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The continuous integration of development and operations, or DevOps, teams provides numerous benefits to businesses, but properly safeguarding DevOps security has proven to be a major challenge. That’s partly because DevOps presents a number of unique security challenges that traditional security approaches are ill-equipped to handle.

That doesn’t mean enterprises are hopeless. Continue reading to learn more about the main challenges facing DevOps security as well as what organizations can do to overcome them and derive the maximum value from their DevOps team.

The main DevOps security challenges

Many of the advantages of DevOps actually create some of its main security challenges. DevOps enables organizations to rapidly develop and configure new technologies to stay agile in the face of rapid change, but that also means security infrastructure has a harder time keeping up with changing security needs.

This problem is compounded by the fact that many security teams are unable to keep pace in a DevOps-first environment, where development and operations are equipped with the latest technological advancements while security is often ill-equipped to handle specific DevOps security challenges. That leaves teams heavily reliant on legacy tools and systems, making it increasingly difficult to handle the increasingly sophisticated demands of the DevOps team. Those gaps in capabilities create security vulnerabilities that attackers can exploit.

DevOps is based on fast-paced collaboration between teams. While that helps spur innovation and drastically reduce time-to-market for new products, it also means mistakes are more likely to occur (and less likely to be caught early). Attackers look for coding vulnerabilities in particular to breach systems.

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The business benefits of DevOps security

Implementing the appropriate security procedures, processes and systems to keep DevOps safe and secure brings a number of business benefits to the enterprise. These include:

  • Better protection against threats: Tacking security on at the end of the development process can make programs and applications ill-equipped to handle relevant threats. Incorporating security into the earliest development phases can help ensure applications are better able to identify vulnerabilities before they’re exploited.
  • Ensures compliance: Working at a faster pace means there are opportunities for compliance issues to arise. Implementing proper security protocols throughout development and operations helps ensure applications and products are compliant throughout the process.
  • More agile in the face of change: DevOps enables organizations to embrace change and confront new challenges by more efficiently introducing new technologies that respond to pressing customer needs. Providing proper DevOps security helps enterprises take maximum advantage of the value created by DevOps.

The 4 secure DevOps principles

These are the four core principles that should form the foundation of modern DevOps security approaches:

  • Collaboration: DevOps security is a collaborative process. All key stakeholders should be encouraged to contribute to conversations about security requirements to ensure security is designed with everyone in mind. It’s also critical that intelligence about any potential security threats is shared with the wider team to ensure an optimal response.
  • Built-in security: One of the core advantages of the right DevOps security approach is that it builds security into the earliest design and development phases to help ensure maximum security. Even after technology is developed, enterprises should continuously test and revamp their security to ensure they’re prepared for the latest threats.
  • Stay future-focused: Security threats are constantly evolving, but developers are creating more advanced technology to protect against them. It’s critical that enterprises stay ahead of the latest threats by investing in the latest security software, enabling them to identify new threat trends as they emerge.
  • Automation: Using tools that automate key aspects of DevOps security helps streamline cumbersome processes, reducing the amount of time and resources devoted to manual tasks while also minimizing the risk of costly mistakes.

10 practical tips for DevOps security

1. Architecture and design

DevOps security needs to start during the architecture and design phase. Security teams should understand the scope of the DevOps infrastructure and which elements will need protection. An understanding of the shared security model is critical; the line between IaaS and PaaS is becoming increasingly blurred, and each one has a different security paradigm.

Threat modeling can be done during this phase. This will allow security teams to define the threats facing each component to uncover vulnerabilities and determine what responses will be needed to secure them further up the DevOps pipeline.

2. Static code analysis and code reviews

Code reviews are a common part of DevOps. Security team members should understand what the current code review process is and learn secure coding techniques to include in their security reviews. It’s also worth investigating Static Code Analysis tools, as they can check the source code for potential vulnerabilities. If any are detected at this point, developers can quickly change coding techniques to meet security requirements.

3. Audit of chef cookbooks/CloudFormation scripts

“Infrastructure-as-code” is a popular concept within DevOps. Rather than manually configuring hardware and systems, organizations use scripts and configuration files to build infrastructure. This method ensures consistent configurations on all servers, automates repeated tasks and enables faster software deployments, among other benefits.

Security teams can leverage infrastructure-as-code to run automated checks against these scripts. For example, if a developer creates a script for a storage bucket with public access to the internet, it can cause an error. Automated checks in combination with threat modeling are a powerful tool to validate the infrastructure every time a developer makes a change.

4. DevOps security testing post-build

A core DevOps practice is to run automated builds and unit tests after check-in. Security teams can add security testing tools to automate the validation of the build. This will allow any vulnerabilities or other issues to be identified within minutes of a developer checking the code, enabling them to fix them without the delay associated with post-project testing.

5. Secure and harden the operating system

Applying OS hardening at the beginning of a project rather than at the end allows teams to recognize issues earlier and reduces the risk of the application not working. If hardening must be relaxed, the security team can collaborate with the developer to find another way of performing the function. They can use resources like SANS Linux Security Checklist or CIS Benchmark to review the automation scripts to ensure that the OS is being deployed securely and any changes to this standard are controlled.

6. Harden cloud deployment

Cloud services are double-edged swords. If done correctly, they can deliver incredibly secure infrastructures. If not, they can open significant security holes. That makes it imperative that companies review how they’re using the cloud. They should review everything from the development environment through to production and understand how teams are accessing the console and what permissions they have.

As a general rule, people should only have the permissions needed to do their job. Any significant permissions require two-factor authentication.

7. Deployment of security tools

Companies have to keep up with multiple teams deploying multiple applications to production. They should script the deployment of security tools to ensure they are deployed at the same time so that all environments have baseline coverage. It’s also important to include network detection for threats on their network, monitoring of HTTP for attacks, and monitoring log files. With a Managed Detection and Response solution, enterprises can assess these different feeds at the same time and have a 24/7 SOC investigate the threats and escalate if required.

8. Run regular vulnerability scans of OS and applications

Cyber attackers love to target vulnerabilities in the OS or applications running on servers. Companies can run scans on servers in the DevOps pipeline to ensure they always know what state they are in and remediate any vulnerabilities they find.

Additionally, with Alert Logic MDR, this information is fed into our analytics engine, allowing potential attacks to be rated with the additional data from whatever software companies are using. This will help reduce false positives.

9. Use Phoenix Upgrades to patch security issues

Phoenix Upgrades are a process where enterprises terminate an existing server and build a fresh one, using Apache Phoenix, each time they deploy an update. This increases their ability to quickly patch any security issue and their agility to roll them out. A Phoenix Upgrade strategy allows enterprises to deploy a new patched version across their entire cloud environment quickly and safely, while also reducing the risk of technical debt and configuration drift.

10. Ongoing and real-time audit of the production environment

Once all of these elements are in place, companies can survey production to understand its state at any given time and make corrections if production has drifted from its defined security profile. They should have standard auditing levels across different server roles and applications, and for each, try to achieve an auditing level that can be fed into a security tool to provide the data that’s needed without swamping their servers. Just as developers can use the cloud to create big IT systems in very short time frames, they can leverage its power to audit these systems multiple times a day.

Speed and security are essential for businesses to maintain their competitive edge. By building security into the development pipeline, companies can ensure they do not sacrifice one for the other.

Partnering with the right security experts

As DevOps continues to become necessary for success in the digital economy, enterprises are increasingly looking for tools, techniques and processes to accelerate the integration of their development and operations teams to power their future growth.

That all starts with having the right team of experts on their side. Alert Logic collaborates with enterprises to learn everything about our partners’ businesses, including their product, motivations and mission. We help provide 24/7 protection to enterprises to ensure they have the most appropriate response plan to confront whatever new challenges arise.

Download our white paper to learn more tips for integrating security throughout the development lifecycle.

DevOps Security Checklist

DevOps Security Checklist infographic

Antonio Sanchez
About the Author
Antonio Sanchez
Antonio Sanchez serves on the Product Marketing team at Alert Logic. He has over 20 years of experience in the IT industry focusing on cyber security, information management, and disaster recovery solutions to help organizations of all sizes manage threats and improve their security posture. Antonio is a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) and has held various leadership roles at Symantec, Forcepoint, and Dell.

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