Shift Left Testing and Its Benefits

the shift left model
the shift left model

Testing practices have been shifting left in the software development process due to the growing challenge of developing and delivering high-quality, secure software at today’s competitive pace. Agile methodologies and the DevOps approach were created to address these needs.

In this post, we’ll map out the basics of shift left practices in the DevOps pipeline, and how you can shift left your open source open source security and compliance testing. 


What is Shift Left?

In the olden days, the typical development and QA cycles were organized around ‘base levels’. Developers would work on a base-level and when it was done, it was passed on to QA. The QA team would then test that base-level and provide the results back to the development team to fix. Then the cycle would be repeated as necessary.

Since then, the software development industry has learned that it is easier and cheaper to fix bugs detected earlier in the process. New strategies of shifting tests earlier in the software development lifecycle were introduced to help identify issues as early as possible. Early detection accelerates the process of taking corrective steps, reducing the time and cost of fixing these issues. Shifting left, means testing as early as possible — or moving the process to the left in the DevOps pipeline.

the shift left model vs typical model

Reducing Enterprise Application Security Risks:

More Work Needs to Be Done

Shift Left and DevOps 

Shifting left is a critical part of the DevOps approach, that calls for testing software early and often. Shift left integrates testing into your DevOps pipeline, so that defects are detected early, when they are easier and less expensive to fix. Testing, feedback, and revisions are performed continuously, on a daily basis. Like other DevOps processes, this promotes agility and lets the project team scale their efforts to boost productivity.

Delayed detection if issues can be very costly. According to IBM’s most recent Cost of a Data Breach Report 2021, featuring research by the Ponemon Institute, data breach costs rose from USD 3.86 million to USD 4.24 million, the highest average total cost in the 17-year history of this report. This doesn’t even include the pressure of meeting — or missing — the release dates. As the software development stages progress, the cost of addressing any uncovered bugs also rises, often exponentially.

Shift Left is all about uncovering as many issues as possible as early as you can in the software development process, so the cost of fixing them is under control. By testing often, your team and stakeholders can ensure better visibility and control over the current state of the code and make informed decisions throughout the project. But is shift left testing, in its traditional manner, enough today?


Shifting Open Source Testing Left 

Originally, shift left testing was focused on testing proprietary code. But what about your open source and third party components? When are you checking that your software projects don’t contain problematic licenses, or outdated or vulnerable versions of open source components?

Open source components have become basic building blocks of today’s software products, used at scale by almost all commercial software companies. Focusing shift left testing on proprietary code isn’t enough. It’s crucial to include open source security and compliance testing in shift left practices. 

This requires applying a DevOps strategy to open source security and compliance management, by integrating Software Composition Analysis (SCA) tools into the coding and build processes, to test open source components early and often. 


Shifting Security Testing Left 

When it comes to security testing, open source security is unlike proprietary code. Issues are detected by a large, active, capable and committed community that continuously detects and publishes new open source vulnerabilities. 

In 2021 alone, More nearly 10,000 known security vulnerabilities were detected in open source components. The continuous rise in open source vulnerabilities, requires using an automated tool for detection and remediation that aligns with your organizations shift left strategy, testing your open source components as early as possible in the development process. 


Shifting Compliance Left

Open source license compliance is also critical when implementing a shift left strategy in your open source management. Organizations must ensure that all open source components are licensed properly. No license, means it is merely a public code, but the author still holds the copyrights for it and you cannot use it. In addition, compliance requires that the open source licenses in your codebase are compatible and that you can comply with the open source license.


Implementing a Comprehensive Shift Left Strategy 

Shift left testing is an important part of achieving DevSecOps maturity, and has gone far beyond early QA testing. In order to ensure the security of your software products while keeping up with tight delivery deadlines, the shift left approach must be implemented in AppSec practices as well. 

As our software development echo systems become more complex and layered, spanning across microservices, the cloud, and containers — to name just a few platforms, a solid shift left strategy must address all platforms, and languages. 

This requires adopting automated testing tools that can be easily integrated early in the development process — but that’s not enough. It’s crucial to ensure that these tools are implemented by all teams. That means the tools need to fit seamlessly into development and DevOps environments, so that they don’t interrupt or delay development. 

Another important aspect of an effective shift left testing strategy is ensuring early vulnerability prioritization and remediation. As organizations invest in a variety of automated testing tools, it’s important to choose tools that go beyond vulnerability detection, to cover prioritization and remediation. Otherwise, your shift left strategy is incomplete, leaving you with an ever-expanding laundry list of vulnerability alerts. 


Embracing the Shift Left Testing Approach

The shift left approach has been around for a while. As the threat landscape evolves, development environments expand, and release schedules become tighter and tighter, we must continuously update our shift left approach and strategies. 

Shift left tools and processes that might have worked a few years ago are no longer enough to ensure quality, security, and speed. Organizations need to make sure that their shift left strategies remain up-to-date and can keep up with today’s application security challenges. 

Meet The Author

Adam Murray

Adam Murray is a content writer at Mend. He began his career in corporate communications and PR, in London and New York, before moving to Tel Aviv. He’s spent the last ten years working with tech companies like Amdocs, Gilat Satellite Systems, Allot Communications, and Sisense. He holds a Ph.D. in English Literature. When he’s not spending time with his wife and son, he’s preoccupied with his beloved football team, Tottenham Hotspur.

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