DevOps Security: An Overview of Challenges and Best Practices

By Veritis

DevOps Security: An Overview of Challenges and Best Practices

DevOps has been empowering IT organizations with a highly collaborative environment and high-speed product delivery over the last few years.

It is that agility and ability to ensure short release cycles that made DevOps as the favorite technology solution for many IT firms.

Many companies are already enjoying this increased collaborative approach of DevOps in their digital transformation journey.

While, a few are in the process of making it and a few others are yet to realize the DevOps potential.

However, all in common have a single concern that ‘how DevOps deals with security?’ and ‘Is Secure DevOps possible?’.

Let’s deal with these questions: First by understanding ‘Security Challenges in DevOps?’ and Next by ‘Identifying DevOps Security Best Practices’

The Problem: Why Security is a Challenge in DevOps?

The Problem: Why Security is a Challenge in DevOps?

Security in DevOps basically refers to safeguarding DevOps environment through the implementation of relevant strategies, policies, processes, tools and resources.

1) Where is the Problem?

A DevOps model typically includes cross-team collaboration and brings in different functions, specifications and models around coding, testing, integration, deployment and infrastructure management, and more.

Moreover, there will be continuous automation and monitoring across the process chain.

All these mean fast-moving development cycles, release timeframes and shortened feedback loops.

There is enough scope to say this fast-paced environment can often create gaps between DevOps and Security teams.

DevOps teams’ short timeframes may often outpace the speed of security teams who will need to check configurations, perform code analysis and vulnerability assessment, among other tasks.

These inconsistencies, due to improper security check, may result in insecure code, misconfigurations, hardcoded issues and more that can slow down the DevOps cycle as a whole.

2) Cultural resistance

To address security concerns in DevOps, cultural resistance is often seen as a primary obstacle supported by an argument that ‘special security check will derail the development process’. But the fact is addressing security in the early phases takes lesser time than doing so at the last.

3) Cloud and Open Source environments

DevOps teams usually rely on cloud deployments and access open-source resources to deal with security and server instances. Such a fast-paced environment may often lead to compromise of critical information, configuration errors, compliance issues and security breaches.

4) Container and other tools

Containerization and container tools have a special role in boosting productivity in a DevOps environment. But they can often be the reason for security concerns in your DevOps process.

Container apps enjoy the flexibility of running on any computing platform or cloud without dependencies, which is the portability advantage. But this can also be a security challenge in the absence of proper controls, as containers share OS among themselves and less-often scanned for vulnerabilities.

A global survey found more than 90% of organizations citing containers as ‘security threat’. Container Security is key to ‘DevOps Security’!

5) Access Management

DevOps is a highly collaborative, dynamic and interconnected culture. Teams keep exchanging critical information, credentials, SSH Keys, APIs and tokens, among others as part of their communication. As part of workflows, these critical assets will be required to pass across open source platforms, apps, containers and cloud instances, among others.

Considering the fact these platforms are vulnerable to security attacks, assets passing through them also stand vulnerable to threats. This offers intruders full control of systems and data, resulting in a serious security challenge.

We have seen how security is a serious concern in a DevOps environment. Now, let’s take a look at the solution to address the concern.

The Solution: DevOps Security Best Practices

The above-discussed factors pose major security risks to a DevOps environment. However, considering the benefits they offer, it’s imperative for organizations to use them part of their DevOps model.

So, what’s the solution?

Here are 9 DevOps Security Best Practices that can help you achieve security while balancing agility:

1) Implement DevSecOps Model

This is the first and foremost step to securing your DevOps environment. Successful DevOps security demands security integration across the product development lifecycle (design, development, delivery, operations and support stages).

The DevSecOps model brings along governance and cybersecurity measures such as code review, Identity Access Management, firewalls, configuration and vulnerability management. With DevSecOps in place, you have ‘secure DevOps’ that will no more create threats and additional costs and moreover gives you seamless delivery.

2) Enforce Policies

Communication and strict policy enforcement are key to achieving the goal of secure DevOps. Bring in transparent cybersecurity policies that are easily understandable and implementable for the teams. This helps teams them plan their tasks in line with the set security requirements.

3) Automate Security

While you bring in security tools and resources, it’s important to automate them for scaling security features to your DevOps process. Automation also minimizes the risk of errors caused by repeating instances and the associated downtime issues.

That will also help you identify potential threats and vulnerable code and any issues within processes or infrastructure. Automation breaks cultural resistance and facilitates deeper penetration of security practices into the DevOps process chain.

4) Validate Discovery

While you identify and map issues, its equally important to continuously validate all the approved tools, devices and accounts spotted under discovery. Make sure to bring them under security management built in line with your internal policies.

5) Vulnerability Assessment and Management

Make sure to have a strict vulnerability analysis, assessment and management well before the product reaches production phase. Ensure to have vulnerability scans well in advance and along the development and integration phases. Penetration testing and related attack methods can help you in the process.

As products enter the operating environment, DevOps security runs a set of tests and tools against the production environment and infrastructure to address patching related issues.

6) Configuration Management

Configuration issues is one serious concern that can hit your DevOps workflow. Maintain continuous configuration scans across servers and individual builds for all cloud assets and ensure misconfigurations are addressed in line with the industry best practices.

7) Secure Access Management

Make sure to eliminate all credentials embedded in code, files, service accounts and cloud platforms. Thus, you are keeping the credentials (not required for a specific process) safe at a centralized location.

Don’t worry, they can be accessed through privileged password management solutions that call applications and scripts to access passwords if required. Implementing such API calls gives you additional control over code, scripts, and embedded keys. Automate this process to use passwords in line with the policy demands.

8) Control, Monitor and Audit

Less the privileged access rights, less will be the possibilities of potential attacks. Its recommended to secure the privileged account details, eliminate administrator privileges on the end-user side and have a simple workflow that doesn’t demand privileged access.

On the other side, keep a continuous monitor on the privileged sessions to make sure they are legitimate and adhere to compliance requirements. Even the least privileged model should restrict access to certain development and production systems, while giving internal teams appropriate permissions only to build, deploy, configure and address production issues related to images they created.

Make use of privileged access management tools and resources for monitoring and auditing of privileged access and credential management.

9) Secure Networks and Group Assets

Categorize networks and combine assets such as applications and resource servers to limit the ‘line of sight’ for intruders. Make them into individual groups that work as logical units.

Trigger a ‘secure jump server’, with multi-factor authentication and other authorization features, to tackle access through trusted zone. Further, segment access-based context by user, application and data.

More such practices can be implemented in line with the changing requirements for a secure DevOps environment.

On an EndNote
Securing DevOps lays down the path for a full-fledged DevOps implementation with security practices embedded. With security addressed, DevOps is no doubt an omnipotent and game-changer technology solution for fast-changing business needs.