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The Definitive Guide to Creating a Successful Mobile DevSecOps Toolchain

As mobile apps continue to dominate the digital landscape and become increasingly central to enterprise software portfolios, it's essential that development and security teams prioritize mobile app security.

With a focus on integrating security into the mobile app development process, automating testing and deployment, and staying up-to-date with the latest mobile security best practices, this guide provides a roadmap for success.

Companies can't afford to deploy insecure applications, with mobile becoming such a crucial component of the enterprise software stack and business strategy. Release cycle times also are getting shorter. There is a growing need for new features and apps. Only by deeply integrating security into the mobile DevOps pipeline will security and speed coexist in harmony.

In order to stay competitive, many businesses are switching their development processes from DevOps to the more secure DevSecOps for mobile. This requires careful consideration and preparations by dedicated teams in charge of making this transition happen smoothly.

At a CAGR of 31.2%, the DevSecOps market will grow to USD 5.9 billion by 2023. 

Mature development teams have already streamlined the deployment process by automating security practices within a continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipeline and added more security tools to their integrated development environments.

Organizations must try to create an effective mobile DevSecOps strategy and toolchain to accelerate the development of secure mobile apps. Here's everything you'll need to get started on your journey.

What is a DevSecOps Toolchain?

DevSecOps is the incorporation of security considerations and practices into the CI/CD workflow of an organization. DevSecOps does not replace existing development paradigms. Instead, it expands and complements these paradigms by incorporating a robust security layer across the entire development cycle.

A DevSecOps toolchain comprises both open-source and paid tools that help with the delivery, development, and management of applications as part of the software delivery process. DevSecOps adds to the tools you already use for DevOps. If your company is going straight to DevSecOps, think of it as a few more steps toward ensuring your toolchain is secure.

Moving to DevSecOps: The Key Challenges

To fight against new and emerging attack vectors, moving to DevSecOps is becoming increasingly crucial for business and government. But there are still difficulties, intricacies, and complexity. Some of the challenges enterprises see as they transition to DevOps are highlighted in Gartner's Integrating Security into the DevSecOps Toolchain report:

  • DevOps use is rising as an alternative to the conventional waterfall and agile development approaches, yet security and compliance are frequently neglected.

  • However, security has always been manual, process-heavy, and gate-driven – the antithesis of automation, transparency, and speed. DevOps principles push automation to achieve scalability.

  • Even engineers familiar with agile and DevOps lack a basic understanding of secure code.

  • Traditional ways of testing application security weren't made to be quick and clear. Users now want updates and new features for all their apps, not just the ones they get from the app store on their mobile devices.

  • After each production update, the government needs to recertify new versions for some applications in specific industries. This makes it hard to make changes quickly. Gartner gives the example of pharmaceutical companies that may need to have the FDA recertify their production environment after specific software updates.

How to Create a Successful Mobile DevSecOps Toolchain?

DevSecOps aims to build on the idea that "everyone is responsible for security" so that security decisions can be made quickly and by people with the most context without sacrificing safety. 

Here are the key points you must keep in mind while creating your mobile DevSecOps toolchain:

1) Focus on the Dev Experience

In the software development lifecycle (SDLC), mobile development teams work hard to eliminate friction wherever they can. Developers are asked by the business to continuously add or tweak features that increase the number of daily active users and engagement, reduce the number of users who quit, and ultimately drive transactions and revenue. 

These key performance indicators (KPIs) will determine how well developers do (and how much they get paid).

Security is still a big problem with mobile apps because, until recently, technical limitations of mobile architecture meant that security teams had to test mobile apps by hand. These manual processes add friction to the SDLC, slow down the pipeline, and mess up the key performance indicators for mobile apps.

So, it often takes a lot of work for mobile development and security teams to work together. When the possibility of sorting through false positives and getting security's approval threatened a release cycle, mobile releases usually went out without it. DevSecOps managers can break the cycle and improve mobile app security by implementing better security tools and processes that make the developer's life easier and reduce friction.

2) Reduce the Automation Gap

Automated security testing facilitates flexibility and lowers friction, which is essential for teams to grow to mobile DevSecOps. Security and web app development teams realized this years ago. Mobile teams cannot wait days or even hours for individuals to manually conduct security testing, not even with an infinite number of human resources at their disposal. They require automated testing that can reduce the period to no more than 15 minutes.

Unfortunately, there has long been a lack of competent automated security testing for mobile devices in the business. Because the web and mobile architectures differ, automated tools were unable to produce accurate results quickly and easily. 

For instance, testing for mobile apps must be done on actual devices rather than emulators, unlike testing for web apps. Installing testing tools is challenging due to the mobile OS's restrictions. It has been really challenging to understand how to connect a device to the DevSecOps automated toolchain without any form of human assistance.

Organizations must figure out how to automate as much of the mobile app security testing process as feasible using software that connects to the DevOps toolchain and produces predictable, repeatable tests without requiring human interaction to create a strong mobile DevSecOps ecosystem.

3) Find a Way to Fight False Positives

To maintain healthy coordination between security teams and developers, reporting real threats that aren't just noise is important. Many companies have tried to do more static source code security tests for mobile to make up for the lack of automation. At first glance, static testing seems like an easy way to automate testing because it can be introduced at the beginning of the build cycle using a developer's integrated development environment (IDE) or the code commit process.

But that leads to many false positives, slowing down fast release cycles. Even if these tests didn't give any false positives, there's a lot of security noise generated by these tests, which can make it difficult for developers to keep up. Some vendors and users generally turn off 90% of their static tests to eliminate the noise. But that also cuts the amount of code covered, increasing risk.

When tools generate hundreds of pages with thousands of security and privacy issues, developers will ignore all of them. Instead of giving mobile developers 1,000 results without sorting, security pros on DevSecOps teams should try to provide them with accurate results. Something like 10 real, verified security problems with information on how to fix them is much more helpful than a list of 1,000 findings developers would have to go through. To make this happen, teams must rethink how much they depend on testing static source code.

4) Switch to Dynamic Testing

Static source code testing has problems because it can give false positives and needs to cover mobile apps more. Most web apps run behind a firewall, so the user or an attacker can't see much code or IP. Mobile apps, on the other hand, run on devices out in the wild.

This makes it easier for attackers to reverse engineer the app and get the source code. With this information, they can access the operating system on the mobile device or play with the network to change how the app works with the backend. This means that bugs in mobile apps that would never be found by static testing can be used to steal private data, gather credentials, start phishing attacks, or even launch backend attacks.

Mobile apps require more thorough testing in live situations via dynamic testing on real devices. Static source code testing assumes ideal operating environments but only provides 20% to 30% coverage of all risks and potential vulnerabilities that a mobile app may face. It overlooks the mobile app attack surface's third-party libraries, mobile runtime, mobile OS interaction, data at rest, and data in motion.

All of this means that there is a very high rate of false negatives and a false sense of security. The only way to test a mobile app properly is to do dynamic testing on the compiled binary as it runs on a real device. This is the only way to get the real-world coverage needed. But manual testing has always been required for testing the security of dynamic mobile applications.

The concept of manually testing Android and iOS mobile apps collides with the idea of an automated DevSecOps toolchain that does the work for developers. Only recently, there was no way to perform dynamic testing in a fully automatic, low-friction manner while meeting the kind of security and privacy testing coverage required for mobile apps. 

Mobile DevSecOps teams have been looking for this missing link in the toolchain that will provide them with a parallel automated speed/coverage solution that works for mobile in the same manner that static testing fits in the web dev toolchain.

5) Incorporate Security into the Mobile Dev Team

Starting to include security experts in mobile development teams is one of the most efficient methods to create a DevSecOps toolchain for mobile development. Security professionals should be stationed in significant development hubs wherever possible to be physically present where developers work. But at the very least, development teams must incorporate security specialists into developer teams and involve them in almost all team activities, such as stand-up meetings, planning sessions, and postmortems.

Mobile developers become security specialists and "dev champions" when security experts are incorporated into integrated teams. This promotes the democratization of security throughout the whole DevSecOps process chain. Hiring mobile developers to receive training as mobile app sec specialists have proven successful for several firms. These "natives" of the coding world not only get along better with the development team but can also contribute to creating security tools and integrations that will aid security automation initiatives.

6) Incorporate Security as a Part of the Build Process

To establish a mobile DevSecOps toolchain that reduces security risks, the appropriate technical integrations must be in place. When DevSecOps leaders enable security assessment in the same toolchain that architects, developers, and DevOps engineers use regularly, it decreases friction and improves quality for DevSecOps teams.

By plugging security testing tools into the build system, mobile DevSecOps teams can:

  • Run automated security tests for each build.

  • File security bugs automatically into problem-tracking systems.

  • Get people out of the way and let machines do the work.

  • Break builds when bugs are big enough or important enough.

Integrating testing into each incremental build helps to find and fix problems more quickly and efficiently. This way, the mobile team can be aware of any issues arising and take care of them immediately. This minimizes the amount of new code that needs to be tested each day and ensures that there are no surprises when it comes time for final QA, staging, and deployment. This kind of integration is essential for a secure and well-functioning software process.

Some businesses use an integration abstraction layer to incorporate security procedures and technologies into the build pipeline due to its flexibility and scalability. One significant insurer, for instance, developed such a layer that enables DevSecOps teams to directly attach security tooling into the abstraction and make API calls into it. The security team can then change the selection and configuration of the tools without requiring any action from developers or DevOps.

7) Create an Environment of Continuous Collaboration

Building a strong mobile DevSecOps ecosystem is to move the mobile app security perspective from the "no" department to the "yes" department by making secure mobile app development as easy as possible. Mobile DevSecOps teams should build relationships between security experts and developers so that when things go wrong, there is already a give-and-take process that can help everyone get to the proper procedure and technical solution quickly and easily.

Creating a collaborative security mindset begins with transforming discussions. That means moving away from confrontational dynamics in which security issues directives to address x, y, and z and halts a release, and developers respond by discovering that none of the issues are actual or essential. Instead, DevSecOps teams require trust, processes, solutions that promote engagement, and simple and actionable information regarding security and privacy status.

This prepares both parties to ask each other, "How do we mend what needs fixing?" and "How do we create better business apps?" This conversational change can be implemented gradually as different stakeholders in the mobile DevSecOps team gain trust in one another.

How Appknox Helps?

Trusted by the best security teams at top global brands, Appknox helps mobile DevSecOps teams fill security automation gaps in their development pipelines with new methods that traditional SAST/DAST tools can't solve.

The Appknox security testing platform can be integrated into mobile DevSecOps teams' CI/CD pipelines to trigger static, dynamic, and API security testing upon completion of the build. This allows for automated discovery and reportage of security and privacy bugs to ticketing systems without requiring developers to utilize new tools or screens or make significant changes to their workflow.


Q. What are Some of the Common DevSecOps Tools?

A. When moving to DevSecOps, organizations should look at their toolchain and each tool for security tasks. Some companies already have tools ready for DevSecOps, but others will have to update or replace them. 

There are so many possible DevSecOps tools that we can't list them all here, but here are some common examples of tools that work well for each major phase of the DevSecOps pipeline:

Planning and Design Phase: Team conversations and collaboration on security issues identify potential project and procedural oversights and dangers. Issue-tracking and management software, such as Atlassian Jira, and communication tools, such as Slack, are commonly used for planning.

Threat modeling is a critical component of DevSecOps strategy. Threat modeling capabilities are provided by specialized programs such as IriusRisk, CARIS, and Kenna.VM, Microsoft Threat Modeling Tool, SD Elements, securiCAD, Tutamantic, Threagile, ThreatModeler, and OWASP Threat Dragon.

Coding and Code Management: Developers make sure their code is safe by using static code analysis, IDE plugins like pre-commit hooks, and repository scans. PMD, Checkstyle, Gerrit, Phabricator, SpotBugs, and Find Security Bugs are all code review tools. Choose a code review tool that is made for the project's programming language and that works with the IDE or toolchain.

In the build phase, DevSecOps security practices include analyzing software components, testing static application software, and unit testing, which looks at the new code and any dependencies. Tools like SonarQube, SourceClear, OWASP Dependency-Check, Retire.js, Snyk, and Checkmarx are often used for build analysis.

Testing: During the testing phase, DAST is used to find vulnerabilities in application operations like user authentication, authorization, SQL injection, and API endpoints. Some DAST tools are Appknox, Invicti (formerly Netsparker), Astra Pentest, Acunetix, PortSwigger, Detectify, Rapid7, Mister Scanner, AppScan, and AppCheck.

Boofuzz, OWASP Zed Attack Proxy, BDD-Security, IBM AppScan, Gauntlet, JBroFuzz, and Arachni are all general DevSecOps testing tools that deal with attack proxies and network protocol fuzzing. Choose tools based on how well they fit the type of application and tests that need to be done and how well they work with other tools.

Deployment and Operation: A DevSecOps release candidate must be carefully tested, build-checked, and coded securely. Then, DevSecOps teams create a release-hardened operating environment. Access control, network firewall access, and secret management are all set up. At the deployment stage, the core of a DevSecOps paradigm is change and configuration management tools. Salt, HashiCorp Terraform, Chef, Puppet, Red Hat Ansible, and Docker are examples of common configuration management systems.

Then, DevSecOps teams concentrate on issues in the actual runtime environment. Recognizing and carefully examining any differences between testing and production settings is important because they are frequently indicators of security problems. Tools for runtime performance include Tripwire, Falco, and Osquery.

Teams also use chaos engineering tools like Chaos Monkey and Gremlin to test deployment for faults that may not have been tested, such as server crashes, drive failures, and problems with network connectivity. The goal is for the deployment to either make it through the problem or fail in a good way.

Final Thoughts

As you implement DevOps toolchains, take advantage of available security solutions like Appknox to cover most stages of the SDLC process. Establish communication and collaboration between your developers and the security team. Get feedback from auditors on tools and techniques to ensure impartial analysis. And once you've deployed additional security and compliance checks, take time to review lessons learned and make needed changes.

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