Shift Left Security: 5 Technologies + 6 Critical Best Practices

Ofer Hakimi
Ofer Hakimi
May 12, 2024
min to read
Shift Left Security: 5 Technologies + 6 Critical Best Practices

What Is Shift Left Security? 

Shift left security is a proactive approach in software development where security considerations are integrated earlier in the development lifecycle, rather than being an afterthought. 

This method emphasizes the importance of addressing security issues during the initial phases of design and development, enabling developers to identify and mitigate vulnerabilities early. By integrating security practices from the outset, teams can reduce risks and prevent security breaches.

Shifting security left fosters a culture where all team members are responsible for security. It encourages collaboration between developers, security teams, and operations to ensure security measures are embedded throughout the development process. This approach streamlines the development workflow, reducing the time and cost associated with fixing security issues.

The Dangers of Keeping Security at the Right (End of the Development Lifecycle)

Traditionally, security measures were often applied towards the end of the development process, posing significant risks. When security is considered a final step, vulnerabilities may remain undetected until after deployment, increasing the likelihood of security breaches. This late-stage security approach can lead to costly and time-consuming fixes, disrupting the development timeline and potentially harming the organization's reputation.

A right-shifted security approach can also create a disconnect between security teams and developers. When security is separated from the development process, it may lead to misunderstandings and missed opportunities for securing the application comprehensively. This siloed approach to security slows down the resolution of security issues, hampering the development process.

Benefits of Shift Left Security

A shift left approach to security offers the following benefits:

  • Reduced manual effort: Shift left security leverages automation, enabling continuous security testing and vulnerability scanning throughout the development cycle. By incorporating automated security testing early, organizations can detect vulnerabilities before they escalate into serious threats. This reduces the technical debt and saves time for developers and security teams. 
  • Increased delivery speed: Identifying and fixing vulnerabilities early avoids delays that occur when issues are discovered at later stages. This streamlined approach leads to quicker development cycles, enabling faster time-to-market for products and services.
  • More secure application development: Shifting security left ensures that the application and development process are secure, making applications less susceptible to attacks and breaches. A secure development process also fosters a culture of security awareness, enabling developers to identify potential security issues without relying entirely on security experts. 

Types of Shift Left Security Tools and Technologies 

Here are some of the solutions that can be used for Shift Left Security.

1. Static Application Security Testing (SAST)

Static Application Security Testing (SAST) analyzes source code at a fixed point during development to identify vulnerabilities. It enables developers to discover security issues early, without needing to execute the code. SAST tools integrate seamlessly into the development environment, providing real-time feedback to developers as they code.

SAST assists in enforcing coding standards and identifying common security flaws such as SQL injection and cross-site scripting (XSS). 

2. Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST)

Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) assesses applications from the outside, simulating attacks against a running application to identify vulnerabilities. DAST tools complement SAST by testing the application in its runtime environment, providing insights into potential security issues that may not be detectable through static analysis alone.

DAST aids in evaluating the security of web applications, detecting issues like authentication weaknesses, insecure server configurations, and exposure of sensitive data. 

3. Software Composition Analysis (SCA)

Software Composition Analysis (SCA) focuses on identifying vulnerabilities in third-party components and open-source libraries used within an application. SCA tools scan an application's dependencies to detect known security flaws, license compliance issues, and outdated libraries.

By leveraging SCA, developers can ensure that the external code incorporated into their applications does not introduce security risks. 

4. Workload Protection

Workload protection tools, such as cloud workload protection platforms (CWPP), secure applications and their runtime environment against vulnerabilities and attacks. They protect virtual machines, containers, and serverless workloads across the entire development lifecycle, from development through to testing and production deployment. This ensures that the application, regardless of its deployment model, is secure from compromised code, vulnerabilities, and unauthorized access.

By continuously monitoring and enforcing security policies, organizations can protect their applications from threats throughout the development lifecycle, ensuring a secure and resilient runtime environment.

5. API Security Testing

API security testing is crucial for identifying and mitigating vulnerabilities in the application programming interfaces (APIs) that applications use to communicate with each other. It involves a range of tests that check for security flaws, improper implementations, and weak points that could be exploited by attackers. This type of testing is essential because APIs often expose business logic and data, making them a prime target for attacks.

Effective API security testing should include both static analysis to review the code of the APIs for potential security issues and dynamic testing to simulate attacks against APIs in testing and production environments. By incorporating these tests early in the development process, developers can fix issues before the APIs are deployed, significantly reducing the risk of security breaches. Tools and practices for API security testing should integrate with existing development and security operations workflows.

Related content: Read our guide to shift left testing

Shift Left Security Best Practices

Here are some of the recommended measures for implementing a Shift Left Security approach. 

1. Assess the Existing Development Process

Organizations must first evaluate their current development and deployment processes. This assessment should identify phases where security checks can be inserted without disrupting the workflow. It involves mapping out the development pipeline, from initial design to deployment, and pinpointing stages where automated and manual security assessments can be beneficial. 

The evaluation must also consider the tools and technologies currently in use, assessing their compatibility with shift left security practices. Development teams should ensure that their integrated development environments (IDEs) and continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipelines can seamlessly incorporate security tools. 

2. Leverage Automated Security Solutions

Automation in security testing reduces the manual effort required to identify vulnerabilities, making the process faster. Tools such as SAST, DAST, SCA, and API security Testing can be integrated into the development pipeline to automatically scan code for vulnerabilities at various stages.

Leveraging automation also helps in establishing a consistent security baseline across all projects. Automated tools can enforce security policies and standards, ensuring that every piece of code meets the organization’s security criteria before moving to the next phase of development. 

3. Shift Compliance and Risk Management Left 

Shifting compliance and risk management left involves integrating these considerations early in the development process. This ensures that compliance requirements are met from the start, reducing the risk of costly reworks or legal issues down the line. It helps in tailoring the development process to address regulatory standards and risk factors from the beginning.

Embedding compliance and risk management in the early stages encourages a culture of security awareness among the development team. It encourages developers to consider the potential risks and compliance implications of their design and coding decisions.

4. Integrate Container and Application Security into the DevOps Toolchain

This integration involves using tools that can scan container images for vulnerabilities, manage container configurations, and ensure that runtime environments are secure. By incorporating these security measures into the DevOps pipeline, teams can automatically assess and address security issues in containers and applications before they are deployed.

This practice also streamlines the development process. Developers can fix vulnerabilities within their workflow, reducing delays associated with traditional security testing. Container security and AppSec integration supports the principle of infrastructure as code (IaC), allowing for the automated deployment of secure cloud environments alongside the application code.

5. Review Code and Implement Pair Programming

Code reviews involve systematically examining source code for errors and vulnerabilities, allowing teams to catch security flaws before they become problematic. This process encourages a collaborative approach to security, where developers share knowledge and collectively improve the code’s security posture.

Pair programming pairs two developers to work on the same code simultaneously. This practice improves code quality and fosters knowledge sharing of secure coding practices. It allows for real-time review and correction of security issues, promoting accountability among developers. 

6. Train Developers in Secure Coding

Training developers in secure coding practices is central to the success of shift left security. Such training should cover the principles of secure coding, common security vulnerabilities and how to avoid them, and the use of security tools and processes. It helps ensure that development teams are capable of identifying and mitigating security risks proactively.

Ongoing education on the latest security trends and threats is also useful for keeping up with the evolving cybersecurity landscape. Developers should be encouraged to stay informed about new vulnerabilities and attack techniques. Continuous learning opportunities, such as workshops, webinars, and conferences, can help keep developers up-to-date.

Shifting API Security Left with Pynt

Pynt is an Innovative API Security testing platform exposing real API threats through simulated attacks. Shifting left API security helps companies continuously monitor, classify and attack poorly secured APIs for threats pre-production, before hackers do. 

This unique approach identifies all APIs in use, performs attacks in real-time, then provides fix automation to the exploited vulnerabilities. Using Pynt allows you to address risks that are proven to be exploitable, and thereby prioritize the real threats hackers are lurking the web to target.

Learn more about Pynt for API security testing

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