What is a Security Champion and Why You Need One

Oliver Moradov
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While a security culture for a successful DevOps and AppSec programme is important, to succeed, security needs to be top of mind for everyone across your pipeline. 

Your developers, QA and security teams must have a close working partnership to break down silos and improve security knowledge.

One effective way to achieve this is to create security champions to act as the voice of security across your teams.

In this article:

What is a security champion?

With the ratio of developers to security professionals being ~50:1, your security team is spread thin – they cannot make up for the lack of security experience of your developers, nor provide the full security coverage developers need.

A security champion can help bridge this gap, by evangelizing, managing and enforcing the security posture with your development team(s) acting as an extended member of the security team.

What are the benefits of a security champion program?

A security champion can help an organization compensate for a lack in security skills among existing teams. This can be achieved by providing a member of the development team with the knowledge and authority to assist with security tasks. The security champion can become a force multiplier who can address questions, ensure security awareness, and help enforce security best practices across the development organization. 

Because a security champion understands the terminology used by developers working on software projects, they can relay security concerns in a manner that the development team will understand and be able to implement. Also, by performing code reviews, they can improve code quality early in the development lifecycle, reducing security efforts later on.

Responsibilities of a security champion

Being in the Know – knowledge is key and your security champion will benefit from ongoing training to keep up-to-date with the latest practices, methodologies and tooling to share this knowledge.

Raising Awareness – disseminating security best practices, raising and maintaining continual security awareness around issues / threats with the development organization and answering security related questions

Being Part of Security – performing scans for security issues and being the go between to escalate issues for review by the security team, helping with QA and testing. This will also enable them to be involved in risk and threat assessments, as well as architectural and tooling reviews to identify opportunities to remediate security issues early. 

Getting and Maintaining Buy-In – Intrinsic to the project and speaking the developers’ language, your security champion can get their colleagues’ buy-in by communicating security issues in a way they understand, to produce secure products early in the SDLC. This increases the effectiveness and efficiency of your AppSec program while strengthening relationships across multifunctional teams, while minimizing the security testing bottlenecks further downstream, so your security team can focus on other critical tasks.

Collaboration – Connecting and partnering with other security champions and players, attending weekly meetings to share ideas and tips whilst assisting in making security decisions

Review and escalation – Evaluating code for security issues and taking responsibility for raising issues that require the involvement of the security team.

Inspiration – Creating team workshops, sharing best practices, or simply relaying news from the security field. Champions can get teams involved with security by starting challenges, hackathons, and competitions. These and other initiatives can create interest, share knowledge, and also have practical value by encouraging teams to identify and fix vulnerabilities. 

Do you already have a security champion in the making?

It is likely that the perfect candidate for a security champion is already part of your team. They are a colleague who is involved with and familiar with your product(s) while showing an interest in security issues. They could be a developer, QA, architect, or DevOps colleague.

They don’t need to be senior, but management needs to see the value in having a security champion to provide them the right support. Extra work will be required so having a willing ‘volunteer’ with a keen interest in the role is important to ensure they are effective and stay engaged.

Get Your Security Champion Programme Started today!

Here are some key aspects to consider to help build your security champion programme in your organisation. See the OWASP Playbook for a complete framework that can help you develop security champions.

Management buy-in

This is the most critical aspect, as without it, you are likely to fail. Management, along with security and engineering managers will need to invest time, money and resources to ensure security champions are effective, but the benefits will soon outweigh the investment

Nominate your security champions

Ideally you should nominate, rather than appoint, a security champion. This will ensure that they are attentive and keen to give time to the position. Because the aim is to nominate champions in a voluntary way, you should articulate the advantages that come with being a champion. People are not likely to want to participate and take on extra work if they don’t get something in return. 

If management approves, you may give champions the opportunity to attend security conferences. There is also the advantage of self-development – adopting the role of a security champion can help advance the career of an individual and increase their value within the organization. 

Establish communication channels 

Once you have nominated the champions, next you will need to establish communication channels they can use. These channels should make use of the technologies your organization already uses, such as Skype, Slack, or Stride channels. You may even use a traditional email mailing list – whatever is most likely to attract the attention and engagement of teams. 

Build a sound knowledge base 

Champions should be responsible for creating an internal base of knowledge, which will be the main focal point for security-related information. A knowledge base may provide access to the organization’s security approach, policies and procedures, information about vulnerabilities and risks relevant to the organization, and best practices relating to secure coding.

Define and track success

Security needs to be a fundamental KPI and the efficacy of the Security Champion, and the efficiencies they bring to the security team and DevOps pipeline, all need to be tracked to evaluate the ROI of the program

Training and education

A security champion can’t be expected to know everything…at least not initially. Build on their willingness to be part of the solution, by leveraging your internal security experts to define issues they want the security champion to manage. Provide the knowledge they will need to start reviewing products for issues early and pass on best practices to the development team, freeing up your security team

The right tooling

Consolidating your tooling, so your developers, security champion, QA and security team are able to use, understand the output of and effectively collaborate to remediate issues early is important. You need security tools that are developer friendly and dead accurate while providing comprehensive security compliance on every build to enable you to shift security testing left, coordinated by your security champion.

NeuraLegion’s Nexploit is an automated security testing and vulnerability scanning tool that can promote security awareness among developers:

  • Built for Developers – empowers developers to detect and fix vulnerabilities on every build. It can initiative a scan based on crawling, HAR files generated per build/commit, OpenAPI (Swagger) files or Postman Collections for testing APIs.
  • Smart scanning – uses sophisticated algorithms to carry out the right tests against the target, removing complexity for developers, and running scans fast to ensure they do not hurt developer productivity.
  • Supports modern architecture – microservices, single page applications, WebSockets, SOAP, REST, and GraphQL APIs.
  • No false positives – developers don’t have the time and expertise to weed out false positives from the results of security tools. Nexploit performs automated validation of every vulnerability detected, ensuring that every alert represents a real security threat.
  • Integrates with CI/CD – provides a convenient CLI for developers, and integrates with tools like CircleCI, Jenkins, Jira, GitLab, Github, and Azure DevOps.

Learn more about NeuraLegion Nexploit and get started free!

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