Four reasons your agency's security infrastructure isn't agile enough

Part 1. In an ever-changing world, today’s organizations must have the technology in place to evolve along with it. In the government, agencies need to remain adaptive to achieve their missions in the face of policy changes, geopolitical conflict, and private sector advancements.

For years, enterprise teams have implemented agile software development methodologies to improve their ability to service their users rapidly and reliably; government agencies must follow suit. However, for organizations using or considering agile software development methodologies -- private or public sector -- the security architecture that protects their assets must be equally adaptable. 

Information security architecture is a comprehensive framework that defines and guides the processes, policies, standards, and technology selections to protect an organization's information assets. It integrates with the organization's enterprise architecture while focusing on information security, ensuring that security strategies align with business objectives and technological advancements.

In the context of secure software development, information security architecture provides for the secure development and release of software products from project initiation to deployment.  Still, there are unique challenges that take place in agile environments. It’s essential to understand these barriers and considerations before agencies can set up an information security architecture as adaptive as their software development efforts. 

Challenges in an Agile Environment

An agile environment thrives on rapid iterations, incremental development, and continuous delivery. And while constant change is helpful for many situations and outcomes, it can introduce specific security challenges and open up new vulnerabilities to threats. With regular iterations, the underlying system undergoes frequent modifications, and traditional security measures and infrastructure, which may be more rigid, need help keeping up with these changes. 

Additionally, agile projects often involve cross-functional teams, leveraging expertise from personnel across an organization’s disciplines rather than from one team. These differing perspectives and skill sets are helpful for the project itself. However, they can also lead to inconsistencies as many teams perform tasks in different ways, oftentimes operating in siloes. When agile team members have different security practices, for example, these inconsistencies can expose the organization’s vulnerabilities. Pair these inconsistencies with the push for faster delivery on agile projects that all too often overshadows safe, secure practices, and you can understand why these teams are ripe for cyber threats. 

Four Key Considerations for Security Architecture in Agile

Upon understanding what vulnerabilities are most present in agile environments, SecOps teams can then begin constructing an infosec architecture that is as adaptive as it is safe. This is especially important in government agencies when considering the sensitivity of the data being analyzed and ultimately, the missions served. The security architecture must be deliberately integrated for organizations seeking to maintain robust security in an agile framework. There are four key considerations for integrating security architecture effectively in an agile environment:

  1. Cross-Functional Collaboration: Security experts must actively engage with developers, testers, and product owners. Collaborating with experts helps create a shared understanding of security requirements and facilitates quick resolution of security-related issues. Embedding security professionals within Agile teams can enhance real-time collaboration and ensure consistent security controls.
  2. Security Training and Awareness: Given the rapid pace of an Agile sprint, all team members should be equipped with the knowledge to write secure code. Regular training sessions, workshops, and written guidance can help ensure the team is equipped to identify and mitigate security vulnerabilities in code.
  3. Foster a Security Culture: Foster a culture where security is seen as everyone's responsibility, not just the security team's. Adapt the organizational mindset to value security equally with other business objectives. This shift can also align with the concept of seeing security requirements as mandatory functional requirements.
  4. Security Champions within Agile Teams: Identify and nurture 'Security Champions' within each Agile team. These individuals with a keen interest in security act as a bridge between the security team and their respective agile teams. They help promote security best practices, ensuring security is not overlooked amidst other technical considerations.

It’s imperative that when an organization combines information security architecture with agile methodologies, the emphasis shifts towards iterative, continuous improvement and close collaboration between security and development teams. By integrating information security architecture within the agile development cycle, organizations can ensure that security is woven into the fabric of an agile project. This relationship enhances the agility of security practices while providing that software products are developed with robust security.

Upon understanding the challenges and key considerations for securing agile environments, leaders can then consider strategies to implementing an architecture that marries security requirements with the flexibility and speed of agile development. Learn how leaders can take a strategic approach to agile security architecture in part two of this series. 

Image credit: Elnur_/

Darren Death is CISO at ASRC Federal.

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