Transform Mobile DevOps into Mobile DevSecOps

By TOM TOVAR

Mobile developers are mostly focused on adding new features and functionality to their apps. Security features—such as RASP protection, obfuscation, encryption, jailbreak/root prevention and MiTM prevention—are usually addressed at the end of the development cycle if they are addressed at all. Unfortunately, most apps ship with significant vulnerabilities.

One internal app test showed that most apps can be cracked within 15 minutes, and a recent academic study found that 67% of the malicious app installs came from the Google Play Store.

An Appdome global survey of more than 10,000 smartphone consumers released in August 2021 showed that this approach—features over security—is an enormous mistake. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of consumers say they value security as much or more than features when it comes to mobile apps. Nearly three-fourths (73%) said that they would stop using a mobile app if it left them unprotected against attacks. <’p>

The survey revealed a big shift in consumer sentiment. For the first time in recent history, consumers are on the security team’s side! They expect strong protection from threats and fraud. But meeting these expectations is extremely challenging for development teams, because DevOps and security are so often at odds.

Here’s why: Nearly all the work done in DevOps is automated, from GitHub to Jenkins to Fastlane, while almost all security work is manual. Sure, security software development kit (SDK) vendors position themselves as an alternative, but buyer beware. Implementing a security SDK is never just a couple of lines of code. It’s still a brittle, manual process that does not offer a guaranteed outcome.

Mobile app security solutions available today don’t fit into the automated delivery model that is DevOps. The only way to automate security and make it fit within the DevOps workflow is to stop trying to squeeze it in at the end of the Dev cycle. As a result, security does not have a seat at the mobile app development table today. And as long as security is manual and cannot be seamlessly plugged into the existing DevOps workflows, it will remain an afterthought, at best.

The Encryption Example: Why Security is so Hard

As an illustration, let’s take a look at incorporating mobile encryption, an absolute necessity to protect data against harvesting, theft, interception, deception and trickery. For every type of data inside the app, developers must choose the right combination for each component of the encryption model, including encryption algorithm/protocols, cipher suites, key strength, key derivation technique, key protection and safeguarding. It has to match both the security and performance requirements for a highly variable set of data format characteristics. Even small errors or mismatches could slow app performance or render the app unusable. On the other hand, the app may perform well, but the encryption may be too weak to provide sufficient protection.

It’s complex, time-consuming work that developers don’t want to have to do twice. That’s why they tend to wait until after the app is built to add encryption. Unfortunately, this means all the network information is stored in the app unencrypted, and if a bad actor gets their hands on a UAT version of the app, the “keys to the kingdom” are in the clear, ripe for the picking.

The demands on DevOps to get new releases out of the door quickly are high. Security is often seen as a negative force that holds back innovation and delays release, especially when it’s left until the very end of the software development life cycle (SDLC). The term DevSecOps is used to describe a security-focused, continuous delivery SDLC. But that should involve much more than penetration testing. Identifying issues isn’t enough. Security needs to be built into the development cycle without slowing down release times or creating uncontrollable costs.

The only way to incorporate security into DevOps and to achieve DevSecOps is to imbue security with as much automation as development currently enjoys. By using an automated, no-code platform that builds security directly into the app, security can become a natural part of the DevSecOps workflow. Plus, security can be consistently applied with documentation that demonstrates protection. It’s the only way to enable developers to get their secured mobile apps into the hands of their end-users at a rapid pace, align all stakeholders to a common shared set of objectives and outcomes and eliminate the sources of friction commonly found between DevOps and security teams.

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