There’s a fundamental push and pull between business and security that has introduced friction over the years. With data breaches commonplace, security requirements have continued to grow in scope and, in many cases, have slowed the ability of businesses to release to market faster. Business leaders often view security as a necessity in a world of frequent data breaches, and they have learned to (or are forced to) tolerate an ever-growing list of security requirements. But why is the validation and vetting of security requirements so slow, and does it have to be?
Circumventing Security and IT
A lack of agility and responsiveness to the business ultimately gave rise to software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications that were fast and simple to deploy. Small, departmental SaaS footprints expanded enterprise-wide and eventually evolved into cross-functional application and services platforms. To a certain degree, shortcomings and delays in application deployments also gave rise to “shadow IT” — a complete circumvention of the security process.
This trend of embracing simplicity and speed has progressed into the consumerization of the infrastructure, as shown by the continued growth of infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) offerings such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. With the increased adoption and simplicity of cloud deployment, the barrier to entry to spin up and deploy services has dropped dramatically, and this has increased the security gap in visibility and controls for these types of deployments.
A recent survey from RightScale on cloud adoption revealed that less than half of application or business owners plan to delegate authority to central IT for the selection of public cloud services, which supports the notion that business leaders are opting for the easiest path forward when it comes to application deployment. The flip-side of this equation is that close to half of enterprises also report slowing their cloud adoption due to a lack of security knowledge and skills according to a 2016 survey from Intel. The disparity in these perspectives on cloud authority and the ability to adopt cloud between business owners and security shows the lack of alignment on a common cloud delivery and security model.
Shifting Gears for Security
There are a number of best practices and solutions that you can embrace to accelerate security and your business. Below is a fundamental recommendation around DevOps, but also some approaches that have the potential to revolutionize application and data security while speeding things up at the same time.
1. Integrate DevOps and Security
In its current form, security teams cannot keep pace with the existing reviews and gates for production release, and in many cases, they are running significantly behind on approvals. One Fortune 500 company I spoke with had a backlog of over 800 inbound requests from the business awaiting review. With over 80% of enterprises adopting DevOps and 30% going to a company-wide DevOps strategy, according to the RightScale survey, the pace of development and release will only accelerate.
The answer to speeding things up lies in changing the security validation process and drastically rethinking architectural and technology strategies. Some practitioners refer to these development process changes as “shifting left” — a more proactive approach that builds security into development and testing cycles earlier and continuing throughout the overall process. While integrating security practices into the overall development process provides some significant optimization and should be implemented, this only affects a portion of the application development and deployment strategy.
2. Implement a Secure Computing Layer
Secure computing solutions come in different forms and provide a common method to enable secure application processing and computation on data that either eliminates exposure of data in the clear or limits the execution and memory space to a trusted computing base. With the former method, there have been innovations in cryptography and compute methodologies that facilitate computation on encrypted data while in use. These newest methods do not utilize or attempt to utilize homomorphic encryption (which is still a long way from being a reality). More importantly, they are not subject to side-channel memory attacks (like Meltdown and Spectre) and do not require application code-level modifications, which can help facilitate the migration of more workloads to cloud infrastructure environments and still mitigate security risks.
Another secure computing method utilizes enclave technologies, such as specialized processors that isolate applications and code execution to prevent them from being hacked or compromised. The Apple iPhone’s Secure Enclave storage of fingerprints and face IDs is a common implementation of this technology, and there are ongoing efforts to extend enclave capabilities to more traditional applications. This technique relies on specialized processors to isolate system memory and restrict access to an application’s execution environment. While the methodology has been evolving for quite some time and shows some promise, it does require code-level modifications and depends on hardware, making it less adaptable for cloud workloads in the shorter term.
3. Utilize Advanced Application Access Control Frameworks
The dynamic nature of today’s computing environment, especially in cloud and hybrid environments, requires a different access control model that goes beyond traditional network access control lists. The heavy utilization of containers, microservices, and API-based calls means that security needs to better understand the overall access model and leverage alternate ways to authenticate users, applications, and service calls.
There are emerging, policy-driven approaches that establish access profiles based on explicit identifiers and attribution to build a more dynamic access and authorization security model. These access frameworks ultimately reduce the amount of work involved in architecture reviews and provide the flexibility to remain secure when the infrastructure changes or moves.
It’s not news that businesses are trying to leverage technology infrastructure that can move faster. By circumventing the traditional security requirements review and validation process, and inventing a new one with alternative technological approaches, security can also move faster and accelerate the business.
Ameesh Divatia is Co-Founder & CEO of Baffle, Inc., which provides encryption as a service. He has a proven track record of turning technologies that are difficult to build into successful businesses, selling three companies for more than $425 million combined in the service … View Full Bio