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ThoughtWorks Takes Security Sandwiches off the Menu

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ThoughtWorks Takes Security Sandwiches off the Menu

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Most people in software development have heard about ThoughtWorks.

ThoughtWorks' Chief Scientist, Martin Fowler, is one of the original Agile thought leaders, and they continue to drive new ideas in Agile development and devops, including Continuous Delivery.

At least once a year the thought leaders of ThoughtWorks get together and publish a Technology Radar – a map of the techniques and tools and ideas that they are having success with and recommend to other developers, or that are trying out in their projects and think other people should know more about, or that they have seen fail and want to warn other people about.

I always look forward to reading the Radar when it comes out. It’s a good way to learn about cool tools and new ideas, especially in devops, web and mobile development, Cloudy stuff and IoT, and other things that developers should know about.

But until recently, security has been conspicuously absent from the Radar: which means that security wasn't something that ThoughtWorks developers thought was important or interesting enough to share. Over the last year this has changed, and ThoughtWorks has started to include applicationsecurity and data privacy concerns in design, development and delivery, including privacy vs big data, forward secrecy, two-factor authentication, OpenID Connect, and the OWASP Top 10.

The first Radar of 2015 recommends that organizations avoid the “Security Sandwich” approach to implementing appsec in development projects, and instead look for ways to build security into Agile development:

Traditional approaches to security have relied on up-front specification followed by validation at the end. This  “Security Sandwich” approach is hard to integrate into Agile teams, since much of the design happens throughout the process, and it does not leverage the automation opportunities provided by continuous delivery. Organizations should look at how they can inject security practices throughout the agile development cycle. 

This includes: evaluating the right level of Threat Modeling to do up-front; when to classify security concerns as their own stories, acceptance criteria, or cross-cutting non-functional requirements; including automatic static and dynamic security testing into your build pipeline; and how to include deeper testing, such as penetration testing, into releases in a continuous delivery model. In much the same way that DevOps has recast how historically adversarial groups can work together, the same is happening for security and development professionals.

The sandwich – policies upfront, and pen testing at the end to “catch all the security bugs” – doesn't work, especially for Agile teams and teams working in devops environments. Teams who use lightweight, iterative incremental development practices and release working software often need tools and practices to match. Instead of scan-at-the-end-then-try-to-fix, we need simple, efficient checks and guides that can be embedded into Agile development and faster, more efficient tools that provide immediate feedback in Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery. And we need development and security working together more closely and more often.

It’s good to see pragmatic application security on the ThoughtWorks Radar. I hope it’s on your radar too.

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