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DevOps Security

DevOps and cybersecurity are quickly becoming the pillars of the IT industry. Everything is going digital as the digital transformation wave disrupts sectors and creates new efficiencies. But security concerns are also on the rise. Software development and deployment processes are often subject to cyberattacks. Thus, a new concept called DevSecOps, or DevOps security, is gaining popularity.  

This article explains what DevOps security is, how it works, its challenges, and its importance for your IT company. But first, let’s discuss what DevOps is.

What is DevOps?  

DevOps refers to a set of cultural practices and philosophies that bring together the software development (Dev) and operations (Ops) teams to shorten the development cycle. It also offers continuous delivery while maintaining the high quality of the software.  

DevOps has gained popularity because it enables you to make updates to the application and fix bugs frequently. Thus, continuous integration of CI and CD are the hallmarks of the DevOps model.  

It automates the build and delivery process of software applications. Usually, these applications are made up of multiple microservices and are typically deployed in the cloud and containerized environments.   

The DevOps model, when used with cloud-based elastic infrastructure, has the capability to meet a rise in demand by auto-scaling its processes. It enables the DevOps teams to offer new computing resources (containers/virtual machines, etc.) and deploy additional application instances on a needs basis.  

What is DevOps Security?

Despite the many business benefits of DevOps, the model is vulnerable to security breaches. Ensuring application security is a challenging task. For example, a DevOps model increases the number of automated processes. It also builds and deploys applications using the microservices architecture and containers. Not only that, but it also uses a wide array of tools and code repositories.  

Thus, many tools, services, and applications need to be secured while using the DevOps model for application development. This is not the case with traditional development methodologies, which don’t use such a wide variety of tools, etc. Hence, a DevOps model requires stringent security measures to develop and deploy secure applications at scale.  

DevOps security is actually an extension of DevOps. DevSecOps is short for development (Dev), security (Sec), and operations (Ops). DevOps security puts the concept of software security at the center of the app development process. It calls for making security a key component of the software development pipelines.

DevOps has genuinely revolutionized the software development lifecycle. Companies now focus on the agility to provide microservices applications as opposed to monolithic applications. Thus, security needs to be adequately integrated into the development and operational processes of the company.   

The DevOps security approach offers a secure development environment that defines security patterns for applications and services built and deployed. It also automates security for processes that have been automated.   

Challenges of Securing the DevOps Model  

DevOps offers new capabilities to IT companies. But it also presents unique challenges. Since DevOps is more of a cultural change and a shift in attitude, its security risks are also nuanced. Traditional security management tools often fall short of addressing these security concerns.   

Here are some of the challenges the DevOps security model faces.  

High-level Threat to Privileged Credentials    

Privileged access management faces the highest level of threat in a DevOps environment. DevOps processes are run on human and machine-privileged credentials. These credentials are always a target for attackers since they yield the greatest leverage to them.   

Machine access refers to tools and machines that need permission to access sensitive resources without human intervention. Examples include automation tools (Puppet, Ansible); CI/CD tools (Jenkins, Azure DevOps); container management and orchestration tools (Docker, Kubernetes, etc.).   

If your privileged credentials are compromised, the attackers will gain access to sensitive databases and CI/CD pipelines. They may even gain access to your company’s cloud environment. Thus, it’s no surprise that attackers want access to this secret data – the privileged credentials of a company. It leads to the destruction of your intellectual property, cryptojacking of your devices, and loss of data.  

Speed and not Security is the Focus of Developers 

DevOps teams focus on building and delivering applications at high velocity. This often means they overlook security concerns in their development pipelines by adopting insecure practices.   

Examples include leaving credentials embedded in configuration files and applications. They also include using new tools and third-party code that have not been adequately scrutinized for security lapses. Moreover, developers hardly ever focus on securing their tools and infrastructure from security breaches.  

Using in-Built Features for Tool Security  

Many DevOps tools offer in-built security features to keep the tool secure. These devops features protect your sensitive data and company secrets. However, such in-built security features hinder interoperability, as they don’t let you share secrets across tools, platforms, or cloud environments.   

However, the DevOps teams usually use these features for securing sensitive data. But the problem is that these security features do not allow you to monitor and manage them consistently, thus leading to security lapses and loss of data.  

Let’s see how DevOps security works.  

How DevOps Security Works     

  1. Implement Security Policy as Code – The concept of infrastructure as code is at the heart of the DevOps model. It removes the need to configure and administer software and servers manually. Apply this concept to your SDLC (software development lifecycle) security policy to remove error-prone, manually intensive configuration processes.   
  2. Separation of Duties – A DevOps team should have clearly defined roles and duties for all its members. Therefore, developers should concentrate on designing applications that fuel business growth. The operations team members should emphasize the provision of reliable and scalable infrastructure. And last, security employees should emphasize protecting assets and data and mitigating risks. Codify the interaction between each department as a written security policy.  
  3. Integrate Security into CI/CD Pipelines – Sometimes, the DevOps model treats security as an afterthought. This means that it’s usually too late to implement security changes once the software has been released to production. If you do want to implement changes, it results in a delayed software release. Thus, modern management tools like Kanban and advanced workflow scheduling are used to remove inefficiencies and accelerate development. Moreover, focusing on microservices simplifies security reviews and makes it easier to implement changes.  
  4. A Proactive Approach to Security – It is vital for you to place robust security mechanisms in your software development lifecycle to mitigate risks, reduce vulnerabilities, and strengthen the security posture. This entails addressing all your SDLC security requirements comprehensively.   
  5. Automation – Just the way the DevOps model employs automation to remove human latency and accelerate development, DevOps security should also use it to limit human and manual interaction. Automating the security mechanisms enables you to automatically rotate sensitive information, like passwords, keys, etc. Moreover, you can quickly terminate privileged sessions and rotate passwords, etc., whenever a breach occurs.  

Other DevOps Security Measures

Here’s a list of other things you can do to implement DevOps security and ensure your SDLC is fully secure.  

  • It would be best if you addressed any possible vulnerabilities and requirements in your development pipelines to ensure high security.  
  • Ensure your code repositories are safe and secure by reducing the concentration of privilege for building automation tools.  
  • Use the principle of least privilege. It ensures that only the relevant machines and employees have access to the required resources.  
  • Keep sensitive information (passwords, keys, etc.) in a highly secure vault that is accessible when needed.  
  • Rotate company secrets like keys and passwords to mitigate the risk of exposure.  
  • Define a baseline for normal behavior so that any abnormality or anomaly raises a red flag.   
  • Give each machine a unique identifier to monitor its activity and access sensitive data.  
  • Train and educate your team on evolving cyber threats, vulnerabilities, and best practices.   
  • Encourage collaboration between team members.  

Conclusion  

As the world increasingly becomes tech-enabled, the power and importance of software will grow exponentially. IT companies are compelled to deliver innovative, highly scalable, and secure applications at high velocity. These market dynamics often push DevOps teams to focus on speed, not security.  

However, cybersecurity is also evolving rapidly. New tools and technologies are being used to target sensitive business data. In view of this, it is crucial for companies to instill robust security mechanisms in their software development lifecycles. DevOps security, or DevSecOps, is the best way to ensure that you are able to deliver incredible and highly secure software apps at scale.  

If you want to do a security check of your DevOps methods, or need any help in securing your DevOps team, contact us at info@xavor.com. 

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Muhammad Abbas

Muhammad Abbas is an anthropologist at heart and a Marketing Specialist by profession. He has worked with leading marketing agencies over the years. While he considers himself a history buff, his interests also extend to topics like politics, economics, social justice, climate change, and tech.