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DevOps vs. DevSecOps: What’s the difference?

Susannah Brodnitz
Susannah Brodnitz
April 25, 2023

DevOps and DevSecOps are two important terms for software engineers to understand. They are similar but distinct sets of practices organizations can use to make software development more efficient while still creating high quality applications. 

Briefly, DevOps is a way of bringing together development and operations teams. It includes tools and ways of working as well as a cultural emphasis on these two teams collaborating and communicating. DevSecOps developed from DevOps and additionally focuses on security. 

This article will give you a good understanding of DevOps vs. DevSecOps and explain how they follow many of the same principles, but have different goals.

What is DevOps? 

DevOps is a group of practices meant to bring together development and operations to shorten the time lag between committing a code change to a system and deploying that change into production. There are tools that help with DevOps as well as cultural changes organizations can make to improve communications. 

Some important DevOps principles are automation, quick feedback, and shared ownership. Shared ownership means that both developers and operations engineers take responsibility for the whole software development process, rather than throwing code over the wall when they’ve finished their part of it. 

DevOps takes into account the whole lifecycle of software development and tries to improve efficiency throughout it from developing code to testing code to deploying applications. It’s meant to speed this process up while maintaining high quality results.

Continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) is an important concept in DevOps. Continuous integration means that engineers make small changes often rather than large changes rarely. This helps prevent bugs from building up and lets developers work with the most up to date version of an application. 

Continuous delivery is when deploying software is a simple process so that organizations can easily release applications whenever they need to update them. CI/CD adds automatic tests into the software development lifecycle to help catch problems early.

What is DevSecOps?

Attacks on organizations are becoming more and more frequent and sectors that store and use sensitive information like the government, finance, and healthcare are particularly vulnerable. 

DevSecOps is a subset of DevOps that focuses on helping organizations keep software, applications, infrastructure, and data secure. With DecSecOps security practices are woven throughout DevOps practices. DecSecOps differs from traditional security because of its focus on integrating security practices throughout an organization rather than on protecting the perimeter. 

With DevSecOps, every team working on software development and deployment also focuses on security. These teams do security testing earlier while they are developing software, rather than waiting until it’s done. 

Types of DevSecOps security tests

The three main kinds of security tests used during the software development lifecycle with a DevSecOps approach are static tests, software composition tests, and dynamic tests. 

Static Application Security Testing (SAST) is a kind of white-box test, meaning it tests the internal structure of an application. SAST tools scan the source code of an application to check for security vulnerabilities. With this kind of test it’s especially important to check the different versions of various libraries the code uses to see if they’re on vulnerability lists published by security groups. 

Interactive application testing (IAST) is a kind of software composition test that works within an application to find what part of the code is running during automated functional tests in order to find application vulnerabilities. This kind of testing is particularly useful for applications that use microservices.

Dynamic tests are black-box tests that test how an application functions without checking its internal structure. In DevSecOps dynamic testing is called both Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST) and penetration testing. These kinds of tests can find issues like SQL injection and cross-site scripting early in the software development process. 

What is SQL injection and cross-site scripting?

SQL injection is when attackers insert malicious snippets of SQL code into applications that take user input. It works when a program has vulnerabilities such as when user input is not strongly typed or is incorrectly filtered for string literal escape characters so that attackers can input code to leak, tamper with, or destroy data. 

Cross-site scripting is a code security vulnerability that allows attackers to inject client-side scripts into web pages. If a website has permission to get information from a browser, the browser will give that information to another URL with the same Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) scheme, host name, and port number. 

Attackers put malicious content into a website with the same credentials as one that an application trusts so when it arrives in an application it has the correct permissions. In this way attackers can get access to sensitive information from applications and browsers.

How DevSecOps strengthens security

One important part of DevSecOps is a policy of zero trust. This means that if an attacker gets access to one part of the technology stack at an organization, they don’t get access to the whole network. This is as opposed to a perimeter focused security model where an organization only guards against outside attacks. 

With a zero trust policy, an organization segments its networks and checks all internal connections before trusting them. Segmentation also makes it easier to quickly block any suspicious access while still letting other users have the access they need to do their jobs.

Just as DevOps includes a cultural attitude, so does DevSecOps. DevSecOps culture views the software development process holistically in terms of how organizations should integrate security into every part of it. It emphasizes educating the people working on developing software on security practices, designing software with security in mind, and incorporating automation to further security where possible.

DevOps vs. DevSecOps similarities

Comparing the approaches of DevOps vs. DevSecOps, the two have a lot in common. Both ways of doing things look at the whole lifecycle of software development and try to bring together different teams that have traditionally worked separately. Both also combine tools with a cultural shift. 

Both DevOps and DevSecOps arose from problems with keeping different departments isolated from one another, and one goal they share is to prevent bottlenecks from forming. When an organization’s operations team is entirely separate from its development team, testing is difficult and the differences between development and production environments can cause unnecessary headaches as bugs build up and developers have to frequently rewrite code they thought they were finished with. 

Continuous and active monitoring

Similarly, when organizations include security tests only at the end of the software development process, security problems can accumulate and the development process will slow down as developers need to rewrite code. 

Both DevOps and DevSecOps also continuously monitor the software development process. Collecting data from applications on what’s working and what isn’t lets these teams fix problems and make improvements proactively. They both also emphasize automation. 

Artificial intelligence can be a part of this, for detecting anomalies with DevOps and for detecting security vulnerabilities with DevSecOps. Organizations can automate both security checks and some testing for bugs.

Emphasis on culture and communication

DevOps and DevSecOps come with a culture of communication and collaboration between different departments. The intent with each of them is to improve the whole software development process, and to do that the people working on software need to be in touch with each other and on the same page. 

With DevOps, developers need to understand how operations works and vice versa, while with DevSecOps these teams also need to understand how security works and need to incorporate security checks throughout the software development process. The different teams involved need to understand the whole software development process and need to collaborate throughout all parts of it.

Both DevOps and DevSecOps implement microservice architecture. This means they break down applications into smaller pieces and combine them to form the whole result. This lets different teams work on complicated software in smaller subsections so it’s easier to manage

DevOps and DevSecOps both also employ Infrastructure as Code. This means teams write code for infrastructure issues, instead of having IT workers work on infrastructure manually. This can speed up processes like configuring servers, managing operating systems, and installing software packages.

DevOps vs. DevSecOps differences

The key difference between DevOps vs. DevSecOps is the main goal of each of these two practices. DevOps focuses on bringing together software development and operations while DevSecOps also considers security equally important in this collaboration. 

DevOps vs. DevSecOps goals

The goal of DevOps is to develop and release high quality software more quickly. The goal of DevSecOps is to make sure software is secure by integrating security tests and processes throughout all of the different stages software development takes.

A key principle of DevOps that is less important in DevSecOps is that developers should be able to understand production infrastructure. If someone writes code they should be able to test it and understand how it will function in the final application. 

Security as a core principle 

Efficiency is more central for DevOps vs. DevSecOps where it’s still important, but the focus is more on security. For some organizations, DevOps doesn’t prioritize security enough, and DevSecOps processes are necessary to avoid security problems in their applications.

DevSecOps is based on the idea that security should be a significant part of development and operations. Software engineers and people working in operations should be able to work with security in mind, and DevSecOps gives them tools and processes to do so. 

DevSecOps shares security decisions and considers it vital for developers to create secure code both because it’s more efficient and because it avoids problems like breaches and data loss. 

DevOps involves teaching developers about operations and teaching operations engineers about development. DevSecOps involves teaching both developers and operations engineers about security so they can detect issues as they develop software, instead of the security team doing it all at the end of the process.

Key takeaways from the DevOps vs. DevSecOps debate

DevOps and DevSecOps are two sets of practices meant to improve the software development process. DevOps brings together development and operations with early testing and automated tools, as well as improved education and communication. DevOps is based on the idea that different teams feeling ownership towards the whole software development process gives better results than someone focusing only on a small piece of it and not caring about the rest. 

DevSecOps also includes security checks throughout software development. It means that engineers see security as an important part of the process of developing applications, not something at the end that’s slowing things down. At organizations that don’t have this kind of attitude towards security there might be pressure to take shortcuts on tight deadlines. 

Whether a company should employ DevOps vs. DevSecOps depends on its specific needs. For some organizations, keeping security checks at the end of the development process works and in that case DevOps is a good method for speeding up the release of software. For other organizations that want to improve their security, DevSecOps is a great way to incorporate security in every step of software development while still developing software efficiently.

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