DevOps Institute

How ITIL® 4 Relates to Security and DevSecOps

Agile, DevSecOps and Cybersecurity

By: Niladri Choudhuri, Hugo Lourenco, Jay Shah and Helen Beal

DevSecOps has emerged and established itself as the model to assure cybersecurity is properly considered when transitioning to DevOps ways of working. It demands collaboration between the security, IT operations and development teams. It drives the automation of security testing as early as possible in the software development and delivery lifecycle. It requires that knowledge is shared from security experts to software engineers and vice versa.

ITIL® 4 is the most recent iteration of an IT Service Management Framework from Axelos. In the latest published set of manuals, ITIL® 4 Managing Professional High-Velocity IT (HVIT) is the manual that addresses some aspects of DevSecOps, DevOps and SRE.

DevOps recognizes that every organization is a technology company and the huge increase in the use of devices, mobile apps and IoT, etc. Cybersecurity risk is increasing at the same rate or even faster. Information is available at the speed of your connection and data breaches are expensive. 

We also find that the vulnerabilities we currently see are the same ones we will continue to encounter for quite some time. The OWASP Top 10 has had the same vulnerabilities at the top for the last seven years. Gartner predicts that, through 2020, 99% of vulnerabilities exploited will continue to be the ones known by security and IT professionals for at least one year.

Security is very important and, as per DevSecOps: “Security is everyone’s responsibility.” It needs to be brought into the lifecycle from the time of requirements definition.

DevOps and DevSecOps connect through a system of strong values. The diagram below shows the values of DevOps and DevSecOps.

Defining DevSecOps

It is not about the name but about the concept. Security must be completely integrated with Development and Operations. We need to leverage automation and redefine the roles and practices of Security Engineering, Security Management and Governance, Risk Management and Compliance (GRC). We need to start implementing “Security as a Code” and security policies as code.

GRC and Security SMEs need to come as trusted advisors to the team. Remember the Project to Product Approach where it is one team looking after all the needs of a set of applications from new changes to maintaining it without the need to go out of the squad for anything related to capability, skills and decision making.

DevSecOps embeds security in DevOps. A security team that operates in a DevOps manner. Shifting of security left with Dev and Ops empowering security.

The New Way of DevOps

DevSecOps is redefining the way of running a DevOps initiative. We need to focus on the following:

  • Incentive Model
  • Resilience
  • Organizational Culture
  • Generativity
  • The Advice Process


Resilience is about how fast we can get back to normal after an incident or attack. There is nothing that is 100% secure. We need to be able to get back to normal business as quickly as possible after a security attack. To do this, we need the following:

  • Fail fast, learn fast, recover fast
  • “The best way to avoid failure is by failing regularly.” (Netflix) – Choose where to fail
  • Security is important for reliability and hence for resilience
  • Continuous experimentation and learning is important for security aspects too

We need to be following Lean principles such as:

  • Minimize overhead and waste
  • Automate as much as possible – People makes mistakes, scripts do not
  • Emphasize on measurable results and the outcome effectiveness
  • Do not make rules for the sake of making rules
  • Come as a trusted advisor and not as a road-blocker

It is important to understand the context and have a holistic view. Keep these points in mind:

  • Context is everything
  • Understanding of the business (domain) is important
  • Take a holistic approach
  • The level of tolerance in various service areas (do not spend $200 to save a $5 asset)
    • Website
    • Backend System
    • Data
  • Understanding of the entire system (System Design)

How Much Security is Enough?

Security SMEs should come as a cooperative partner and not as an adversary. We need to strike a balance between real versus perceived threats. Threat modeling is one of the most important techniques, that should be made mandatory, to follow throughout the lifecycle from the time of designing. Evaluate assets versus threats versus vulnerabilities. Pick your battle.

Here is an example of the STRIDE model for threat modeling from DevOps Institute’s DevSecOps course:

Risk Management with High Velocity IT

In this current high-speed world, we have less time for in-depth analysis. We suggest organizations:

Design is a very important aspect and security has to be designed into the system. Understanding of the holistic IT landscape is important. System design approach will help.

Basic Security Hygiene

There needs to be basic security hygiene for everyone in the squad. This can be:

Vulnerability and Patch Management

  • Automate scanning and report processing
  • Automate patch management
  • Automate patch management
  • Operations management
    • Backups, replication and redundancy – production like data must have production like security
    • Monitoring size and utilization
    • Basic network security
      • Firewalls
      • IDS/IPS (Intrusion Detection System/Intrusion Prevention System
      • Remote Access

Logging and Monitoring

Logging and Monitoring for Security is also a very critical aspect. We need to look at the following three areas:

  1. Log management
  2. Incident response
  3. Threat intelligence

The following are some of the activities related to the above three:

  • Setting Up Log Management
    • Central repository
    • Queries/Reporting/Alert – one alert for one service
    • Opportunities for automation
  • Incident Response and Forensics
    • Upskill – Cloud Skills
      • Live Information and response
      • Serverless
      • Containers
    • Leverage Automation Opportunities
      • Data capture
      • Enrichment activities after alert
      • Automate workflow for forensic analysis
    • Have Contingency Plan – (Nothing is 100%)
      • Call for help
      • Pre-define incident response plan
      • Chaos engineering and fire drills
    • Threat Intel and information sharing

Connecting ITIL® 4 – High-Velocity IT (HVIT) to DevSecOps

Now that we understand security, let us see how ITIL® 4 relates to security and DevSecOps. The HVIT manual states that:

“Digital Technology is increasingly important. Its economic, societal, and political impacts are unprecedented. At the same time, it is increasingly challenging for digital practitioners to design, develop, run and support the systems and services that fulfill this demand. ITIL® 4 High-velocity IT focuses on digital products and services, including digital customer experiences, covering good organizational practices and mental models, all from a practitioner’s perspective.”

The following is the IT Value Stack (From ITIL® 4: High-Velocity IT Manuscript by Axelos):

Objectives of HVIT:

  • Valuable Investments
  • Fast Deployment
  • Resilient Operations
  • Co-created Value
  • Assured Conformance

Key Characteristics of HVIT are:

  • Lean
  • Agile
  • Continuous
  • Resilient


HVIT emphasizes that resilience is necessary to high velocity and a system cannot be reliable if it is not secure. These are the different practices and processes that help to incorporate resilience.  Here are some excerpts as well as our insights on the guidance.

  • From ITIL4 HVIT:  “Approaches with resilient characteristics are focused on maintaining workable availability and performance, and minimizing the effect of Incidents.” We say that SRE and DevSecOps focus on reliability and a system cannot be reliable without being secure
  • From ITIL4 HVIT: “Security Officer’s role shifts from specifying requirements and monitoring performance, to enabling practitioners to address security concerns.” We agree, but go further and say that security people must be involved in the end-to-end value stream, specifying non-functional requirements in the product backlog and working with the team to ensure these requirements are tested at the earliest opportunity
  • The practice relevant to security is Information Security Management and helps in resilient operations and assured conformance. Our DevSecOps view also builds to value stream thinking to result in continuous compliance

These practices are part of DevSecOps:

  • Infrastructure as Code: designing and enforcing security policies in virtual infrastructure components
  • Loosely Coupled Architecture: design and manage information security policies for loosely coupled services and service components
  • Blameless Retrospective: Obtaining more information about the circumstances related to security breaches and security incidents
  • CICD – Ensuring compliance with information security policies by reducing manual work. Increasing the scale and scope of automation by leveraging CI/CD tools may help ensure compliance with information security policies by reducing manual work (Toil) and improving the traceability of changes.
  • Continuous Testing (CT):  Two practices are involved: first, Service Validation and Testing – Unit and integration testing is conducted on an ongoing basis throughout the development lifecycle This includes application unit testing, infrastructure services testing, functional/non-functional testing, canary releases, blue/green testing, and infrastructure security testing. The next practice is Information Security Management – Ensuring compliance with InfoSec policies by reducing manual work. Leveraging automated testing tools may help to ensure compliance with information security policies by reducing manual work and improving the traceability of changes.
  • Technical Debt: Design, implementation and improvement of information security controls are influenced by existing technical debt. Information security controls can also result in the creation of technical debt, which needs to be acknowledged and communicated to all relevant stakeholders.
  • Use of chaos engineering related tools such as Security Monkey
  • Non-functional criteria should specify the quality needed by the people who will operate, maintain, and enhance the system, and by those who will ensure security and regulatory compliance.
  • Definition of Done:  Security Tests such as vulnerability, penetration, or policy compliance should be included in the definition of done for resilient products and services
  • Version Control: Addressing or closing information security risks by flagging vulnerable versions of service components
  • Security can contribute significantly to relationship management due to better service management
  • Assured conformance can be measured by or lack of security breaches, fines by regulators, bad publicity, actions required by internal and external auditors, and the cost of measures to ensure conformance with GRC issues
  • Audit Defense Toolkit: Information Security Management – Designing and implementing controls in the product lifecycle to provide extensive traceability and joint accountability
  • Service Configuration Management: Standard configurations to support security and audit requirements
  • A specific section is provided explaining DevSecOps from the authors’ perspective
  • ITIL4 processes supporting Information Security Management:
    • Security Incident Management Process
    • Risk Management Process
    • Control Review and Audit Process
    • Identity and Access Management Process
    • Event Management
    • Procedures for Penetration Testing, Vulnerability Scanning, etc
    • Procedures for managing security-related changes, such as firewall configuration changes
  • The integrated way of approaching security contributes to assured conformance

Why is DevSecOps relevant?:

  • Continual Improvement – Improvements to security controls and policies can be part of the learning and feedback incorporated by development and operations
  • Information Security Management – Designing and implementing controls in a development lifecycle to provide extensive traceability and joint accountability. Integrating Information security duties into the daily work of practitioners. Information Security Management and Risk Management should be an integral part of the daily work of practitioners
  • Monitoring and Event Management – Configuring monitoring tools to continually scan for threats and vulnerabilities
  • Change Enablement – Implementing a preventative control that automatically requires pre-authorization from security management before developers can make certain types of production data edits
  • Deployment Management: Security Management provides guidance on key credential management, CD pipeline security checks, container security, automated pentesting, and data and performance management.
  • Knowledge Management: Access to security policies
  • Risk Management: security is about risk
  • Service Validation and Testing: Test data management is a key element that helps to ensure continued stability, reliability, availability and security
  • Strategy Management: Integrating duties to balance regulatory requirements with speed of execution
  • Workforce and Talent Management: Training and coaching staff and other relevant stakeholders on how to build security into development and operations work
  • Business Analysis: Understanding the security policies, standards, risks, potential threats and vulnerabilities in internal and external environments and translating them into requirements for development and operations team and including security requirements into product backlog
  • Infrastructure and Platform Management: Security Management can enhance infrastructure and platform management with guidance on secure standards and training, privacy reviews, threat modelling, credential management and data security, especially with Infrastructure as code
  • Software Development and Management: Enhancing software development with guidance on secure coding standards and training, privacy reviews, threat modelling, code analysis, source code and credential management and data security

To conclude, the recent Google SRE book, ‘Build Secure and Reliable Systems’, focuses on designing security. Here are some of the key points:

  • Security and privacy are closely related concepts
  • In designing for reliability and security, you must consider different risks
  • Primary reliability risks are non-malicious in nature like a bad software update or a physical device failure. Security risks come from adversaries who are actively trying to exploit system vulnerabilities
  • Reliability and Security Tradeoff – Redundancy
  • Reliability and Security Tradeoff – Incident Management – Special small team with skills to handle security-related incidents
  • Security and reliability are about confidentiality, integrity and availability
  • Intersection of Reliability and Security – Effects of insiders
  • Design of Security and Reliability
    • Design for least privilege
      • Design for understandability
      • Design for resilience
      • Design for recovery
      • Mitigating Denial of Service (DOS) attacks

We should also touch upon the need for Secure Automation as there is a lot of automation done everywhere, both in Dev and Ops Side including SRE. Automation protects from chance of human error or willful sabotage and provides secure opportunities. The following points are important:

  • Secure Automation
    • Automated steps in the pipeline can be secure but manual steps cannot be secure
    • Artifacts used in the pipeline can be validated and checked for compliance through digitally versioning and signing
    • DevSecOps has introduced security into the build-test-deploy lifecycle
    • SRE places extra emphasis on Security in Production
  • Secure Build
    • Application, Infrastructure and Configuration changes through code analysis tools and check for security issues
    • Digitally signed artifacts to avoid “fake” code
    • Secure coding practices to share with everyone
    • Secure code repositories with proper access control
    • Open source product with feedback from community
  • Secure Test
    • For Infrastructure change in an “immutable” test environments creation guarantees compliance with code repository
    • Deploy artifacts on test environment securely
    • Test Data and Test scenarios are built for security
  • Secure Staging
    • Staging environments are immutable
    • Same artifact deployed in all environments
    • Production like data in any environment needs production like security
    • Dedicated Security Scanning
    • Proxy Security Requirements to be considered
  • Secure Production
    • Immutable Production Environment
    • Same artifact in Production environment
    • Regulatory Compliance needs to be evidenced and best done with automation and observability
    • Failure Testing helps audit compliance

There is a great amount of involvement of both Development and Operations in providing a reliable and secure system. 

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