Why Shift Left is Fundamental to Modern Cyber Security

by Riversafe

With malicious software and data breaches continuing to rise as cyber attacks target the sensitive information of organisations of any size, it’s more important than ever that businesses examine their testing strategy to improve security measures and reduce potential threats, issues, and risks of attacks.

One initiative that seeks to enhance the performance, protection, and efficiency of a project is ‘Shift Left Testing.’ Designed to prioritise the reduction of issues throughout software development, the initiative has seen a rapid emergence, changing how testing is approached and considered within ongoing projects.

What is Shift Left Testing?

Common development strategies prioritise rigorous software testing at the end of the project before a proposal goes live.

A Shift Left initiative prioritises testing earlier in the overall process, by ‘shifting left’ testing procedures to earlier on in the development cycle. Shift Left processes ensure that any potential weaknesses or vulnerabilities are identified as early on in the project as possible, reducing the possibility of future exploitation or faults.

Through a Shift Left approach to software development, teams can expect to see a wide range of advantages.

The benefits of Shift Left

Testing earlier within a development process, as well as introducing continuous testing throughout, brings vital benefits to businesses. Primary advantages of this approach include:

  • Automated testing capabilities

Shifting left provides teams with the ability to integrate automated testing throughout the lifespan of a project.

Automation as a testing tool is beneficial for development teams of all varieties. For teams, this not only eliminates the need to manually perform repetitive tasks, but also increases the overall frequency of tests, as well as coverage – due to the capabilities of performing multiple tests across software simultaneously.

Automated testing also ensures thorough examinations of potential weaknesses in structure and security that can be amended much more easily, compared to traditional testing routes that involve complex amendments at the end of a Systems Development Life-Cycle (SDLC).

  • Increased productivity

As discussed, the earlier that bugs and weaknesses are discovered, the easier they are to resolve. Additionally, errors discovered during the final stages demand time, more technical attention, and are often highly complex and frustrating.

The ability to run tests through automated capabilities negates this issue by discovering potential errors and issues as soon as possible, ensuring they’re amended before spiralling into an expensive challenge that could potentially allow access to sensitive data.

Automation capabilities, enabled by Shift Left initiatives, also reduce the time spend manually performing complex testing procedures. This empowers development teams to spend more time on what matters – ensuring their projects are high quality and secure.

  • Overall increase in quality and satisfaction

Testing earlier on within the SDLC ensures that teams can devote more time to improving the overall functionality and quality of a project, rather than spending hours amending issues and snags. This not only leads to an increase in productivity but also generates the opportunity to deliver projects earlier than expected, improving overall satisfaction and project quality.

  • The challenges of a Shift Left initiative

Although a Shift Left initiative boasts multiple benefits and advantages for development teams there are challenges involved that, if not countered, may actively hinder rather than streamline testing capabilities.

Key challenges of shifting left include:

  • The demand for a methodical plan and approach

Without a detailed plan regarding testing processes throughout the SDLC, methodical testing throughout the overall development process may be difficult to incorporate and streamline.

  • Resistance to testing throughout

A common issue that continues to disrupt Shift Left processes involves software developers themselves. Those committed to traditional approaches may be resistant to changing methodologies to an initiative that promotes testing earlier, and throughout, the process. The solution to this particular challenge lies in communicating the initiative’s core values, the advantages that shifting left may bring, as well as why it should be implemented throughout the entire process.

  • Disrupted communication channels threaten the quality of strategised testing

Communication is crucial to any development process, regardless of the size of the team or the project itself. When implementing a Shift Left methodology, communication and clarity is vital to ensuring that testing is regular, uniform, and methodical. Other communication issues, such as the construction of data silos, may also prevent unwanted barriers to testing, leaving incomplete areas that testing may miss.

  • Shift Left and the Cloud: An evolving platform

In recent years, Cloud capabilities have been forced to adapt, evolve, and grow and an accelerated pace to match the increased demand brought as a result of the global pandemic. Virtual desktops, accessibility of data, and the need to work from home are all factors that have forced businesses around the world to re-examine and revise their relationship with the cloud,

As cloud software continues to develop and find new use cases, so too have cyber attacks prioritised cloud systems, which are often susceptible to attacks due to their rapid production and nature. Shift Left is vital in eliminating any weaknesses that may cause potential possibilities for malicious attacks.

Due to the nature of the Cloud, any issues are usually contained within the central infrastructure, meaning that if an issue is found at the end of the SDLC, the developer must address the same fault countless times. If this root issue is found in advance, this process is negated, with a smoother overall development journey created as a result.

Implementing a Shift Left initiative within your organisation

There are several processes and techniques that businesses can implement to aid in developing a mentality that prioritises early testing. Two core components of this are:

  • Develop and test simultaneously

A great benefit of the Shift Left initiative is its ability to conduct multiple tests automatically and simultaneously. It’s important to develop and test at the same time to encourage continual growth in a project while being assured that everything currently built is being examined for faults. This approach maximises productivity and efficiency, without sacrificing quality.

  • Automating release of regular builds

Updating builds regularly ensures that testing is always being executed on the most recent version of the build, rather than wasting time examining an outdated build. Automation keeps this process streamlined and integrated with other core functions, optimising resource allocation and productivity further.

When combined, these two principles begin to pave the way to a Shift Left mentality: regularly testing software for issues or weaknesses, while continuously updating models with the most recent.

Experts in cyber solutions

At RiverSafe, we’re committed to ensuring that businesses are confident in their current cyber security and framework. As experts in our field, we are constantly up to date with the latest innovations and developments in cyber solutions. For more of our thoughts on the very latest developments, why not read our insights here.


By Riversafe

Experts in DevOps, Cyber Security and Data Operations