Tune in to Matias Madou’s session at DevNet Create 2021,
“Playing to win with security champions & coaches:
Why your development team needs both in the fight against common vulnerabilities”
Check the DevNet Create agenda for times in your region.

The words “champion” and “coach” are finding increasing relevance outside of the sporting realm, and they carry a powerful presence in most contexts. They are becoming more integrated into the spirit and culture of business, especially on the tech side, and can really boost knowledge sharing and collaboration in a team. When the going gets tough, who wouldn’t want a coach or a champion in their corner?

Institutions within the cybersecurity industry have a long history of utilizing champions in the pursuit of spreading the good word about security at the development level, and upholding higher standards of software security. These initiatives intersect with and support one of the main objectives of the DevSecOps movement, which is a commitment to share responsibility for security across teams and functions, from the very beginning of the software development process.

Many companies who are kicking goals in their cybersecurity approach have implemented an official security champion program, granting key security responsibilities – everything from liaising between teams and general cheerleading, to overseeing best practices – onto individuals who show aptitude and passion for the security side of life.

However, it has been rather evident that the role of the “security champion” is changing, and a great development team can reach new heights of scalable security best practices with key enthusiasts supporting different, yet equally important functions.

We’re redefining and duplicating the security champion to really make an impact in a future-proof security program. Let’s take a closer look.

Every great team stands behind an inspirational coach

When you think about, say, Serena Williams, typically only the most diehard fans would be able to recite facts about her coaches. However, it is that close support honing natural skills, talent, and drive that breeds the immense success we see in the spotlight.

Nobody expects developers to win a grand slam, heck, nobody should even expect that developers will be security experts (after all, they signed up to create cool features, not take deep dives into complex security), but a great security “coach” is their true champion on the team.

A developer-side security champion is far more aligned to what we would recognize as the fundamentals of a coach. They are passionate about security, know their stuff, and are a key point of contact when a developer has a security issue to solve. They have the hands-on know-how to help them correct the problem and learn from their mistakes, while also making sure the team is aligned with core security best practices and values.

Will the AppSec champion please stand up?

An AppSec-side champion is an oft-missing piece of the security program puzzle. They are absolutely vital for the success of a development team, and as the bridge between C-level and executive staff and the developers, can actively advocate for them and help enable them with the tools they need to make a positive impact on vulnerability reduction, software safety, and customer trust and satisfaction.

A great AppSec champion is recognized as a security leader within the business, and they should have a big role in training the security coaches directly, with the end goal of forging better outcomes and relations between the teams, all in the aid of a common goal: kick-ass, watertight secure code.
Summoning your supercoach.

Discovering the ideal coach is still a similar process to the traditional champion: the best coach is not simply the person who is “best” at security. The individual who happens to be amazing at coding securely and churning out high-quality, fortified code, may have zero interest in taking on an extracurricular role, or perhaps they aren’t particularly excited by security despite their aptitude.

Instead, your coach might be uncovered if you look for someone who:

  • Takes a keen interest in cybersecurity, from the hands-on coding through to staying up-to-date on the latest incidents, tools, and cool developments
  • Has decent interpersonal skills; they enjoy helping others, feeling like the go-to person (or resident expert) and are approachable team players
  • Can be proactive in developer-side advocacy; they know what is needed to help the team, and can work with their AppSec liaison (their champion) to have needs met so that mutual security outcomes can be achieved.

Incentivize the coach position; whoever you choose will have to take on more responsibility, and their workload will need to be assessed accordingly. While personal interest and career progression will factor into a potential coach’s motivation, it’s good practice to see where else they can be rewarded for kicking goals. Can they be sent to an awesome conference? Can they get some extra leave? Can courses and certifications be funded for them? Time and money spent now on securing the SDLC from the start saves much more later in the cycle – or worse, if a vulnerability is discovered live – and a good coach will keep awareness high. Find a way to provide meaningful rewards.
Your next-level security champion program.

Ultimately, as an industry, we must do more to support developers, and win them over to the dark security side, in so much as motivating them to see that quality code is secure code. It’s difficult to care about something when the time and effort to educate and enable success hasn’t happened, and sadly, that tends to be the case with education in secure coding. Relevant, hands-on upskilling, in conjunction with a peer coach and AppSec champion stepping up as an advocate, really is the triple-hit needed to bolster the development team to unleash their defensive power.

Learn more at DevNet Create 2021

Learn more about implementing security champions and coaches in your security program when you catch Matias Madou, presenting at DevNet Create 2021. His session, “Playing to win with security champions & coaches: Why your development team needs both in the fight against common vulnerabilities” will be on Channel 1. Check the DevNet Create agenda for times in your region.

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Christopher Van Der Made

Product Management Leader

Cisco XDR