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Why a shift-left approach to security is necessary and how you can implement it


Software development teams are being asked to move faster and a typical cycle through four key processes—design, development, testing, and software releases. In today’s world, where most businesses are leveraging technology and software to distinguish themselves in the market, the pace of development has become critical. Companies cannot risk waiting to address security vulnerabilities and bugs until the end of development. Waiting to address them after development will be costly, time-consuming, increase time to market, and can open organizations to unnecessary risk. Thus, it is essential to introduce testing from the start – this is also known as shift left security.

What Is Shift Left Security?

The Shift-Left Testing approach implements security checks during the development phase. It’s a process that lets developers detect bugs early. Security vulnerabilities identified when code is being written are the easiest to fix because the code units are small and more manageable. Once every developer merges their code into the main development branch, the extent of code widens, and ultimately the effort required to find anomalies within the entire code.

Shift Left Security Approaches

Here are testing approaches that developers can leverage as they look to shift security testing to the left:

  1. Static Application Security Testing (SAST): An automated scan for checking the application’s security. It has access to the source code, tries to identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses, and then generates a report.
  2. Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST): Specification-based testing that looks for vulnerability while the application is running. It doesn’t require in-depth knowledge of the internal working of a system. DAST tools perform fault injection techniques to analyze operating code and identify interfaces, scripts, requests, responses, injections, and authentication issues.
  3. Software Composition Analysis (SCA): Analyzes software and uses origin analysis to identify known vulnerabilities and notify the user of any patches or updates. It complements SAST by finding problems that aren’t detectable by scanning source code.
  4. Interactive Application Security Testing (IAST): It implements the elements of DAST and SAST. IAST is deployed to perform application and data flow testing employing predefined test cases. The tool also recommends test cases based on the results.
  5. Application Security Testing as a Service (ASTaaS): The organization pays an external company to perform security tests for their applications. ASTaaS combines static and dynamic methods, including evaluating application programming interfaces (APIs) and penetration testing.

Benefits of Shifting Security Left

Following are the benefits of shifting security left:

Increased delivery speed

Integrating testing into the pipeline improves the delivery speed of the software since the bugs are quickly identified and fixed before deployment, allowing developers to focus on quickly getting the product ready for deployment.

Streamlines workflows

The Shift-left approach brings more coordination between development and testing. In this way, testing begins with the development cycle, opening up the software for correction directly from the beginning. It helps to streamline workflows between QA and development teams.

Unlocks cost-savings

The cost and implications of performing testing after development would multiply based on the time when the bug was discovered. With shift left, testing is performed once every build, ensuring that bugs are caught and fixed early, diminishing the overall costs of testing and fixing bugs.

Improves code quality

Shift-left approach assures timely correspondence between developers, testers, and various stakeholders. Developers can easily cooperate on the development of unit and system tests. It improves overall code quality with strict code quality checks, ensuring a more stable end-product delivered to the customer.

How to implement Shift Left Testing

Static testing

You can carry out static testing early in the project. This testing aims to find defects and bugs early in the development cycle that could turn out to be very time-consuming and expensive to rectify in the later phases of the project. Companies can have checklists to validate every project’s requirements and design and log defects into a defect management tool.

Unified test strategy

Agile in its best avatar (synonymous with DevOps) requires developers to test and testers to code. Neither of them is expected to be an expert at something which isn’t their primary domain. But DevOps teams should be able to run intermediate-level tests, and QAs should know enough coding to implement some quick fixes wherever the need arises. Basic coding skills will help testers effectively code reviews and enable them to be valuable contributors in sprint teams. Testers need to be proficient enough to read and modify simple code – such as an automated test or rework fundamental methods.

Risk-based analysis

A risk-based analysis is used to determine each test scenario’s impact and probability of failure. Companies can use this approach for regression, functional, and non-functional types of testing. Once you establish the test cases, the next step is to decide the priority for each test case based on the analysis. It’s essential to discuss the impact of failure with the development team.


In traditional CI/CD pipelines, testing usually happens towards the end. However, shift left testing integrates testing into the ‘commit’ and ‘build’ phases, literally shifting bug detection to the left. It reduces the cost of fixing issues late in the CI/CD pipeline and allows them to adapt more quickly to market evolutions. Testing early on from the build phase also means greater software integrity and less risk exposure.

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