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Shift Left Explained: What It Means to Shift Security Left

Shift-left security is the practice of performing code and software security assurance processes as early as possible in the software development lifecycle (SDLC).

Wiz Experts Team
5 min read

What is shift-left security?

Shift-left security is the practice of performing code and software security assurance processes as early as possible in the software development lifecycle (SDLC). By democratizing code, infrastructure, and application security, developers are able to address vulnerabilities and misconfigurations at the earliest stages of development (i.e., left in a left-to-right timeline diagram).

But the shift-left approach is not limited to security. With the “everything as code” (EaC) movement and the growing adoption of DevOps and DevSecOps frameworks, many roles such as database administration, compliance enforcement, automated testing, and infrastructure provisioning are being shifted left—closer to application design and implementation.

Why companies are shifting security left

The shift-left approach offers a number of advantages over traditional security processes, in which security is addressed only after the product has been released.

1. Lower cost of remediation

Fixing vulnerabilities and misconfigurations prior to deployment helps to reduce the overall threat footprint by making it less likely for vulnerabilities to find their way into production environments or public-facing services. This saves both time and resources.

2. Faster time to market

The later in the delivery pipeline a security issue is detected, the greater the chance it could delay your application’s release. With the right security automation in your pipeline, you can detect, prioritize, and mitigate security vulnerabilities as soon as they are added to the codebase—as opposed to discovering them later on in the SDLC, when they could negatively impact time to market.

Pro tip

Wiz offers numerous ticket routing and alert automation workflows. Whether DevOps want to be notified via Jira, Slack, ServiceNow, or tools like Azure DevOps, CircleCI, or Jenkins, Wiz provides out-of-the-box support to ensure resolution is frictionless. Additionally, the Wiz API offers unlimited customizations to support any existing workflows.

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3. Improved overall security posture

By shifting security left, you can create more secure code and better protect the data your application needs to access. Automating compliance and security testing, setting guardrails, and equipping developers with the right security tools from the very start of the development process all help to ensure your applications are resilient against attacks and that sensitive data is protected every step of the way.

4. Increased user trust

Maintaining client and user trust is critical for the success of any business, but especially in the financial and healthcare sectors. Breaches, leaks, and even unexploited vulnerabilities in production environments can have devastating effects on brand reputation. By strictly enforcing predefined security controls earlier in the SDLC, you can prevent costly breaches. End users will also be more likely to trust your application with their sensitive information.

The challenges of shifting security left

Despite the many benefits of adopting a shift-left security approach, many organizations have yet to fully embrace it. According to one survey, for example, only 37% of organizations reported having extensively incorporated security into DevOps processes. There can be a number of obstacles to overcome in order to implement effective shift-left security assurance processes. 

1. Prioritization and cultivating a security-first culture 

The productivity of engineering and dev teams is often measured in the number of pull requests they create or how frequently they deliver new features. But shifting security left requires different performance metrics focused on vulnerability prevention and early remediation, which should be rewarded and encouraged.

2. Siloed tooling

Because the tools information security teams use are vastly different in both scope and function from those used by software and infrastructure engineers, security teams often lack visibility into potential risks introduced by developers. Developers, on the other hand, have limited visibility into the potential security repercussions of their coding decisions, and often lack the context and knowledge necessary for fast remediation.

3. Skill shortage

The gap between engineering and information security teams goes beyond tooling. Most friction stems from a lack of agreed-upon processes and the failure to involve InfoSec in the development process from “day zero” in order to enable effective cross-team collaboration.

4. Alert fatigue and tool sprawl

The sheer number of disparate tools and vendors is yet another challenge of application security. With all of these producing security alerts without context or prioritization, this can lead to alert fatigue. Plus, the overhead of orchestrating so many security tools can create bottlenecks and delay discovery and remediation of issues. With so many organizations plagued by this problem, it’s no surprise a Gartner survey revealed that 75% of businesses in 2022 had prioritized consolidating their vendor security tools to eliminate alert noise.

What tools can you use to shift security left?

Let’s take a look at some of the tools used to shift security left.

  • Static application security testing (SAST): A set of scans scripted to analyze application assets (including source code, configuration files, byte code, and binary files) for potential security vulnerabilities.

  • Dynamic application security testing (DAST): An application security testing technique in which the application is scanned at runtime against leading vulnerability signature sources, like the OWASP Top 10.

  • Runtime application self protection (RASP): An agent or linked library that can identify and thwart threats against individual applications at runtime.

  • Interactive application security testing (IAST): A toolset integrating DAST and SAST scanning techniques to optimize application security testing precision.

  • Web application firewall (WAF): A security measure designed to protect web applications from potentially harmful HTTP traffic.

  • Software composition analysis (SCA): An application security technique for identifying and analyzing the vulnerabilities that may be present in various third-party software components included in code dependencies.

  • Secrets scanning: A code security scanning technique aimed to detect secrets (e.g., keys and passwords) in code and configuration files.

  • Container/workload scanning: A set of technologies designed to protect both containers at rest and workloads in runtime. This category includes cloud workload protection platforms (CWPP) as well as Kubernetes security posture management (KSPM) tools.

  • Cloud security posture management (CSPM): The process of securing multi-cloud environments by enhancing visibility into threats, identifying misconfigurations, and assessing the overall security posture of your cloud-based infrastructure.

But the plethora of tools required to shift security left can result in tool sprawl. A suite of tools that automates multiple aspects of shift-left security throughout the SDLC can help to streamline its implementation.

The Wiz approach to implementing shift-left security

Wiz empowers teams to build a shift-left strategy that delivers measurable results.

1. Gain visibility into burning security issues

Using a single cloud-native API connector, Wiz agentless scanning technology continuously assesses the security of your workloads, giving you complete visibility into your threat landscape and eliminating the need for ongoing maintenance.

Wiz’s comprehensive scanning technology covers PaaS resources, virtual machines, containers, serverless functions, public buckets, data volumes, and databases. Combined with contextual insights, security teams can proactively identify, prioritize, and remediate threats in each layer.

2. Employ a single security policy from build to runtime

With visibility into your application security posture, you can begin to define a unified source-to-production policy for your engineering and InfoSec teams alike in order to break down tooling and organizational silos.

Wiz Guardrails enables a single-policy framework for orchestrating security controls and processes in your CI/CD pipeline as well as the deployment of resources in your Kubernetes cluster. This gives your security teams centralized control while empowering your developers to deliver secure code.

3. Automate risk prevention

Automation of security scans, tests, and policy enforcement are at the heart of shift-left security. Wiz offers extensive automation and integration into the development pipeline, preventing issues from ever getting deployed and enabling engineers to mitigate relevant risks quickly and efficiently.

The Wiz suite gives your dev teams complete visibility, intelligent risk prioritization, and insightful remediation guidance. This enables you to address risks in infrastructure and applications and in turn to ship vulnerability-free software at higher velocity.

Discover how Wiz can help you streamline secure software development and expedite resolution without configuring external scans or deploying agents across clouds and workloads. Schedule a demo with our shift-left security experts today.

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