Securing the Repeatability of Cloud with IaC

Securing the Repeatability of Cloud with IaC

Unleash the power of Infrastructure as Code (IaC) in the cloud while mitigating risks. Learn how collaboration between DevOps & security teams fosters secure, repeatable IT infrastructure deployments.

One of the things that sets the GCC apart is its refusal to take a breather when times get tough. Its governments and businesses steamed through crisis after crisis since 2008 by finding ways to do more with less. Organisations here were early adopters of the cloud, and now the Gulf is home to many hyperscale providers, paving the way for more innovation.  

Now that the region has settled down to a life in the cloud, it must manage the implications to reap the optimum rewards. Infrastructure as Code (IaC) is how cloud environments allow repeatability of deployed assets. The more cloud services one uses, the more automation and repeatability one expects. IaC is the inevitable manifestation of the software development lifecycle as DevOps teams take control of their build environments.

The lifecycle is plain enough. You commission and deploy a service. IaC turns this process into code so that once the organisation establishes the best practices for rollout, the process can be captured and repeated as often as required without worrying about human error. Any potential issues will show up in installation images and can, therefore, be addressed safely. Of course, nothing digital escapes the eye of the cybergang, which is always mindful of the next opportunity. The IaC environment must, therefore, be secured as tightly as any database or file server. 

The fundamentals

The baseline goal with IaC security is to provide clear visibility of the development environment from tool setup to live environment. Any capability should cover the whole cloud infrastructure and flag every misconfiguration and non-standard deployment. It should monitor environmental changes as the years roll by and flag any drift from compliance and problems with accounts regarding privileged access.

IaC is a no-brainer for admin and development teams. It can facilitate full version control over cloud infrastructure deployments. And, of course, that allows it to keep a tight rein on the infrastructure deployment over time. The downside is if a security issue emerges in a version, IaC guarantees its replication through templates. Development, deployment, and production are all compromised. Security analysts overseeing IaC must, therefore, look at how it is used throughout the software development pipeline, otherwise, they could address an issue only to have it pop up somewhere else, and problems could scale up quickly.

And we must make sure we empower developers. IaC may allow them to be more efficient in their roles, but now they must be a cog in the security apparatus, too, taking them outside their comfort zone. Security teams must play their part by providing DevOps with lists of security issues along with priority rankings.

Teaming up

This collaboration between developers and security operations is a key step in effective risk management. But it only works if security processes are integrated with developers’ tools, especially those used to create and manage IaC images. These developer tools come from repositories such as GitHub and BitBucket and include continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) solutions like Bamboo and Azure DevOps that transition workloads from one stage of development to the next. Security tools must be available in integrated development environments (IDEs) like Visual Studio Code so DevOps teams can check IaC images for misconfigurations via the same screen they build solutions. This is not only a welcome convenience but an aid to memory. Suppose integration of security takes place by using APIs. In that case, the DevOps team will see real-time guidance from their tools on the potential impacts of cloud misconfigurations. This allows remedies to be put in place before the production stage.

Once this integration is implemented, developers can also be provided with real-time coaching on how to apply patches to IaC templates. This coaching will include a list of any software flaws or misconfigurations, accompanied by risk assessments that allow the DevOps team to use their resources optimally and fix the time-sensitive or most impactful vulnerabilities first. This guidance will also be useful when scheduling requests for new functionality.

IaC security should employ the same replication of policy as IaC itself does for cloud infrastructure deployments. Once authored and approved, these security policies can be enforced uniformly across the entire software development lifecycle.

Runtime remedies

Policies must not just apply to DevOps environments; they must govern runtime environments. IaC security policies must extend to configuration and feature changes administered post-production. IaC is a great replicator. It lets you automate deployments through templates embedded with predetermined requirements. However, the requirements set for a deployed image may change. For example, updating the software version to set up the container from a software repository may become necessary, thereby avoiding constantly adding and managing updates to IaC templates. But any new version of any constituent part of the environment may have security issues.

Runtime security is critical to reducing the risk presented by misconfigurations or changes made after deployment. Static scans may be insufficient to pick up on such flaws. Instead, you must check for drift between approved images and current infrastructure. Of course, making changes to IaC images will fall on developers as an extra responsibility, but it can save the organisation a lot of trouble further down the road.

IaC makes IT infrastructure construction easily repeatable. But when using it, it is worth considering how a threat actor might perceive your environment. Without an effective security process, subsequent deployments can spread an issue across the IT environment. Developers must join forces with security teams on these issues so that the advantages of IaC can shine through without being overshadowed by potential threats.