API Testing

How to Implement Shift Left Security to Protect Your APIs

April 10, 2022
6 mins read

GitHub estimates that developers outnumber security professionals 500 to 1, meaning organizations need to integrate shift left security measures into their development to stay competitive.

The use of traditional testing is often not in line with DevOps, which emphasizes delivering features and updates from one production stage to the next without unnecessary delays.

How did they fix this? By implementing agile methodologies, like shift left, into DevOps practices.

Shifting left means integrating testing and security activities into every relevant stage of development, from design to production.

How Shift Left Impacts Security

Shifting security left means taking a new approach to how DevSecOps teams develop and design software. 

The goals of this shift are simple: 

  • Build security best practices into your process from start-to-finish
  • Detect potential issues as early in the lifecycle as possible
  • Fix problems quickly without expensive miscalibrations later down the line
  • Maintain an affordable price point for any company or organization

To do this effectively and efficiently, developers must be aware of what they need during each stage to avoid gaps in their defenses against vulnerabilities that malicious actors could use.

Integrating CI/CD into SDLC

The adoption of CI/CD transforms the SDLC as it automates and monitors every step of the development process, from code integration to live production environments.

In addition to reorganizing teams into DevSecOps teams, companies will have to incorporate security testing earlier into their deployment pipelines as CI remains crucial for software development.

Benefits of Shift Left Security

Shift left testing is a powerful way to identify and fix defects before they become costly, meaning your team can make faster progress in the development cycle. 

Other benefits include: 

  • Improve code quality and security posture
  • Easily manage risks with cloud technologies
  • Create a security-conscious culture
  • Continual assessment

Driving Technologies for Shift Left Security

To make sure organizations maintain a high level of security, OWASP suggests DevSecOps use a variety of tools. Here are five commonly used tools:


How it works:

DevSecOps approach:

SAST (static analysis)

In this process, structural testing is conducted by accessing the source code at rest, which generates a report on any potential problems and solutions.

Integrate these tests into your developer's dev environment to get immediate warnings about possible issues.

DAST (dynamic analysis)

This technique penetrates an application’s front-end through an outside-in approach and discovers security vulnerabilities just as an attacker would.

Use this in testing and staging environments to verify application security before rolling out applications across your entire company's network infrastructure.

Interactive Application Security Testing (IAST)

Using predefined test cases, hybrid IAST tools identify relevant lines of code and provide contextual remediation advice in running applications.

Reduce the risk of security vulnerabilities by integrating this tool in the early stages of the SDLC and CI/CD workflows.

Software Composition Analysis (SCA)

This technique is used to identify components of your system, like open-source and third-party libraries, and inform you of potential vulnerabilities present in those files.

Pair SCA with SAST to find vulnerabilities that scanning cannot detect.

Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM)

Use this approach to automatically assess your multi-cloud infrastructure for vulnerabilities that may exist.

Implement this process throughout development by prioritizing vulnerabilities based on the environment.

How to Implement Shift Left Security: 5 First Steps

Shift left security can be implemented in a number of ways, but these are the most crucial steps.

1. Establish and Define Shift Left Security Strategy

It's critical that you identify what shift left means for your team to help them understand how to achieve success. To do this, you'll need to:

Define Common Goals

The goal of DevSecOps is to promote collaboration and alignment among all stakeholders involved in the development process. 

To do this, teams need to come together to clearly establish their goals and objectives for their shift left security strategy. This should include:

  • Who has ownership or responsibilities over what processes?
  • What metrics will be used to gauge success?
  • What parts of your applications and APIs operate with sensitive data?
  • How many resources are you willing to allocate to the testing process?
  • What will your milestones look like?

Change the Culture

Enable a security-centric development environment where security is considered at every stage of the development lifecycle—whether it's selecting a package during project planning, developing code, or conducting tests.

You'll most likely have to do some shift left myth-busting to facilitate a smooth transition. The most common misconception is that shift left means moving the testing to an earlier stage and then neglecting to test later. 

Establish a Set of Security Requirements for APIs

Because APIs are windows into your system, the safety of an application depends on the security policies you establish for them. Including security requirements for APIs in your shift left security strategy, will boost your security posture.

There are a few factors to consider when establishing a set of security requirements for APIs, such as:

  • The type of data being accessed by the API
  • The environment in which the API will be used
  • The user base that will be using the API

For example, if the API is accessing sensitive data in a public environment by many users, then a higher level of security will be required. 

When determining the security requirements for an API, it is essential to consult with experts in the field. They will be able to help identify what security measures need to be put in place to protect the data that is being accessed by the API. They will also help determine what level of security is needed.

2. Understand Where Software is Created

Understanding your software development pipeline is an important first step in securing it. This will be more challenging depending on the complexity of your business units.

Before you can start shifting security left, identify who's responsible for developing code and how that person or team moves from creating new features through deployment to production. 

This helps you identify what technology will be used throughout this process, so there are no gaps. Make sure you identify:

  • The individuals responsible for developing code
  • The workflow process
  • The technology used in this process

3. Implement Security Controls at the API Level

Through APIs, applications and software interact with your business, allowing outsiders direct access to sensitive information. Without proper security measures in place, cybercriminals will exploit these vulnerabilities. 

To address OWASP's Top 10 API security risks, it's recommended that you implement security controls at the API level, which help protect your data and systems. Some of the most widely used security measures are:

  • Authentication and Authorization: Ensure only authorized users access the API using OAuth 2.0 or OpenID protocols.
  • Encryption: Protect the data that passes through your API from interception and tampering, for example, using SSL/TSL encryption.
  • Principle of least privilege: With this principle, subjects are granted only the minimum access necessary to complete a stated function—this includes access to your APIs.
  • Use rate limits: To prevent denial-of-service attacks, set a threshold above which subsequent requests will be rejected. 

4. Automate Security Processes

Penetration testing and vulnerability scanners are the most common ways to test the security of your APIs. However, they each have unique problems when using a shift left security approach.

Vulnerability scanners are deployed to test your APIs against a list of known vulnerabilities, but they do not consider your API's architecture. This means they miss business logic flaws that leave you vulnerable.

On the other hand, pen testers use black box or white box testing methods to simulate attacks on your API, which are extremely time-consuming and expensive when applied to the shift left testing framework.

But there’s a third way. You can use APIsec.

APIsec is an automated security testing solution that uses AI to analyze the architecture of your APIs to generate and execute hundreds of custom-tailored attack scenarios.

5. Implement Security Fixes as the Code is Developed

It is important to implement security fixes as you develop the code so that your application and APIs have no vulnerabilities. 

It’s a good idea to retest once you fix your code as loopholes often open up after remediation. This ensures no weak spots are left where an attacker could exploit simple errors. 

Give your DevSecOps team the tools they need to implement shift left security. Contact our team to schedule a free demo.

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