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April 2, 2015

Agile Security 101: The Future of Testing

Agile Security 101: The Future of TestingYou don't have to be involved in the code-producing part of development to understand Agile, as a methodology, is more in tune with the way people and businesses use software today. More to the point, you don't have to be in the trenches to understand that the common refrain about Agile's biggest failing — mainly, that it trades security for speed — isn't necessarily true.

Now that you've got that down, it's time to tackle one of the biggest benefits Agile offers from a security standpoint: a revamped outlook on testing. Whether you're spending too much on manual testing, or you fail to give security the respect it deserves, here are three reasons why security assessment and testing within the Agile framework should be considered as an alternative to testing under traditional methods.

1. It's Automated

While most methodologies have embraced automation to some degree, not all of it comes with a strict focus on security, and few take it to the extremes Agile does.

On the business side, the biggest perk here is efficiency. With traditional/manual testing methods, you use a lot of employees in various ways throughout each stage of the software development lifecycle. By automating those steps, you can reallocate valuable employee time to more important tasks, or put off hiring more staff to fill increasingly specialized roles. There's a reason businesses have been automating tasks at every opportunity since the beginning of time.

That's not to say the upsides of automation are purely financial. Security is an ever-evolving game, and no single person could remember to check everything a well-built security platform can. Aside from a more secure product, this means improvements that touch on every role: Less time spent on monotonous tasks makes quality assurance and security personnel happy, fewer third-party testing hours means fewer billable hours . . . the list goes on.

2. It's Continual

The continual and automated aspects of Agile security testing are closely related, but they're far from identical. While the latter is largely about catching errors with the least possible effort, the former focuses on carrying out the task as frequently as possible — checking code for vulnerabilities in real time instead of waiting on set points in the lifecycle.

Fixing errors becomes more expensive the longer they go unchecked. Finding problems late in the game can mean scrapping serviceable code and rewriting it to suit the fix, in addition to missed time-to-market goals and all sorts of other problems. By moving to a continual solution, businesses can effectively check every committed line on demand — a huge difference from dated (and, frankly, unwieldy) build-test-fix-release cycles.

Continuality also offers better training and remediation, allowing teams to diagnose and fix problems on an individual developer's end without waiting for set points. This makes any future code the developer produces more secure by default. Tie it in with a platform that offers on-demand learning services, and you have a system that targets training instead of forcing specific lessons on broad swaths of your workforce.

3. It's Cloud-Based

The best Agile security platforms are, anyway. And they're cloud-based with good reason: It's easier to handle distributed workforces that way. On-premises security tools are often just limitations that make linked offices and third-party vendors islands unto themselves. Introducing the cloud to the Agile security testing process promotes consistency, which in turn ensures more secure end products and reduced costs.

Take policy management, for instance. Instead of leaving it up to individual software packages (all of which require configuration, not to mention licensing costs) and security personnel (which can sometimes vary in their interpretation of policy), a singular, cloud-based system means every line of code is subject to the same kind of scrutiny from the start. The code can also be checked against newer exploits faster, with no need to push updates to individual offices to ensure consistent security.

Because cloud-based services are off-site by definition, they can help businesses realize more direct financial impacts by reducing "baked-in" downtime, a serious problem with traditional testing measures. Instead of waiting on configuration and provisioning (let alone actual time spent testing), developers and other technical employees can work with fewer interruptions — an even bigger boon considering the other role-optimizing benefits Agile testing has to offer.

Welcome to the Future

Whatever you thought of Agile before, don't let security concerns keep you from giving it a second look. It is secure, and you don't have to give up on proper testing methods to enjoy the speediness it's built around. While old-school testing methods might not mesh with a faster, iteration-based mind-set, automated, continual and cloud-based options are more viable than they've ever been — a statement that holds true whether your professional responsibilities center on code or cash.

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

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Evan Wade is a professional freelance writer, author, and editor from Indianapolis. His time as a sales consultant with AT&T, combined with his current work as a tech reporter, give him unique insight into the world of mobile/Web security and the steps needed to properly secure software products. Follow him on Twitter.

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