One challenge that needs addressing in the software supply chain security fight is the balance between agility and redundancy in enterprise security strategies. There’s no better example of that than the recommendations about moving to DevSecOps and implementing Defense in Depth to improve your software supply chain security.

DevSecOps and Software Supply Chain Security

The shift left movement that DevSecOps offers can be vital to securing software build environments. DevSecOps is the next step beyond DevOps, a cultural change that brings security into DevOps rapid release cycles.

DevSecOps is built for agility and velocity. It relies on a range of open source tools to automate the software build cycle. It’s also not uncommon for organizations to put their own spin on DevOps and DevSecOps to meet their security and compliance requirements. There’s plenty of room for enterprises adopting DevSecOps to “build to suit,” which can make it challenging to maintain DevSecOps standards across vendors serving a software supply chain.

The cultural changes that DevSecOps brings to software development can almost be more important than the tooling because it brings security concerns into the development lifecycle versus making security the last stop (and the last night) before applications hit production. The DevSecOps culture stresses:

  • Transparency yields trust with sharing between the DevOps and security teams inside enterprises
  • Shared goals and metrics with DevOps and security teams cooperating on shared goals to achieve the desired metrics to achieve compliance and security

While often an ideal, these cultural norms have a lot of applicability to securing the software supply chain. Transparency along the software supply chain builds trust. That can play a couple of different ways. When you build trust with your vendor teams along your supply chain, it becomes easier to share information and collaborate on security and operational challenges. Many of us are also working under challenging personal and professional circumstances during this pandemic. It only helps that you have clear lines of communication open to set expectations. You also want to create an environment where your team, not to mention vendors, can feel safe asking questions and bringing up technology and business issues.

Defense in Depth and Software Supply Chain Security

Another security technique bound to gain attention in the fight against software supply chain hacks is Defense in Depth. Typically, a security strategy of large enterprises with big budgets, Defense in Depth employs multiple layers of security controls so that if one layer fails, other layers remain operating.

No enterprise can say that its systems are 100% secure. That goes for any organization working on your software supply chain. Otherwise, there’d be no need for such drastic security measures as Defense in Depth. Nor would you need system redundancies because attackers wouldn’t be able to exploit your systems. In reality, the state of software supply chain security isn’t going to change much in the next year or even five years. Thus, it behooves security teams across the supply chain to look to security measures such as Defense in Depth to put in “sea walls” with the attitude that eventually, a wave may crash over the wall.

Defense in Depth includes three layers of controls:

  • Physical layer, which controls the physical access to IT systems, including fences and human guards.
  • Technical controls such as fingerprint readers, authentication, and data encryption that prevent access. 
  • Administrative controls are an organization’s policies and procedures to ensure security and compliance requirements are met. Policies include hiring, onboarding, and other processes that govern how technology teams do their work.

There’s no real cultural shift that Defense in Depth brings with it. Yet, it’s essential to consider the introduction of system redundancies to developers and sysadmins’ routine day-to-day work. Specific job roles and metrics would undoubtedly have to adjust to running, managing, and securing redundant systems.

DevSecOps and Defense in Depth

There are many questions about how a coopetion between DevSecOps and Defense in Depth could work for the average enterprise. Both security strategies have their purposes.

The cultural aspects of DevSecOps, especially when it comes to transparency, still relate very well to Defense in Depth. Sooner or later, large enterprises scrutinizing their software supply chain security need to start paying attention to the people aspect of software supply chain security — transparency, insider threat, security training, and communications. 

The people aspects of software supply chain security are bound to come under additional scrutiny in some large enterprises. There are some lessons for everybody to learn from how DevSecOps handles culture and metrics that can transfer over to Defense in Depth.

System redundancies are where DevSecOps and Defense in Depth are at odds. The reference architecture of the typical DevSecOps toolchain is lean and mean, without redundancies. Some organizations even allow their development teams to choose their tools to build out their toolchains.

Somehow, the smart enterprises will cherry-pick from DevSecOps and Defense in Depth to create a solution within budget that can improve their software supply chain security.

Final Thoughts

Risk mitigation around software supply chains is going through an awakening post-SolarWinds. DevSecOps and Defense in Depth both help mitigate a range of significant security risks. The gravity of a software supply chain attack brings home the reality that despite your best preparations, it’s essential to acknowledge that you’ll be hacked. It may not be your enterprise directly but could be one of the vendors along your supply chain. So, you must do the best you can as a security organization. Put in the right tools. Institute best practices. Train your developers and security teams in best practices. Incentivize your vendors to follow suit.  But most of all, you should have a response plan in place to augment your security tools and strategy.