API Testing

Shift Left Security: The Ultimate Guide

April 10, 2022
15 mins read

TLDR Key Takeaways

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In the world of information security, the term "shift left" has been gaining popularity in recent years. 

In this guide, we'll take a closer look at what shift left security is and why it's such an important strategy for businesses of all sizes. We'll also provide tips on how you can get started with shift left security in your own organization.

So let's get started!

Executive Summary

Chapter 1

Shift Left vs. Traditional Testing

We'll cover the difference between traditional and agile testing methods.

Chapter 2

How Shift Left Impacts Security

We'll cover how agile practices are affecting DevOps.

Chapter 3

How to Maximize Your Shift Left Strategy

We'll cover the steps you can take to apply a shift left strategy.

Chapter 4

How to Implement Shift Left

We'll cover the necessary steps you'll need to take to implement shift left testing.

Chapter 5

Shift Left Best Practices

We'll cover some best practices you'll need to keep your pipelines on track.

Chapter 1: Shift-left vs. Traditional Testing

The idea of shifting testing to earlier phases in the software development lifecycle (SDLC) has gained momentum as the cost and time spent on fixing bugs found through traditional testing models grew. In fact, 87% of companies take this agile approach to software testing.

The goal of shift left testing is to reduce the number of bugs found in a project's code by performing early and frequent tests on your software development initiatives.  

In this chapter, we'll cover the differences between traditional and agile testing approaches. 

Traditional Testing, Shift Left Testing, and Shift Right Testing: What's the Difference?

Testing is an essential part of the product development process because it helps ensure that what you are developing will actually work when completed. 

One of the best ways to visualize production is to imagine a conveyor belt running through a factory. Different components are added before forming a completed product as the process moves along its journey.

But where is the optimal point in the process to test? This question has been hotly debated among experts for some time now. 

Some argue that testing needs to be performed when your application programming interfaces (APIs) and graphic user interfaces (GUIs) are complete, while others feel there are areas worth testing before they're deployed.

They typically fall into two camps: traditional and agile or shift testing (with the new majority finding themselves here).

Traditional Testing

This approach to testing often happens before this final stage (the right side of the conveyor belt versus the left, if you will), which makes sense because there's more product to check for errors.

That being said, the use of traditional, manual testing methods to verify the safety and functionality of a product immediately before releasing it into production has its difficulties. 

Since this testing occurs so late in the development cycle, the discovery of bugs or usability issues often leads to a delayed release until those problems have been fixed, causing a bottleneck.

This led many companies implementing traditional testing to start doing unscheduled releases, so these issues don't hold up progress anymore.

In addition, as you get closer to the finish line, the cost of fixing those bugs and flaws skyrockets. This fact alone may cause major cost and budget overruns that can delay or even derail the entire project.

Source: www.stickyminds.com

Pros

  • Identifies the maximum number of defects due to its incremental process.
  • Ensures a quality product due to issues being resolved before pushing the product live.

Cons:

  • Impedes time-to-market due to the scope of the changes that need to be made to fix even simple flaws.
  • Adds increased cost for extensive documentation and time needed to complete resolutions.
  • Unexpected errors may occur if the requirements are modified or poorly communicated.

Shift Right Testing

Unlike traditional testing, this form of agile testing initiates testing post-production or all the way to the "right" of that conveyor belt.

Using a shift right approach, you will test a complete and functioning application to ensure performance and usability. Targeted users provide feedback on their experience to improve the software even further.

Common testing techniques that utilize right shift testing include:

  • A/B testing
  • Canary deployment
  • Chaos testing
  • Fault injection testing

While this agile approach allows you to collaborate with users to enhance your product, this testing is only effective in a post-production environment. It needs to be supplemented with shift left testing to give you comprehensive results.

Pros

  • Enhances customer experience due to its continuous feedback loop from its users.
  • Uncovers critical issues by finding bugs that occur in a live environment and letting developers modify features as needed.

Cons:

  • Limited scope since it can only test fully developed environments.
  • Unforeseen costs and risks may arise trying to implement changes in complex environments.

Shift Left Testing

To prevent bugs from becoming big, costly problems, shift left testing literally pushes testing to the "left" by identifying and resolving issues as early in the development process as possible. 

It's important to note that shift left does not mean shifting your testing to an earlier stage and neglecting to test again.

On the contrary, shift left testing encourages developers and testers alike to start testing sooner and continually check for errors rather than just focusing on one stage of development at a time.

With APIs, the key is to be able to test a functional application as early as possible so that you can exercise all the functionality and see if there are any logic flaws, loopholes, or security vulnerabilities.

For example, to address a BOLA/IDOR flaw in an app, you'd want to run tests to validate that User A is not able to view/modify/delete a transfer belonging to User B.

The USPS data breach is a perfect example of that vulnerability in action - where a user was able to authenticate and then look up any other user in the system, including their email address, phone number, street address, and other PII.

The main benefit of shift left testing here is that if there is a flaw in the application, you're going to find it before it goes to production, where someone malicious might find it first.

This methodology requires more than just process changes. It's also about shifting the mindsets of those involved so that they continue to provide feedback throughout each stage.

Shift left testing is a great way to avoid problems before they start, not just react after the fact. The more tests a developer runs before pushing their code to version control, the better.

Pros:  

  • Increases delivery speed since problems are addressed and resolved well before the product is released.
  • Reduces cost as it finds errors earlier, which are typically cheaper to fix.
  • Improves quality since the changes to design and functionality are made throughout the entire process versus trying to remedy the finished product.

Cons:

  • Needs a culture change for the process to be correctly implemented. 
  • Requires myth-busting that some team members may have about the process; for example, QA teams and developers work closely together during testing versus QA teams becoming obsolete.

Why is Shift Left Beneficial for DevOps?

DevOps is all about speed, agility, and efficiency. To achieve these goals, organizations need to shift left. This means moving away from the traditional "waterfall" methodology and towards a more agile approach.

A shift left strategy ensures security is taken into account as early in the development lifecycle as possible.

There are many benefits to shifting left. Here are the ones with the most impact:

Increased Quality

The main benefit of shift left is that it reduces the number of defects in a final product, increasing its overall quality. Companies that implemented shift left methods experienced a 45% increase in quality.

By identifying and resolving issues early in the development process, before the product is released, there are fewer chances for those defects to make it into the finished product.

Enhanced Communication

In addition, shift left encourages collaboration and communication among team members. Businesses that use agile methods typically see a 60% improvement in team productivity and a 70% improvement in visibility.

By involving testers earlier on, developers can get feedback on their code and make changes accordingly, leading to a more positive and productive development process overall.

Faster Time to Market

Shift left also helps shorten development timelines. Businesses that implement agile practices, such as shift left, have seen their delivery times quicken by 64%.

When defects are discovered early, before they can snowball into larger problems, they are easier to address, which allows development teams to focus on new features and improvements instead of fixing bugs.

Reduce Costs

Shift left reduces the costs associated with development. The earlier a vulnerability is found in the development process, the cheaper it is to fix. 

Source: Ponemon Institute

Early identification and resolution of defects eliminates the need to rework code, leading to significant savings for development organizations.

Chapter 2: How Shift Left Impacts Security

Now that you have a better understanding of shift left, let's explore how this affects DevOps.

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.

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.

Chapter 3: How to Maximize Your Shift Left Strategy 

In the previous chapter, we outlined how a shift left strategy can help your organization move towards sustainable software development. In this chapter, we'll explore ways to optimize your shift left approach to maximize its benefits. 

The best way to apply shift left testing is with small iterative changes that are made across teams. Here are some changes to start implementing:

1. Understanding the Difference Between Testing the Entire Process vs. Processes in Time

As a first step, you'll need to help your team understand the benefits of shift left testing by identifying how this approach needs to be applied across the entire SDLC, not just as a process in time.

The best way to reduce risk is by performing testing at various stages and continuing your efforts as you move down the line. Remember, shift left testing doesn't mean moving testing to an earlier stage and neglecting to test later on.

This will lead to an inefficient process with missed defects or vulnerabilities that could have been remediated if they had been tested more thoroughly.

You'll want to focus on:

  • How will testing at an earlier stage mitigate risks?
  • What is the earliest stage that will provide actionable information?
  • What are the risks if we don't test at this point?

2. Avoid Waste During Shift-Left Testing

While testing earlier in the process is the main goal of shift left testing, there is a fine line between testing early and practical testing.

This means that you don't want to shift your testing too far to the "left" that it occurs before it will provide actionable information.

To avoid creating shift left testing waste, you need to evaluate:

  • What are you doing currently in the process?
  • Why are you doing this at this point?
  • Can you test parts earlier in the process?
  • If you test earlier, what is the risk for waste?
  • What testing spots will allow you to pass the most information forward?

3. Encourage Collaboration for Developers and Testers

In a shift left approach, developers and testers are supposed to work together.

When developers test individual units, they are able to achieve a higher level of quality code before it is merged into the main system.  

Additionally, QAs should know some basic coding to help them be more effective. Coding skills allow testers for quick fixes wherever possible, which will make their job easier when it's time to fix bugs.

To encourage maximum collaboration, you'll want to ensure they have access to the same testing practices, like Test-Driven Development (TDD) or Behaviour-Driven Development (BDD). This encourages everyone to stay on the same page.

4. Deploy Automated API Testing Solutions

APIs account for 83% of total internet traffic, and Gartner even reported that APIs are well on their way to becoming the main attack vector in 2022.

Since APIs are the backbone of many digital efforts, you need to ensure they are secured. 

Without an automated testing solution, shift left testing is relatively ineffective because you'll accrue major development costs along the way.

One way to mitigate this is to use a tool that makes it possible to reduce or eliminate the need for additional dev resources.

Partnering with an automated API security testing platform, like APIsec, lets you perform API security testing for every release and time you change the source code. 

The platform will analyze the APIs architecture, develop tailored attack scenarios, execute playbook attacks, and generate a comprehensive report.

Find out how APIsec is helping businesses harness the full power of the shift left approach by contacting a specialist.

Chapter 4: How to Implement Shift Left Security

In this chapter, we'll take a look at how you can actually begin to implement shift left security in your organization. 

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

Chapter 5: Shift Left Best Practices

The widespread adoption of agile development practices, like shift left, has made it possible for IT decision-makers to unlock higher revenues. 83% now implement DevOps strategies to keep their pipelines on track.

Shifting left in your DevOps practice can be a challenge, but it's definitely worth doing if you're serious about improving your process.

Here are a few best practices to help you successfully implement shift left:

1. Collaborate to Create Deployment and Testing Procedures

There are many reasons why failures in production often go unnoticed. One of the most common is that developers and operations teams use procedures and tools that differ from one another.

To be successful, operations and development need a shared understanding of deployment procedures. Having your teams aligned will enable them to detect and resolve issues more quickly and efficiently.

2. Implement Shift Left Gradually

There's no one-size-fits-all answer on how best to implement a shift left strategy within your organization; however, we recommend starting small and gradually increasing the scope and depth of your shift left efforts over time.

One way to do this is to start by identifying areas with a high level of waste or inefficiency. These are typically areas where manual processes are still being used when automated ones would be more effective, such as penetration testing.

Once you've identified these areas, you can begin to implement shift left principles in a way that makes sense for your organization.

3. Simulate Production Environments Throughout the SDLC

The more similar the development and production environments are, the easier it is to avoid errors. You can simulate a production environment with the right patterns and cloud technologies.

4. Test Early and Often

Testing is an essential part of quality assurance, and it needs to happen throughout the development process. Continuous testing allows you to find issues sooner, so fixing them will be less costly.

5. Use Automation to Implement Continuous Integration and Delivery

CI/CD automates the software development process so that changes are made and tested more quickly. This means that issues are found and fixed earlier in the development cycle before they cause problems in production.

The more automation teams incorporate during the coding and deployment phases, the faster they can develop code, run more tests, integrate changes, and spend less time on each activity.

There are three common types of automated tests: 

  • API tests: API tests include integration tests that check whether an API works as expected in terms of security, functionality, reliability, and performance. 
  • Unit tests: Unit tests are a great way to ensure your code works as expected within a specific environment.
  • User interface tests: This is a technique for identifying defects in software utilizing graphics by testing the GUI.

Make Shift Left Testing Work with APIsec

Many businesses don't have the budget to hire expensive developers and pen testers for every step of their development process. So how do they successfully implement shift left strategy? With APIsec.

Their continuous testing platform analyzes your API, generates reports, and executes custom attack scenarios so that you can be confident in the safety of your API's data.

APIsec is the only way to ensure that your API security practices are up-to-date and in line with industry best practices. 

Give your DevOps team the tools they need to effectively implement shift left. Contact a specialist.

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