Rapid Application Security

Speed limits on our freeways exist for a reason. Above certain speeds, the increasing risks of how fast you move rise dramatically compared to the time you can save and safely arrive at your destination. In today’s rapidly developing and changing IT landscape, speed is being demanded, and the risks of that speed are rarely understood. Developers are pressured to meet changing requirements from multiple sources, including configuration management, asset identification, automated pipelines, several different standards/regulations, and more. How can developers meet these demands so that the corresponding business teams can leverage and meet their critical business objectives?

This paper will endeavor to answer that question with the premise that understanding the risks of rapid development is at the core of how to successfully integrate DevOps with a secure and compliant approach. The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS) will be used as an example of one of the common standards that developers must translate into different applications with different contextual challenges. How can a developer understand the security risks and translate them into meeting the new PCI Software Security Framework (SSF)? How can security and functionality be orchestrated from a single location in a way that hardware, software, and firmware are all properly developed and maintained?

Security Compass offers SD Elements, a tool that speaks the language of risk to both developers and business teams. The features of SD Elements will be reviewed to see how well they can meet this challenge of needing to go fast and still stay safe on the road to a successful go-to-market strategy.

DevOps and Risk

As organizations have learned to integrate critical software development with everyday IT operations, efficiencies and improved functionality for the applications developed have been gained. While this has certainly sped up GTM timeframes, there are additional challenges and risks with the demand to develop as fast as possible. Here are a few key challenges:

  • Hardware and software convergence.
  • Maintaining processes and pipelines through automation.
  • Balancing asset identification, protection, and data classification with many constantly changing compliance standards, security frameworks, and privacy laws.
  • Integrating each of the above with business objectives

Every organization faces these and many other challenges to stay competitive. Finding a way to track and manage these challenges within development processes can maintain speed and avoid the following potential risks that are present if these challenges are not well managed:

  • Releasing vulnerable applications and solutions.
  • Î Not protecting sensitive data to the various standards and requirements correctly.
  • Failing to know what sensitive data you have where.

Many more risks exist, and each environment presents unique challenges that must identified in order to understand what is most at risk. These risks can lead to some of the following consequences:

  • Brand and reputation damage.
  • Slower time to market.
  • Additional development costs.
  • Fines and penalties.
  • Remediation and breach mitigation costs.

In addition to avoiding the consequences, here are some benefits to a well-managed approach that puts security and compliance at the beginning of the development process:

  • More options to meet the security or compliance requirements – meaning the most functional and efficient approach can be chosen at the beginning.
  • Consistent and measurable development timelines and quality.
  • Ability to focus more on functionality and the customer experience.

Once an understanding of the risks of rapid development is determined, a strategy to minimize those risks can be developed to avoid the consequences and maximize the balance between speed and security. For these specific challenges, understanding the context of the risk, automating the assessment of that risk, and identifying the top risks with a single strategy Alpine Security Consulting 3 Security Compass that allows for communication and maintenance of that risk will provide tremendous value for any software development process. Let’s turn to the new PCI SSF program to understand better what this might look like.

PCI SSF Challenges


The PCI Security Standards Council has replaced the Payment Application Data Security Standard (PA-DSS) with the new PCI SSF, a more flexible and software development-centric approach to payment applications. For a more detailed look at navigating this new SSF framework, see this paper.

The primary goal of PCI SSF is to protect cardholder data (CHD) within an application for the purposes of processing a payment transaction. This includes a secure approach to the Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC). The PA-DSS was prescriptive in most areas where the SSF program is more flexible.


One example that illustrates this is the approach to passwords.

PA-DSS – Passwords must contain a minimum of 7 characters and use both alphabetic and numeric characters (see requirement 3.1.6). This means that “Password” could be considered an acceptable password, not exactly an ideal baseline. SSF does not provide this detail but instead says this: “The software implements strong authentication and access control to help protect the confidentiality and integrity of critical assets.” (See Control Objective 5 from the Secure Software Standard). There are, of course, additional details in the Control Objectives and the Test Requirements, but the details on how specific to code for password length and character requirements are left up to the software developer.

This flexibility allows for appropriate security measures to be implemented, but in order to do so, the risks of different requirements for passwords within different software application uses, environments the software runs in, and the different use cases for the software must all be fully understood. This typically puts pressure on the development team to understand the risks, controls, and security best practices and then balance that with the functionality requirements received while developing code quickly enough to meet GTM demands. This often results in either a weak password approach or one so strong users easily get frustrated.

This is just one example of the dozens of Control Objectives and hundreds of Test Requirements within the SSF that must be tracked and managed by developers. The PCI SSF framework, in turn, is just one of dozens of different compliance standards, security frameworks, and privacy regulations that must be considered when developing applications in today’s modern environment.


With the flexibility added to the PCI SSF, tracking how to meet each objective and test requirement becomes a complex task. Lining these up from each required compliance standard or security framework with business objectives and application functionality can also be difficult for developers. Here are some key things to do or look for that will help organizations overcome these challenges:

  • Automation – automating the development process and tracking the various compliance and security requirements.
  • Training – with all the changes and complexities, advanced training helps, and having real-time training available is even better.
  • Documentation – with automation, documenting policies and procedures can be simplified and more efficient.
  • Evidence – demonstrating compliance through logs, configuration settings, and other testing will streamline assessment and audit activities.
  • Integration – any tool to automate should be able to help you integrate your DevOps processes internally as well as integrate to business objectives.

SD Elements


SD Elements integrates DevOps with security and compliance across multiple standards and frameworks. Using the example of PCI SSF objectives, SD Elements can help insert security and compliance into the development of payment applications at the beginning of the software development life cycle and verify compliance throughout the development process. This reduces time to market, minimizes repetitive development cycles, and improves consistency, traceability, and compliance with PCI SSF for payment applications.


SD Elements has several unique features that address the challenges organizations face with secure and compliant development:

  • Simplification of the software development process and the administration of security and compliance controls. SD Elements automates what can be cumbersome or time-consuming processes, such as identifying, tracking, disseminating, and managing security and compliance controls. This accelerates development timeframes.
  • Software is understandable to developers and trains in real-time. SD Elements maps the security or compliance requirements into instructions that developers can follow and implement. It also provides Just in Time training throughout the SLC process.
  • Scale Security, Risk, and Compliance controls across the software development project by converting those controls into policy and clear guidance.
  • Automate the tracking of development activities. Projects are automatically classified by risk, driving consistency in the identification of the right security and compliance controls. This translates the controls that enable developers to integrate them effectively and easily into the secure development life cycle.
  • Open APIs and SDKs fit seamlessly into existing DevOps processes. SD Elements has programmatic access to a library of security content and services to provide flexibility while building a DevSecOps vision.


Speed to market will always be a critical factor for developers. Balancing that speed with a secure and compliant development process is the only way to ensure that going to market quickly doesn’t backfire and becomes the source of a newsworthy breach or security story.

Organizations that are able to leverage the benefits of a mature DevOps program still need to support those efforts with an automated and well-managed secure approach to software development. This automation will overcome the challenges faced today by integrating multiple compliance standards, security regulations, and privacy laws with asset identification, development pipelines, and configuration management.

PCI SSF demonstrates just one of many of today’s standards that have complex and changing requirements to track and manage. Developers need to have the tools to both track these concerns and be trained and supported during the development process in order to support the business needs that are the ultimate objective of the applications being produced.

SD Elements meets each of these challenges by offering the ability to reduce time to market, minimize repetitive development cycles, and improve consistency, traceability, and compliance with multiple standards for any application. SD Elements stands out as a product that can uniquely support these challenges and move into the next generation of secure application development for any modern software development organization today.