Overview

DevOps is an increasingly popular approach to software development that, as the name suggests, melds together the previously separate roles of software development and IT operations. DevOps teams collaborate to continuously build, release, and manage software in faster and more frequent cycles. While many organizations have embraced this integrated approach for development and operations, they are often slow to include security within this framework.

Security should be baked into every stage of the software development lifecycle (SDLC), in an agile approach sometimes known as DevSecOps. Organizations can use a combination of technology, policies, and procedures to secure the DevOps environment from the design stages, through building and testing, to release and maintenance.

DevOps security relies on collaboration between departments, who share responsibility for implementing security practices at every step. Teams should ensure that their software is reliable and that data is protected, and they must comply with governance and incident management protocols. Continuous monitoring, testing, and automation help speed the process, but the real secret to improved security for DevOps is communication.

DevOps Security Challenges

A variety of technical and cultural factors impact application security. However, challenges for security in DevOps often stem from the conflict between the differing goals of developers and security teams. Developers aim to push their software through the pipeline as quickly as possible, while security teams emphasize the elimination of flaws, which can push back development.

Security Teams Struggle to Keep Up With the Pace of DevOps:

DevOps focuses on speed, with very short development cycles. It can take much longer to review code than it did to produce or update it. Security is often sacrificed for the sake of speed, allowing misconfigurations, unresolved vulnerabilities, and other flaws to remain and exposing the software to breaches or malfunctions.

DevOps Teams Neglect Security:

A particularly challenging obstacle to combat is the widespread cultural resistance to security and testing. This is because developers and operating teams view security as a nuisance that gets in their way and slows down the development process. However, retroactive fixes ultimately take more time and effort. Addressing security issues earlier in the pipeline reduces technical debt and is well worth the initial delay in the SDLC.

Tools Come With Their Own Risks:

DevOps typically relies on cloud infrastructure, as well as open-source or immature tools. Some tools can dramatically increase productivity, but they can also carry potential risks for DevOps environments. For example, containers are a portable packaging platform for applications that can run on virtually any computer or cloud, but the lack of visibility into containers makes it difficult to scan them for vulnerabilities.

Inadequate Controls Provide an Opening for Attack:

DevOps environments often require controls for privileged access and secrets management. Both individuals and computing tools can use privileged inputs like API access tokens and account credentials to maintain confidentiality while working. If you don’t adequately manage your secrets, or if your access controls are loose, they can provide an opening that attackers can exploit to steal data, disrupt operations, and gain control of your IT infrastructure.

Security Practices for DevOps

You can incorporate tools and practices into your DevOps process to ensure that your application is secure.

Adopting a DevSecOps Model:

Cross-functional collaboration is the key to effectively integrating security into the entire DevOps lifecycle. This requires a culture in which everyone takes responsibility for adhering to security practices. You can train security and other professionals so they acquire new skills and to imbue them with the DevSecOps ethos. Security teams should be able to write code and work with APIs, while developers should be able to automate security tasks.

Implementing Security Policies:

Security policies and governance are essential for ensuring the consistent management of security risks. You should establish a clear, easy-to-understand set of policies and procedures for cybersecurity functions like access controls, configuration management, code review, vulnerability testing, and firewalling. All personnel should be familiar with these security protocols, and you should maintain operational visibility so you can keep track of compliance.

Automation:

You can automate many of your tools and security processes. This will help scale and speed up your security operations to keep up with the pace of the DevOps process. Configuration management, code analysis, vulnerability discovery and fixes, and privileged access should all be automated. Without automation, it is difficult to perform comprehensive discovery to identify vulnerabilities and other potential threats. Automation mitigates human error and saves time, allowing developers and security teams to focus their energies on other efforts.

Vulnerability Management:

You should have a system in place to scan, assess, and remediate vulnerabilities throughout the SDLC, and to ensure that all code is secure before deployment. Attack mechanisms like penetration testing identify weaknesses so you can fix them. After deployment, security teams should continue to run tests to identify vulnerabilities and other issues so they can apply the necessary patches.

Privileged Access Management:

It is important to monitor and control access. You should limit privilege access rights to reduce the avenues for attack. For example, you can remove administrator privileges on end-user devices and set up a workflow check-out process. You can also restrict access for developers and testers to specific areas. You should also make sure that privileged credentials are stored safely, and you should monitor privileged sessions to verify that all activity is legitimate.

Conclusion

All too often, security is an afterthought for DevOps teams. This due to a lack of appropriate skills and tools, combined with impatience and reluctance to take responsibility for security. However, embracing security as an integral part of the DevOps process helps ensure the consistent quality of your software with each release, and saves you the headache of technical debt.

This post on DevOps Security is from guest author Limor Wainstein.

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Julian Fortes
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Julian Fortes

While organizations continue to adopt, expand, and perfect their DevOps game, security has become an urgent issue.

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