Six ways your government agency can establish a safer agile ecosystem

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Part 2: An organization’s agility is synonymous with its resilience in the face of change. Agility allows enterprises to face industry-spanning challenges without experiencing catastrophic disruption in their operations, and agile software development makes this concept a reality. Beyond that, it ensures organizations can service external and internal stakeholders rapidly and reliably -- and for government agencies, it ensures continuity of mission services. 

But in agile organizations, there are unique security risks -- outlined in part one of this series -- such as compromising security processes in the name of speed and differing security practices across cross-functional teams. To safeguard these projects, professionals must create a cybersecurity architecture as unique as the agile environments they’re protecting.

SEE ALSO: Part 1: Four reasons your agency's security infrastructure isn't agile enough

Implementing security architecture within the agile framework requires a strategic approach that marries security requirements with the flexibility and speed of agile development. A seamless integration ensures that while the development process remains adaptive and fast-paced, it doesn't compromise the software products' security. 

Strategies for Implementing Security Architecture in Agile

The good news is that there are practical steps infosec teams can take to safeguard their agile development. Strategies for effective implementation include incorporating security in user stories, iterative risk management, codifying security, and seeking continuous improvement of security practices, among others. Below are six strategies infosec professionals can leverage to create secure agile environments:

  1. Incorporating Security in User Stories: Security requirements, derived from the overarching architecture, can be integrated into user stories and acceptance criteria. This ensures that security is a fundamental part of the development process, not an afterthought.
  2. Iterative Risk Management: Risk assessment isn't a one-time event in the agile model. With each sprint or iteration, security architecture guides teams in reassessing risks, ensuring that newly developed features or changes are evaluated for potential vulnerabilities.
  3. Security as Code: Treating infrastructure and security configurations as code can help automate and standardize security deployments. This ensures repeatability and consistency across development projects.
  4. Continuous Integration of Secure Practices: Agile's CI/CD pipeline can incorporate automated security checks, such as static and dynamic analysis, guided by the security architecture's tooling recommendations.
  5. Feedback and Rapid Response: Agile emphasizes quick feedback loops. Security architecture provides the mechanisms for rapid feedback on security issues, allowing teams to address vulnerabilities in real time or the next sprint.
  6. Incremental Security Design: Just as features are built incrementally in agile, security measures, based on the security architecture, can be designed and implemented in stages, building upon each other.

Benefits of a Well-Integrated Security Architecture

Incorporating security architecture practices into agile methodologies establishes a software development approach prioritizing functionality and security. Organizations can ensure their software's resilience while optimizing development by harmonizing these two elements. By accomplishing this, agencies can reap the many benefits of a secure agile team, including reducing risk by incorporating security practices from the start of a project and identifying and mitigating potential vulnerabilities or external threats early. 

Additionally, teams can experience streamlined development if they embed security requirements into user stories and acceptance criteria, reducing back-and-forth and rework -- and ultimately saving money by reducing the costs and times associated with fixing these issues later in the project. With a security architecture in place, even as different agile teams work on various parts of a project, they maintain a consistent approach to security, ensuring a uniform security posture. Lastly, with security controls embedded into the agile process, adhering to regulatory requirements and standards becomes more straightforward, simplifying compliance efforts.

Considering the threats organizations face on a day-to-day basis, security cannot be an afterthought. Adopting agile methodologies necessitates a fresh look at how security is integrated. A proactive, flexible, and iterative approach to information security architecture ensures that assets remain protected and aligns with the agile promise of delivering value continuously.

Photo credit: Andrea Izzotti / Shutterstock

Darren Death is CISO at ASRC Federal.

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