also be security-driven. It is crucial to adopt a DevOps model without sacrificing security by using automated compliance policies, fine-grained controls, and configuration management techniques.

All software dependencies should be checked very frequently as 78% of security vulnerabilities in software result from indirect dependencies: open-source dependencies. It is also common to find that these dependencies become obsolete after a while, thereby increasing the chances of a security vulnerability.

4. Use Security Dashboards

Every activity in a software development life cycle (SDLC) adds to the level of complexity in the development process. When you understand this, you will begin to see the need for a dashboard.

63% of businesses do not have an effective way to track threats, and security dashboards can help make it easier. Dashboards provide insights from the available data, making it easier to discover attempts to breach the security. With the help of dashboards, it becomes easier to set up real-time automatic alerts and responses when there is an imminent threat.

5. Empower the Developers with Regular Security Training

Every developer tries to make the software in hand, feature-rich only to miss the security implications of the code, making the product extremely vulnerable. To ingrain the culture of a security-first approach in product development, you should empower the developers with security training regularly.

This exercise often makes the developer’s security-conscious and enables them to have a better understanding of the codes’ complexities; making the end product less vulnerable and more secure.

Basically, to implement a security-first approach to building products, the implication of every action on the security of a product needs to be critically analyzed.

The Benefits of a Security-First Approach

Taking a security-first approach to building products comes with a lot of benefits. It is common to find small-scale businesses that think of a security-first approach to be overkill; sadly, the truth only dawns on such businesses after an attack.

There is a lot of sensitive data online, and almost all products are built on some form of software complexity. So all products have a tendency to get exposed to the attackers, regardless of the size of the business.

The benefits to be discussed in this section apply to all kinds of businesses: small, medium, or large scale businesses.

Here are some of the benefits of a security-first approach to building products:

Benefits of security first approach

  • Increased Customer Trust: The customers can’t tell if a company uses a security-first approach, but it will become evident over time. Consistent security breaches will cause a product to lose many if not all, of its users as nobody trusts a product with breached security.
  • Stable Innovations: What is the purpose of innovation if it won’t stand the test of time? With a security-first approach to product development, innovations can be carefully thought out by simultaneously large chunk of security flaws too.
  • Improved Work Culture: When everybody in the company is on the same page as regards the company’s stance on security, it becomes easier to communicate. Teamwork is more effective when everybody understands the core values of a company or a product.
  • Increased Confidence in Products: With a security-first approach to product development, there is a high level of confidence in products. When confidence is established in a product, it is easier to innovate and make improvements to the product.

Conclusion

In today’s rapidly dynamic environment, traditional security practices simply do not work. The nature of advanced security attacks observed in the recent past necessitates the requirement of an integrated and holistic solution for a secure product.

The need of the hour is to keep pace with the competitors by pushing out products faster and more aggressively with ‘Security’ at the forefront of every phase of the software development life cycle (SDLC).

Net Solutions helps its clients in a seamless delivery of products by aligning with its principle: ‘Secure Design, Secure Build, and Secure Grow’, thereby assuring digital security in all their products.

Contact net solutions to build a secure products

Amit Manchanda

About the Author

Amit Manchanda is working at Net Solutions as Project Lead and has over 9 years of experience in technologies like ASP, Adobe Flex, and Android. He has been part of SME (Subject Matter Expert) Group for RIA applications. He possesses a sound understanding of technical requirement/problem analysis and resolution for providing the best solutions to clients. He is passionate about his work and enjoys interacting with his team. In his leisure time, he loves to listen to music, watch cricket, and play with his daughter.

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