Shift left security is the practice of applying security to an application in development at the earliest possible stage. Instead of testing how secure your program is when it’s near the end of the product development life cycle, you do so as early as possible. That not only saves you time and effort in revamping the entire software code in the end but also ensures better security and efficiency.

When you’re cooking, you can liken shift left security to tasting your dish as soon as you finish seasoning it to quickly make adjustments before it’s too late.

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The typical software development process comprises seven steps—planning, defining the requirements, designing and prototyping, software development, testing, deployment, and operations and maintenance.

typical software development process


Testing occurs near the end of the typical software development life cycle, but that is not the case when developers employ shift left security.

devsecops life cycle


Notice that testing comes in earlier in the process, and security is integrated into the product. Here’s a more detailed diagram.

shift-left security


What Are the Benefits of Employing Shift Left Security?

The shift left security approach works best with agile software development, which refers to a set of frameworks and practices that focuses on the people doing the work and how they work together. Collaboration and cross-functionality define it. It has several advantages, including:

  • Encourages individuals from various teams (security, software development, and IT operations, mostly) to interact over processes and tools
  • Provides working software with comprehensive documentation
  • Focuses on customer collaboration rather than contract negotiation
  • Allows developers to respond to changes more than just follow a predetermined plan
  • Enables developers to find defects early, reducing project costs
  • Reduces program defects in the end due to continuous testing
  • Automates everything, thus ensuring faster time to market
  • Improves customer experiences due to its focus on customer requirements

What Does Shift Left Security Implementation Entail?

Implementing the shift left security concept requires:

  • Defining shift left security policies: These policies can automatically and consistently set boundaries before work begins. Workers will know critical information to make development processes, including security, more efficient.
  • Assessing where and how software is created: Understanding where and how your software is developed will help you identify the steps to make testing happen earlier. You can also determine the tools your codebase needs.
  • Embracing security automation: Automated security requires software-based processes to programmatically detect, investigate, and fix external threats to applications and systems.
  • Implementing security fixes during code creation: Shift left security introduces security into almost every step of the development process. Testers give feedback fast so developers can integrate fixes at once.
  • Embedding visibility into the culture: Shift left security ensures your code remains secure during and after its release. That requires constant visibility to remediate issues through the release of software updates. 

What Tools Does Employing Shift Left Security Require?

Employing the shift left security process requires a couple of tools, namely:

  • Static application security testing (SAST): Structural testing that identifies weaknesses and then generates reports.
  • Dynamic application security testing (DAST): Specification-based testing done while the application runs, even if the tester doesn’t have in-depth knowledge of how the system works internally.
  • Container scans: Scanning containers and their components to identify potential security threats. Containers refer to complete software packages comprising its code and all its dependencies, so an application runs quickly and reliably, regardless of the computing environment.
  • Compliance scans: Assess a software’s adherence to a specific compliance framework like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
  • Dependency scans: Automatically find security vulnerabilities in your software dependencies during development and testing.

Shift left security transformed the role of testing in software development. In the past, testing solely focused on detecting defects. Shift left security shifted the focus on not just finding weaknesses but also addressing them for reliability and security.

In sum, shift left security changed how we look at software development. It made the process faster and reduced flaws, allowing developers to go to market quickly without worrying about bugs in their products.

Key Takeaways