Cybersecurity in an Agile Environment

(This is a contributed post)

When Agile first found its way into software development, it was recommended to not be used in high risk development for fear of its lack of security. Today, though, Agile can and should be used in the workplace to increase cybersecurity, not weaken it. 

At its core function, Agile promotes faster software development, without reducing the quality of the software. It’s ingrained in many of us that if something is developed quickly, that it has to be a reduction in quality, but Agile development can in fact improve quality. There’s no reason that a cybersecurity team cannot work alongside an Agile environment.  

Using Agile may be a new way of working for many in the tech industry, especially for cybersecurity engineers who often rely on the waterfall methodology.  The key differences between the waterfall methodology and the Agile approach is that waterfall is a linear life cycle, whereas Agile relies on continuous development and testing. While the waterfall method requires every aspect of one phase before moving on to the next, Agile works by implementing various phases throughout the process of software development.  

Waterfall methodology vs the Agile approach in cybersecurity

So, if software development relied solely on the waterfall method, would that be problematic or advantageous to security? Some would argue that the fast-paced development of an Agile environment would hinder security, but the Agile mindset provides a secure environment when security is at the core of the software development.  

In a traditional waterfall environment, each specific department works independent of one another in many ways. This can cause a lack of integration, and can lead to major security issues after the fact.  Potential security issues are often missed in the early stages, and security then becomes an addition once the software has been developed. In an Agile environment, you have the opportunity to integrate security more fluidly and you can catch problems earlier in the process, when they are less expensive and time-consuming to address. 

The complexity of cybersecurity careers

Not everything that a cybersecurity specialist depends solely on the code produced, so while a cybersecurity team can work alongside an Agile environment, it’s not totally fair to say that they are working within the environment since there are so many aspects of security outside of code including penetration testing, packaging for 3rd party components, server updates, and even looking at production traffic. If you’re interested in becoming a cybersecurity engineer, you can find out more of some of what the job entails via Norwich University; they offer a look at how to become a cybersecurity engineer, as well as some of the intricate aspects of what an average day can look like for a cybersecurity specialist. It also addresses six of the more popular cybersecurity careers right now, including Forensic computer analysts, penetration testers (commonly referred to as ethical hackers) and chief information security officers. Just based on the titles alone, you can see that a cybersecurity professional does not just sit beside a developer and point out flaws that could create security risks; their jobs are multi-dimensional. They are experts at working in changing environments.

Collaboration is key to increasing security

When setting out software development, Agile relies on key players coming together to create specific targets. These teams work together to ensure this aspect of the software is designed and completed efficiently, and by incorporating security specialists at the beginning, the Agile team can be alerted of potential security threats along the way. Rather than  an add on that requires triage and a multitude of man hours from security later on down the road,  cybersecurity can mitigate potential risks before they even occur when working alongside an Agile environment. This software development approach allows for providers to understand potential security risks while creating processes and services for existing and potential customers. With this approach, there are fewer security threats later on, and there is less clean up for a security team and quality assurance team later on down the road.  

agile cybersecurity

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Dynamic cyber threats

While your team might plan two-week sprints for development (which is actually scrum, rather than Agile, but both are often linked together) security threats do not come in two week increments. Some of the major security threats are based on the fact that risks are dynamic, not static. While cybersecurity can work alongside Agile production environments, their workload is constantly evolving. Keep this in mind when you plan each Agile team to ensure that other risks and threats can be addressed outside of each specific project. 

Because one of the 12 principles of Agile is to welcome changing requirements, even late in development, this allows for flexbility as cyber threats and risks arise and change. Several other principles equally support the use of Agile in regards to cybersecurity, including one in which people are encouraged to collaborate daily throughout the project, and not just developers, but business folks as well. Again, instead of cybersecurity professionals being left out of the loop, they’re informed and help make smart decisions from day one.  

Since security goals can be outlined and addressed along with other goals, security is no longer an afterthought. Instead, it is integrated into the software with the customers trust in mind. A product that proves itself to be a solid software, but does not protect the customers information is no longer a useful product. 

Disadvantages for cybersecurity in an Agile environment

Admittedly, one issue that may crop up in an Agile environment is the fact that the software is constantly changing, which can be an invitation for potential hackers to utilize against the software. Traditional approaches like firewalls and typical anti-virus methods are not as quickly changing as other aspects of software development. This can pose threats as the agile software environment changes, particularly due to the fast nature of the evolution. 

Agile security though depends on tasks being able to be repeated, day in, and day out. With automation put into place, you can now focus on the things that you don’t know, rather than the multitude of things you do know, but have to check manually. Automation is key to making sure threats and risks are minimized as much as possible. Regardless of the scrum sprint schedule, automated processes and continued repeatability produce solidly built applications and websites.  

Security risks are complex and requires adaptability

As frameworks continue to be implemented in a more fluid way, cybersecurity will be forced to adapt and thrive. The ability to be incremental in processes allows for threats and risks to be analyzed and fixed long before they become overwhelming. Most security threats are complex; utilizing the quick adaptability of such an approach means that value is not compromised for the consumer while still increasing security. Additionally, an Agile approach to development ensures that specialists in varying fields communicate and collaborate to reduce potential risks, and quickly mitigate them when they do arise.  

cybersecurity software developmentUltimately, there are more than one ways to implement security in software, but reservations that security specialists can not work in an Agile environment are unsubstantiated. Security professionals are inherently adaptable to the changing landscape of cyber threats. It only makes sense they would also thrive in a place that works towards adaptability, which is one of the core principles behind Agile. Accepting changes late into software development allows for a more secure software, and a safer and trustworthy product for the customer. An agile framework can create consistent and efficient processes for cybersecurity across an entire platform, while effectively using resources. 

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