April 8, 2020

Introducing our new book “Building Secure and Reliable Systems”

For years, I’ve wished that someone would write a book like this. Since their publication, I’ve often admired and recommended the Google Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) books—so I was thrilled to find that a book focused on security and reliability was already underway when I arrived at Google. Ever since I began working in the tech industry, across organizations of varying sizes, I’ve seen people struggling with the question of how security should be organized: Should it be centralized or federated? Independent or embedded? Operational or consultative? Technical or governing? The list goes on and on.

Both SRE and security have strong dependencies on classic software engineering teams. Yet both differ from classic software engineering teams in fundamental ways:
  • Site Reliability Engineers (SREs) and security engineers tend to break and fix, as well as build.
  • Their work encompasses operations, in addition to development.
  • SREs and security engineers are specialists, rather than classic software engineers.
  • They are often viewed as roadblocks, rather than enablers.
  • They are frequently siloed, rather than integrated in product teams.
For many years, my colleagues and I have argued that security should be a first-class and embedded quality of software. I believe that embracing an SRE- inspired approach is a logical step in that direction. As my understanding of the intersection between security and SRE has deepened, I’ve become even more certain that it’s important to more thoroughly integrate security practices into the full lifecycle of software and data services. The nature of the modern hybrid cloud—much of which is based on open source software frameworks that offer interconnected data and microservices—makes tightly integrated security and resilience capabilities even more important.

At the same time, enterprises are at a critical point where cloud computing, various forms of machine learning, and a complicated cybersecurity landscape are together determining where an increasingly digital world is going, how quickly it will get there, and what risks are involved.

The operational and organizational approaches to security in large enterprises have varied dramatically over the past 20 years. The most prominent instantiations include fully centralized chief information security officers and core infrastructure operations that encompass firewalls, directory services, proxies, and much more—teams that have grown to hundreds or thousands of employees. On the other end of the spectrum, federated business information security teams have either the line of business or technical expertise required to support or govern a named list of functions or business operations. Somewhere in the middle, committees, metrics, and regulatory requirements might govern security policies, and embedded Security Champions might either play a relationship management role or track issues for a named organizational unit. Recently, I’ve seen teams riffing on the SRE model by evolving the embedded role into something like a site security engineer, or into a specific Agile scrum role for specialist security teams.

For good reasons, enterprise security teams have largely focused on confidentiality. However, organizations often recognize data integrity and availability to be equally important, and address these areas with different teams and different controls. The SRE function is a best-in-class approach to reliability. However, it also plays a role in the real-time detection of and response to technical issues—including security- related attacks on privileged access or sensitive data. Ultimately, while engineering teams are often organizationally separated according to specialized skill sets, they have a common goal: ensuring the quality and safety of the system or application.

In a world that is becoming more dependent upon technology every year, a book about approaches to security and reliability drawn from experiences at Google and across the industry is an important contribution to the evolution of software development, systems management, and data protection. As the threat landscape evolves, a dynamic and integrated approach to defense is now a basic necessity. In my previous roles, I looked for a more formal exploration of these questions; I hope that a variety of teams inside and outside of security organizations find this discussion useful as approaches and tools evolve. This project has reinforced my belief that the topics it covers are worth discussing and promoting in the industry—particularly as more organizations adopt DevOps, DevSecOps, SRE, and hybrid cloud architectures along with their associated operating models. At a minimum, this book is another step in the evolution and enhancement of system and data security in an increasingly digital world.

The new book can be downloaded for free from the Google SRE website, or purchased as a physical copy from your preferred retailer.

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