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How to Build a Culture of Security Awareness within a Development Team

Applications cannot succeed in today's world without high levels of security built into them, so training software developers to build robust, secure products is essential.

Security can be a complicated topic. Many developers would rather learn a new coding language than focus on security practices, so companies must find ways to motivate them and create a culture of security within the team. It's even more essential when you are working with a nearshore software development partner. It will be vital to your product to invest time ensuring your partner is developing a culture of security awareness.

All tech teams share one commonality: nobody wants to build an application without hitting the minimum quality requirements, so, with that in mind, here are some methods for avoiding that risk by developing a successful culture of security. 

Communicate on a Level Playing Field

For many security professionals it can be much easier and faster to fix the problem themselves or try and explain things as they experienced them. In order to breakdown silos and create interest in security, those working in security need to remember they are coaching others and will have to act and speak accordingly. When attempting to address security issues with developers, the security team should approach them without too much technicality, explaining things in a common, simple language that everybody will understand to prevent confusion.

For instance, saying something complicated like, "you have an SQL injection and you're not validating the right variables," might throw off some people, so instead say something like, "your database is exposed because you haven't implemented the right security functions." This example shows how to communicate the risks to the whole team in a language they understand, and without seeming condescending or superior.

Another good tip is to be sure to teach security in an engaging way. People learn far less about a topic when forced to sit in a room for hours just listening to a teacher, so explore new methods that increase knowledge more effectively. For example, trainers or teachers could create games, quizzes, and team-based challenges to create an environment of healthy competition. If you need more direction, check out this article which addresses the difference between teaching and coaching, and may provide some helpful insights. 

Remember that silence also speaks volumes, so be on the lookout for people who don't engage during the training process as they may be struggling to grasp the concepts. It may be worth it to reach out to them before they express frustration or confusion. Let them know you are all in this together and mistakes are opportunities to improve. 

Provide Continuous Support and Direction 

A successful culture of security relies on consistent effort from everyone in the company but often stems from the security team's ability to guide developers in the right direction. As such, your security team will need to be ready to take on the responsibility of helping development teams get up to speed and engaged in security. 

The internal security team should provide documentation and support, pointing developers to well-known organizations or resources that may provide the advice or information they need. By encouraging and helping them to research things in their own ways, rather than giving them all the answers or presenting strict guidelines, they will become more motivated to focus on security during the development process and may even bring new ideas or concepts to the table.

Implementing a metrics platform for the entire team is another key approach for improving motivation, as everybody can see what is being tested, what new discoveries have been made, and how they are directly impacting the project, giving people a strong feeling that they are contributing on a higher level. This can be made in a variety of ways, but be sure to choose a method that has worked well for your team in the past. 

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Communicate and Recognize Achievements 

Recognition increases motivation and makes people feel great about their work, so never hesitate to put people on a pedestal when they make improvements to security practices. Far too often, we tend to focus on the problems and the times we've missed security vulnerabilities, and while that is vital to admitting mistakes and improving, morale is going to dip and the perceived level of difficulty will be off-putting for some.

For instance, somebody might execute a test and notice some unusual behavior in the application. When that behavior turns out to be a vulnerability, make sure that everyone knows which individual found it and give them huge amounts of kudos, because they may have just saved your application.

It's important to bring the whole team into this process, so ensure there are communication channels available where everybody can congratulate people when they do something special. These channels are also essential for enabling front end, back end, and project management teams to share knowledge and information about the product's security. Ideally, you have well-established channels for company-wide communication, enabling extensive collaboration. 

As DevOps has proven, without the ability to interact as a team, there's a danger of creating an isolated environment that hinders the development of a collaborative culture.

[RELEVANT READING | Password Management and Social Intelligence in the Era of Mr. Robot]

Automate Whatever Possible 

A strong culture of security requires the strategic use of certain automation tools, aligning the security culture with DevOps techniques, and creating a stronger security-awareness culture. 

If security tests aren't automated during the entire software development lifecycle, developers have to find and fix vulnerabilities in the late stages of development, which is much more difficult and expensive. The first approach to automated security testing should be source code analysis. Just be aware that some tools generate a lot of false positives in this stage, which can cause panic within the team, so it's important to work with them to interpret the results correctly.

It also helps to use more than one tool for the same automation task, mixing the outputs to see if the same vulnerabilities crop up in both tests. Dependency management software can help maintain and monitor the functions being used, which is necessary to find public exploits and fix them as fast as possible.

Automation will positively impact the time and effort required to solve a vulnerability, resulting in cost savings and higher protection against future security issues. By combining automation with engaging training sessions, strong methods of collaboration, and a common security language, companies can quickly instill a security culture that permeates the whole software development lifecycle, ultimately extending benefits to the entire organization. 

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Strong security awareness is crucial to a nearshore software development team's success. Want to learn more? Get in touch today!

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Saturday, 15 August 2020

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